It’s easy to forget just how nasty kids can be. They might look cute, but they are such assholes. They prey on differences and disabilities, using taunts to generate solidarity. Middle school really is a terrible time. But I was pretty surprised to learn that American kids have a strong bias against overweight kids, and that this bias doesn’t seem particularly sensitive to the obesity epidemic. You’d think that having more overweight kids in the classroom would somehow lessen the stigma of being overweight, but it doesn’t:
A 1961 study, replicated 42 years later, asked 10- and 11-year-olds to look at six pictures of other youngsters and rank the order in which they would like to be friends with them. The pictures depicted a child in a wheelchair, one on crutches, another with an amputated hand, a fourth with a facial disfigurement. A fifth photo showed an average-weight child with no disabilities and a sixth showed an overweight youngster.
In both the 1961 study and the 2003 follow-up, the heavy child was resoundingly sixth in order of preference, and spurning of the overweight child was more extreme in the more recent study. Overweight children are regarded with disdain, branded as lazy, ugly, stupid, and sloppy — with the bias that they should be able to do something about the extra weight.
All this taunting has real psychological effects.