Bullying and Body Image

Article Contributed By Staff of The Meadows Ranch

How Bullying Happens

Bullying can occur among individuals of any weight and at any age. It is often defined as unprovoked aggressive behavior repeatedly carried out against victims who are unable to defend themselves.

Types of bullying include:

  • Threats
  • Insults
  • Spreading rumors
  • Physical aggression
  • Social exclusion
  • Sexual harassment
  • Cyberbullying

How Weight Comes into Play

Overweight and even underweight children and adolescents tend to be at higher risk for being bullied. The torment that takes place is not by just the “mean girls” at school. It can be from friends, coaches and as subtle as teasing by family members.

Years ago, one could escape bullying by going home, being with friends, extracurricular activities, and church groups. Today, students still have all of those ways to escape the bullying; however, there are now cell phones and other forms of media where one can be targeted anonymously if not 24 hours a day.

National surveys have found among overweight middle-school aged children that 30 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys experienced daily bullying, teasing, and/or rejection because of their size. These numbers doubled for overweight high school students, with 63 percent of girls and 58 percent of boys experiencing some form of bullying due to their weight and size [2].

Another study of bullying behaviors in 11-16 year old boys and girls found that overweight and obese school-aged children were more likely to become victims of bullying behaviors than their normal-weight peers [2]. Bullying that is directly related to body size and weight can contribute to increased depression, anxiety, and risk of mental illnesses, such as eating disorders.

How Social Media Keeps Kids Trapped in Bullying

According to stopbullying.gov—they define cyberbullying as bullying that takes place using electronic technology, such as cell phones, computers, tablets as well as communication on social media sites, pictures, videos, websites and fake profiles.

Girl with Weight concerns

The issues with cyberbullying are that in addition to bullying taking place 24/7, the messages can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. Deleting harassing or inappropriate messages, texts and pictures are extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.

This problem is growing, according the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey found that 16% of high school students (grades 9-12) were victims electronically bullying in the past year [1].

In working with the adolescents and young adults at Remuda Ranch at The Meadows, it is observed that nearly 50% of patients have been bullied about their weight or their looks at one time or another, usually predating the development of their eating disorder.

Of those bullied about their weight or looks, most of those patients stated that is why they started dieting or started with their eating disorder behavior. Most patients describe being bullied face to face but more and more are describing cyber bullying.

The Tragedy of Bullying

When anyone is a victim of weight or looks teasing, developing a negative body image will often develop. If that individual has low self-esteem, perfectionism and/ or anxiety, they are often genetically predestined to developing an eating disorder.

Who says being bullied isn’t traumatic? Young people kill themselves over bullying. Post-traumatic stress disorder is typically diagnosed in patients who have been bullied. Their anxiety is so bad that they have nightmares, flashbacks and avoid the perpetrators to the point of dropping out of school or changing schools.

The consequences of bullying can be devastating and may vary from person to person, as the threshold for different forms of bullying ranges depending on the individual. The experience of bullying is highly individualized and may depend on the type of bullying, intensity and frequency involved, and all this should be considered when assessing the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of a victim.

Extreme Measures to Try and Stop The Bullying

Many adolescents and young adults take this bullying to heart and began restricting and dieting or purging. When these extreme dieting measures get out of control, an eating disorder may develop. Bullying definitely has a long term effect on their victim.

So what is a parent or family member to do?

Signs of being bullied look a lot like depression and in fact, many victims of bullying become depressed. Loss of friends and avoidance of social situations is common. Problems are frequently seen with:

  • Sleep
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Sudden weight loss

In addition, self-injurious behavior such as cutting or inflicting bruising or even talking about suicide is common. Get your loved one support from school administration if happening at school. In addition, an assessment by a mental health professional will help those struggling.

Girl on the dockHaving the support of a specialized treatment team may effectively help intervene with any potential issues that may have been triggered by bullying, such as disordered eating. Talk with a mental health professional to determine what resources may be most helpful for the your loved one and their individual situation.

Most people will not openly admit to being bullied. Developing a zero tolerance for bullying at home is paramount. If the bullying is occurring at school, this needs to be addressed with the school and encourage bullying education at schools. Parents and family members need to be the positive role models for bullying and criticizing others.

Article Contributed by Staff of The Meadows Ranch:

For over 25 years, The Meadows Ranch has offered an unparalleled depth of care through its unique, comprehensive, and individualized program for treating eating disorders and co-occurring conditions affecting adolescent girls and women. Set on scenic ranch property in the healing landscape of Wickenburg, Arizona, The Meadows Ranch allows for seamless transitions between its structured multi-phase treatment. A world-class clinical team of industry experts leads the treatment approach designed to uncover and understand the “whys” of the eating disorder through a host of proven modalities. Providing individuals with tools to re-engage in a healthy relationship with food – and with themselves – disempowers eating disorders and empowers individuals with a renewed enthusiasm for life. Contact us today at 888-496-5498 and find out why The Meadows Ranch is the best choice for eating disorder treatment and recovery. For more information call 1-888-496-5498. or visit www.themeadowsranch.com.


[1]:  http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm
[2]: Obesity Action Coalition, “Bullying, Bullycide and Childhood Obesity”, http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/childhood-obesity-resource-articles/bullying-bullycide-and-childhood-obesity Accessed 6 June 2017

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on July 12, 2017.
Edited And Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC on July 12, 2017
Recently Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 2, 2018.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com