Body size awareness, stereotypes, friendship selection, and self-preferences of 3 to 5 year-old children
May-Fraser, Lena Jo
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Research has found that anti-fat attitudes are pervasive among school-age children, adolescents, and adults (e.g., Ryckman, Robbins, Kaczor & Gold, 1989; Brylinsky & Moore, 1994). However, very few studies have examined this phenomenon in preschool-age children. Furthermore, prior methodology used to investigate this topic has been criticized for its unrealistic nature. Thus, the goal of this study was to examine body size awareness, stereotypes, friendship selection, and self-preferences of 3 to 5 year-old children, using improved methodology. The first improvement made to this study was the replacement of materials used in the past, with new stimuli: photographs of real children. These photographs were digitally altered to obtain three different body sizes (thin, average and overweight), while controlling for facial attractiveness. The intent of using photographs of real children rather than hand-made figures was to increase the realistic quality of the stimuli. Additionally, photographs of boys and girls were used to assess same- and cross-gender judgments of body size. For each item, children were asked to hand the selected target figure to the experimenter to decrease ambiguity about participant choices. Results showed that body size awareness increases as a function of age. Anti-fat bias was present in children as young as 3 years also increased as a function of age. Children were less likely to ascribe positive traits (e.g., "nicest" and "cutest") to the overweight target compared to either the thin or average sized targets. Similarly, children were more likely to assign negative adjectives (e.g., "stupidest" and "ugliest") to and prefer not to play with or look like the overweight targets relative to thin and average size targets. These results necessitate the implementation of body-size-acceptance-based programs in preschool and daycare facilities to reduce body-size-based stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination at an early age.