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Body Image Issues and Bullying in Schools

February 24, 2014

About 1% to 2% of teenagers suffer from anorexia. At first glance this might sound like a small number, but consider that about 10% of the teens who suffer from anorexia die. Of the many psychological issues a teenager can have, anorexia is likely one of the worst.  For some statistics on this issue, visit the website of the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders:

The causes of anorexia are many and range from depression to anxiety over body image. Body image issues have only become worse in recent years with both women and men saying they feel pressured to look a certain way (thinner, basically). High school students are especially at risk of being too influenced by the media’s “ideal” body image.  Anorexia can have immediate, deadly effects, but can also lead to a host of problems that last a lifetime, including a permanently skewed body image and an inability to believe they are ever at a healthy weight, along with physical issues from a lack of nutrition during a period of life when the body is evolving. Contrary to common belief, anorexia does not only affect women; it also affects a quickly growing number of young men.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the problem with obesity and obesity bullying. This is a particularly thorny topic that is related to all of the above as those who are bullied about their appearances often develop the eating disorders we’ve discussed. Obesity is, without a doubt, a very large health issue in America. Michelle Obama’s campaign to deal with obesity has brought this issue more to light, but the number of obese Americans is still far too high. I believe this allows people to think they can get away with bullying those who are overweight. The bullying of obese people is something even adults seem to take for granted. Somehow this bullying is written off as a way to “encourage” those who are overweight to exercise. I think we can all see through such an excuse.

In 2010, CNN discussed a report on the bullying of those who are overweight in grade school. The report said that not only are obese children bullied more than those at a healthy weight, which isn’t surprising, but that even school children who fit in perfectly, have great social skills, and are smart, will still be bullied if they are overweight. There is the image of the overweight schoolchild sitting by him/herself, but this report showed it does not matter if the child is by his/herself; they’re going to be bullied no matter how much they “fit in.” What’s even more distressing about this is children with weight issues are going to see no purpose in learning to socialize better, which will undoubtedly hurt them down the road.

These issues of body image cannot be exaggerated. It’s well past time that we started taking body image issues and bullying over body image as a serious problem in our society.


Summary from presentation given by Donald McCarthy at National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Boston, MA. November 2013