Elementary schools in North Andover, Massachusetts are now sending home “Fat Letters” to the parents of children who have BMI’s under the 5th percentile or above the 85th percentile. The problem is that BMI doesn’t take into account muscle mass. Aside from being embarrassing, it can be hurtful and lead to teasing because let’s face it, kids talk. There is nothing right about schools calculating BMIs.
I am all for eliminating childhood obesity. As parents, it is our responsibility to take care of our children and keep them healthy. We need to keep them active and feed them healthy foods. Take them in for their yearly visits to the pediatrician so that they can stay on track and we can address any issues immediately.
I personally don’t think that I need the school taking it upon themselves to weigh and measure my child. That in and of itself is embarrassing for some children whether they are large, small or just sensitive to being judged on their appearance.
Which reminds and infuriates me of something that happened last Friday, my beautiful 7-year-old daughter came home from school and was excitedly showing me a project they did in class to tie in with the Dr. Seuss celebration. It was a form titled “All about Me”.
Page 1, says my name is Bella, I am 7 years old, weight and height in inches. This irritated me because why is her teacher weighing her at school in the classroom in front of everyone else in the first place? What she said next made my skin crawl. “My teacher took my weight and said (something to the effect of), “Wow, You have big strong bones.” She’s solid for sure. She’s not fat but she’s a solid kid. She always has been.
I know this teacher and he is not the kind of person who would ever insult a child. I’m assuming he said it as in Wow, you don’t look like you weigh that much. Big strong bones meaning it must be her bones because nothing else would implicate that weight.
So, I didn’t let on that my head was exploding because I didn’t want to give the incident any more weight than it already had. Then my daughter said, “Yeah, when Coco heard my weight, she said it was okay because she is fat too!” By the way, her BMI is in healthy range. I know because there is a pediatric BMI calculator on the Internet. A. PEDIATRIC. BMI.CALCULATOR! Why is such a thing even in existence?
To be clear, my 7-year-old is almost 5 foot tall. The other girl is even taller. Neither of them is overweight at all. Both are athletes. My daughter dances and the other little girl is a gymnast. Why either of them would ever think they are fat would be a mystery to me if not for me hearing that their male teacher was weighing them and commenting.
I wanted to scream and yell because I do everything in my power to assure that my girls don’t go through what I went through with the body dysmorphic disorder and the eating disorders. I was really annoyed that they are being weighed at school in the classroom.
Calmly, I said to my sweet daughter, “Bella, you are perfect just the way you are and so is Coco. You are both tall girls who are toned from years of dancing and gymnastics. You are not big boned. You are not fat. You are beautiful, intelligent, funny, girls who can do anything you want to in this world.” She seemed satisfied.
If a fat letter was sent home, I am sure that I would be in the school taking issue with them for calculating my child’s BMI in the first place. BMI is fallible. And if the letter were given to my child to bring home, they could easily see it. Know that they are being judged on their BMI; being singled out. This is not what our kids need. This is fat shaming. Kids are not stupid. They can figure out what these letters are.
I get that I am a little hypersensitive about the weight issue because of my own past with weight issues. I know that. These fat letters being sent home are going to propel children towards dieting and eating disorders at even younger ages than the tween/ teen ages that we expect. There are 7-year-olds going on diets. My 5-year-old has been very self-conscious about her size since she’s been a toddler.
I worry about both of my girls because they have to grow up in a society that assaults them with images in the media of waif thin anorexic girls. They are beginning to think that is normal. This is when the problem starts because the logical mind thinks if sickly looking is the norm than normal must be too big.
These fat letters are just another symptom of the disease. Society feeds our kids super-sized, sugar infused crap and then it casts a disapproving eye towards them the moment their bodies react normally to refined and fast food. We’ve become a society who fat-shames children.