Bailey Webber is a student investigative journalist, writer, and co-director of The Student Body. Her story of courage and activism has been featured in numerous newspaper and online articles. She has been honored by the National Association of University Women for her advocacy work, is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorders Association as well as Proud to Be Me with which she has written several articles, blogs, and has participated in panel discussions. Bailey is the daughter of Michael Webber, a motion picture producer and renowned documentary filmmaker. As such, she has grown up around movie making and has storytelling in her blood. The Student Body is her directorial debut.
In advance of the upcoming Baltimore Premiere of her film, we had the pleasure of asking Bailey about the film and her experience co-directing it alongside her father. Part 1 of here responses are shared here.
Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 1
In your own words, can you tell us what The Student Body is about and why you feel people should see the film?
BW: For me, The Student Body is a story of empowerment and finding your voice. Learning to stand against something that you feel is wrong, even when nobody else seems to be standing with you. That’s the example we see in the beginning of the film with my friend, Maddy, which then empowered me to find my own voice, to step outside of my comfort zone, and to combat something that I felt was unjust. Little did I know the giants I would face along the journey!
I hope people will watch the film for a couple reasons. For one, I want young people to realize that their opinion does matter, their voice can be powerful, and they can help to bring about change in their world. But it starts with being willing to learn, to work hard, and to be persistent. And for adults, I hope they will see the film and learn as I did, that obesity is so much more complicated than we are led to believe, and shaming and blaming kids for this epidemic of obesity is wrong on so many levels.
I also want people to know that this is a very positive film and it’s even filled with a lot of humor! People are surprised at how funny and entertaining the film is and they come away from with a sense of hope and encouragement, as well as being better informed and energized about the progress that can be made. I’ve had both students and adults tell me seeing the film has changed their life!
Can you share a little bit about the evolution of The Student Body? What drew you to the topic of BMI report cards and body shaming in the schools?
BW: Believe it or not, this film actually started off as a small, summer project when I was a sophomore in high school. I wanted to make a documentary about the “fat letters” that were being handed out to students at my school and my dad, who is a filmmaker, agreed to mentor me through the process.
Early on in my investigation, it became clear that this was more than just a local story, this was happening all over our state. And by the end of the summer, I found myself in the middle of a heated national debate! This was much bigger than I could have imagined and I wanted to take my investigation all the way. So, my dad agreed to drop his other films and help me see this through to the end. The father/daughter filmmaking duo was born! I then spent the next two years in production, traveling the country and taking my story to its conclusion.
I am so thankful to have been able to learn and work alongside my dad. I had my own obstacles to overcome and I really needed someone like him to give me the confidence and encouragement to keep going all the way. It was an amazing journey and I learned so much about myself through the experience.
Was there one interview you did for the film that really moved you or was particularly powerful? If so, with whom was it and what made it stand out to you?
BW: As I began investigating this issue I read that these “fat letters” are being sent to students of all ages, even as young as kindergartners. I didn’t know how awful and detrimental this really was to young kids until I talked to them myself. One of the most powerful interviews I did was with a group of 4th graders in New York who were brave enough to speak on camera. These sweet little kids each received “fitness grams” from their school, telling them that they were overweight and were devastated by it. They cried when they got home. They saw themselves differently than before. And they were not alone; kids and parents all over the country have had similar experiences but just would not agree to talk about it on camera because it was humiliating.
The short time I spent with these kids changed me forever. It gave me the energy I needed to keep pressing forward and to be a voice for them and also caused me want to focus my future on working more with youth.
What was your personal knowledge/perception of BMI testing in schools before the film and how did it evolve throughout your filming of The Student Body?
BW: One of my favorite things about documentary filmmaking is how much I learn through the journey. When I started this film I didn’t know much about BMI or obesity. I simply wanted to tell a personal story about a girl at my school and shed light on what seemed like government profiling and bullying. But this led me to connect with top experts around the country who were willing to talk to me about BMI and obesity. I learned so much through this process and the neat thing is the audience gets to come along with me as we take this journey together.
Can you share the most surprising thing you learned in the process of creating this film?
BW: The most surprising, and maybe most controversial thing I learned, is that all of the experts that I spoke to said pretty much the same thing – obesity is a disease and the cause in many people may not be as simple as we once believed. Research is showing that it’s not as simple as calories in versus calories burned and that obesity is not only caused by poor diet and exercise. The research is finding all of these other factors that play a big role in the obesity epidemic and yet we still are pointing our finger at kids and telling them they have done something wrong. The experts talked with me about the disconnect between what their research is showing and what the general public believes.
Read Part 2 of our interview with Bailey Webber HERE.