Last week I received an email about upcoming health screenings at my children’s school:
In compliance with Florida Statute regarding school health services, we are pleased to offer health screening for Scoliosis, hearing and weight measurement for growth and development.
1st grade: Hearing, height and weight
3rd grade: Height and weight
6th grade: Height, weight and Scoliosis
I shut my computer and began to cry.
Seven years ago, I founded a non-profit that literally smashes bathroom scales in an effort to spread eating disorder awareness and promote positive body image. I travel the country sharing my story of eating disorder recovery, speaking out on the dangers of tying our weight to our worth. I have spent countless hours in hospitals talking with children as young as nine years old suffering from an eating disorder. I have seen and experienced firsthand how a seemingly ‘harmless’ scale or ‘healthy’ diet can turn deadly.
And now what I have fought so hard against is affecting MY first-grade child. Upon reading the email, the mama bear within me began her mighty roar, which started with a good old ugly cry and a Facebook post.
Most of us can recall the first time weight became a constant negative in our lives. And many people experienced this at school with mandatory screenings, as evident by the numerous comments in my original Facebook post.
“I know someone very near and dear that can recall to this day, 35 years later, that this event was THE triggering event that started her eating disorder!”
“I remember that being one of the most humiliating moments of my elementary school days. The scale would be on one side of the gym and the person recording your weight would be on the other so your weight was yelled out. I look at my pictures in the fifth grade and see a healthy, athletic and somewhat knobby-kneeled young girl but at that moment I always thought that I was heavier than every other girl in line.
“Weight screening paired with fat caliper testing in my elementary school triggered the onset of my eating disorder in 2nd grade. I was not “at risk” or “overweight” but there was one girl in my class who was leaner than me (I can still tell you her name 20+ years later). “
Tears welled in my eyes as I read the comments. My son, Manning, has already received countless negative and wrong messages about nutrition, calories, FitBits and obesity from school and society. While many of these efforts are in hopes to teach ‘health’, they are in fact doing the opposite. There is ZERO evidence that weighting our children in school leads to improved health. We are creating a fat-phobic society, where our children instinctively tie their weight into their worth and children in larger bodies feel automatically less than without cognitively understanding the complex topic of health and growth.
“There is much potential for harm, with children comparing their weights or not understanding what their weight means,” says Anna Lutz, a registered dietitian and eating disorder expert at Sunny Side Up Nutrition and Lutz, Alexander & Associates. “Children are supposed to be gaining weight. Particularly in puberty, children gain on average 10 pounds per year. Children don't understand this fact and may fixate on the fact their weight is up, which is thought of as bad in our society. Weighing needs to be kept at the doctor's office where a provider can interpret the weight in the context of the child's history for the family. Without a full history of a child's growth and development the raw numbers do not provide much information.”
After my modern-day mama bear Facebook rant, I reached out to the principal, Mrs. Earp. She quickly called me, explaining the mandate, while also agreeing with my concerns.
Mrs. Earp and I talked extensively about the harm these 'health screenings' can do to children and she could not have been more in agreement and willing to listen. Since it will take time to find and present materials to the powers that be in our school area to make the changes, I encouraged Mrs. Earp to do single, blind weights.
Mrs. Earp was already sensitive to this screening and enforced these height and weight tests to be done in a private room. I asked her to go a step further and do blind weights, meaning the student will stand backwards on the scale. They will not see their weight and the person taking the weight will NOT make any body related comments (i.e. "oh you're so tiny!")
By doing private, blind weights our goal is to limit or hopefully eliminate weight talk on the playground.
Suzy: "I weighed 59 pounds." Lucy then thinks to herself, reflecting on her weight, which was closer to 100 (probably because she is entering puberty before Suzy). Lucy instinctively thinks less of herself because of her higher weight and begins the downward spiral of insecurity and poor body image.
Never be afraid to use your voice in a respectful and kind manner. Solutions come with time and respect from both parties. We never know what our counterpart is dealing with. Our principal's hands are currently tied, but she was willing to not just listen make immediate changes.
It isn't an idea situation (ideal would be no weight!), but private, blind weights is a great start to making some big changes. I know with time, we will be able to make some bigger changes to eliminate weight talk and create a body positive culture for our children.
But let us not forget the Golden Rule for raising body positive kids: YOU! Leading by example is the number one thing you can do for your children.
- Speak POSITIVELY about your own bodies and others, eliminating seemingly harmless phrases like, “Oh she’s so tiny!”
- SMASH your scale (or donate it to Southern Smash!)
- Move your body JOYFULLY – not according to your FitBit. Watch how your children play and run with joy! We should do the same.
- Praise your child for things OTHER than appearance
We live in a disordered eating society, where the thin ideal is praised as the ONLY standard of health. That could not be farther from the truth and countless advocates like myself, are working tirelessly to change that thinking and promote health at every size.
Regardless of what the world around us says, my husband and I are raising our children to know that ALL bodies are good bodies. We all come in different colors, shapes and sizes and our worth is not tied to our appearance. At the end of the day, my children see their mother as someone who loves her body and takes care of it with nourishment, rest and joyful movement. There’s no doubt I’m getting a million other things wrong in this crazy mom game, but if there’s one thing my kids know it is that their mother loves ALL bodies, especially theirs and hers!