The now familiar statistic, that 80% of 10-year-old girls have been on a diet, wasn't ever really surprising to me. When many women think back to the first time they passed on a piece of cake or felt a wave of guilt for finishing a bag of potato chips, it's usually a childhood, not adolescent, memory. Which makes the diner scene in Little Miss Sunshine (which turns 10 today) so painfully familiar.
If you haven't watched the 2006 film in a while (and it's definitely worth a rewatch), you might have forgotten the moment when 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) is introduced to the idea that enjoying the food she loves will give her an unlovable body type. As Olive excitedly waits for her waffles and ice cream, her father carefully explains that, "Ice cream is made from cream, which comes from cow's milk, and cream has a lot of fat in it... When you eat ice cream, the fat in the ice cream becomes fat on your body," as the rest of her family looks on in horror.
When her mother tries to interrupt the body-shaming lesson by giving her daughter permission to be whatever size she feels comfortable in, her dad chimes in, reminding her it's not her mother's love and approval she needs to earn with her looks. He asks, "Those women in Miss America, are they skinny or are they fat?"
At 7 years old, Olive has learned that skinny is beautiful, and she finds herself not quite measuring up.
If the father were a cartoon villain, an obviously evil character who wanted to hurt his daughter, the moment would actually have seemed less tragic. But his anti-ice cream lesson is really a very misguided attempt at helping his 7-year-old. He sees that women are often measured by their appearance, and he knows Olive's life will be easier, and in his eyes, better, if she gets high marks as soon as possible.
The end of the scene seems hopeful. With the encouragement of her less appearance-obsessed loved ones, Olive decides to eat and enjoy her ice cream. You figure she might have a few years before she starts counting the calories in Fruit Roll-Ups or asking her mom to buy sugar-free Popsicles (and hopefully, she never does).
But later at her beauty pageant, as she stands in front of the mirror in her bathing suit, sucking in her stomach, you realize just how hard the lesson landed. It doesn't matter that she has the support of most of her family, or that her idol admits she likes ice cream too. At 7 years old, Olive has learned that skinny is beautiful, and she finds herself not quite measuring up.