Is your school or classroom a body-positive space for students?


It is widely accepted, from preschool to high school, that teachers and school staff play a big part in helping students to develop positive self-esteem. Many of those same teachers may not be aware that one of the most significant factors in an individual’s overall self-esteem is body image. So why does the way we see/think/feel about our bodies matter so much and what does that have to do with our classrooms? Consider the following:

  • 31% of adolescents do not engage in classroom debate for fear of drawing attention to how they look.1
  • 20% of teens say they stay away from class on days when they lack confidence about their appearance.1
  • On days when they feel bad about their looks, 20% of 15 to 17 year old girls will not give an opinion and 16% will avoid school altogether.2
  • A study of more than 11,000 teens found that students who saw themselves as overweight (regardless of actual weight) had lower academic performance than those who did not. This is important because it means the perception of being overweight – likely because of cultural bias and negative stereotypes that come with that – was a more significant determinant of academic performance than medically defined obesity.

If the way kids feel about their bodies impacts attendance, classroom engagement, academic performance and individual self-esteem, it makes a lot of sense for schools to be paying attention to body image.  Below are just a few ways you can work to establish a school environment that is body positive and doesn’t reinforce harmful weight stigma, appearance ideals or the diet mentality.


6 Guidelines for a Body Positive Classroom


Representation matters. 

Do a thorough scan of books, posters and other materials around your classroom. Do they include a wide representation of people with diverse bodies – both in weight and shape but also skin color, gender presentation and physical ability? Will all kids see themselves represented in the positive imagery around your classroom?

If your class involves physical fitness or health messaging, consider whether your resources show kids and adults of all shapes and sizes being active or just thin/muscular people? Are fatter bodies exclusively used in imagery meant to deter or shame people for specific behaviors? If you’re in need of new imagery, check out these inclusive stock fitness photos from The Body Positive Fitness Alliance.

Above all, remember that kids who feel good about their bodies, regardless of their weight, are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors and less likely to engage in risky or harmful behaviors like smoking and bingeing.4 To help bring body positivity into your class, add books and resources to your lesson plan or syllabus that promote body acceptance and provoke age appropriate conversations about the natural diversity of bodies. Messaging that focuses on 1) how health behaviors can make us feel, or 2) developing gratitude for the functionality of our bodies as opposed to what they weigh or look like, can promote self-care and confidence. A list of age-specific body positive resources is included at the end of this post – please scroll down to check it out!


Leave all personal diet-talk at the door and enforce that rule with fellow teachers and school staff.

We know that kids are listening to the adults around them even when we don’t think they are. Casual background discussions about cutting out carbs, trying a new “cleanse” or berating oneself for eating a cupcake are not as innocent as you might think. When little ears – or even mature high school ears – overhear their favorite teacher or respected mentor talking about food and bodies in critical or shameful ways they can internalize those messages. There are many reasons why we encourage adults not to introduce kids to dieting, including the fact that kids who diet are up to 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder.5

Furthermore, there is no long-term evidence that any fad diets like keto, paleo, Whole30, Atkins or otherwise lead to reliable or sustainable weight loss. In fact, diets have been associated with longterm weight gain. Specifically, adolescent girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not.6


Normalize the variety of healthy body changes that take place before and during puberty. 

For example, it’s completely normal (and necessary) for a young girls’ body to store up extra fat before she gets her period for the first time. It’s also common for boys and girls to gain weight and fill out just prior to growth spurts in height. Remember this happens at very different times for different kids. If they experience these normal changes as abnormal or bad, it puts them at risk for body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. But If kids (and teachers and parents) can learn to anticipate these changes they may be more likely to trust their bodies as they grow and mature.


Incorporate MEDIA LITERACY into your curriculum.

It doesn’t matter if you teach preschool story time or AP Literature, there are countless opportunities to talk about how to handle cultural messages kids receive about beauty, appearance, health, and weight. The Center for Eating Disorders provides body image and media literacy workshops for educators and parents as well as arts-based campaigns like the Love Your Tree campaign. We also encourage school staff to pursue training in evidence-based prevention programs such as The Body Project and to work with local organizations to incorporate student activism projects that challenge the thin ideal and inspire brands to do better.

 

Weight-based bullying is more common than all other forms of teasing. Establish a policy against weight-based bullying and actively work to reduce body commentary in general.

What’s the difference between a teacher proclaiming “you look amazing! Have you lost weight?” and a student teasing her classmate for “packing on the pounds” over the summer? Not much actually. They both reinforce a negative bias towards larger bodies and establish an unnecessary focus on appearance/size. In our culture it is assumed that saying something one thinks is “nice” about someone’s body is a good thing but praising specific aspects of one’s appearance can be just as detrimental for the school community as a whole because it reinforces the dangerous appearance ideals. Consider the following scenarios:

Malik gets nicknamed “string bean” by the principal because he had a growth spurt and grew much taller and slimmer than his peers. Malik was already feeling self-conscious about his height and knows the principal was just kidding around but now he does everything he can to avoid seeing him in the hallways.

Dean came back to school a size smaller and friends are requesting her “weight loss secrets”. They don’t know she was in treatment for an eating disorder over the summer and has developed heart problems and other health complications as a result.

So what is a school or classroom policy that addresses all of the situations above? Something similar to “We just don’t comment on other peoples bodies” can be the most effective message to dissuade body-talk (praising or teasing) among students and staff.


Encourage colleagues – administrators, school nurses, coaches and physical education teachers – to review the evidence for any interventions they are implementing with regard to weight, health or nutrition. 

Every school should be asking whether there is quality, health-focused research to back up the intervention and does this program have the potential to do more harm than good? The truth is, many of these practices lack research and may have harmful consequences, yet many schools and childcare centers continue to implement them. Examples of such campaigns and curriculums currently include:

  • Publicly weighing kids in gym or health class
  • Giving kids assignments that require them to count calories and track their food
  • Hosting “Biggest Loser” weight-loss competitions among school staff
  • Sending home BMI report cards for students or calculating BMI in class.
  • Shaming kids’ lunch items or teaching very young kids to label food items as good/bad or healthy/junk.

When it comes to BMI report cards, even the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) notes in their report that “Little is known about the outcomes of BMI measurement programs, including effects on weight-related knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of youth and their families. As a result, no consensus exists on the utility of BMI screening programs for young people.7

There is no indication that providing kids and parents with BMI information leads to any significant behavior change or improved health outcomes. Furthermore, unless safeguards are solidly in place, a risk of harm exists when children are simply told there is something wrong with their body size. Risks for body comparison and weight-based teasing also increase.8

What else are you doing to reduce weight-based teasing and make your classroom a safe place for students of all shapes and sizes? Tweet us @CEDSheppPratt today and share your experiences. 

 


Body Positive Resources:

For School Administrators:

Preschool/Elementary Kids & Parents:

Middle School:

High School/College:


Links to References:

  1. Ignoring it doesn’t make it stop.
  2. Beyond stereotypes: rebuilding the foundations of beauty beliefs.
  3. Perception of Overweight is Associated with Poor Academic Performance in US Adolescents
  4. Does Body Satisfaction Matter? Five-year Longitudinal Associations between Body Satisfaction and Health Behaviors in Adolescent Females and Males
  5. Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population based cohort study over 3 years
  6. Risk Factors for Body Dissatisfaction in Adolescent Girls: A Longitudinal Investigation
  7. A Report on the Facts and Concerns About BMI Screening in Schools

NEDA Congressional Briefing on Eating Disorders

CED Co-Director, Dr. Steven Crawford, among panelists to speak on Capitol Hill

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) in conjunction with the Congressional Mental Health Caucus hosted a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill on October 2, 2018. This briefing was held to educate representatives and legislative aides about eating disorders in overlooked populations. Panelists at the briefing included Chevese Turner (moderator), Mike Marjama, Claire Mysko, Janell Mensinger, PhD, and Steven Crawford, M.D.

Dr.Crawford, co-director at The Center fo Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, began by discussing the different eating disorders and the risks and causes associated with them. He explained the differences in each disorder and the ways someone can help if they notice symptoms of an eating disorder in someone they care about. These include, seeking more information on the subject, locating resources, not focusing on weight, and encouraging the person to seek specialized treatment.

Dr. Janell Mensinger, an Associate Research Professor at Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, presented on eating disorders and population weight. Her presentation focused on people in higher weight bodies and she explained how weight-related harassment is over four times more common than bullying. She stressed that we, as a society, need to shift focus from weight to health and provided research that shows eating disorders and extreme dieting are increasing among people in higher weight bodies.

The next panelist Claire Mysko, CEO of NEDA, spoke about a prevention program called the Body Project. The Body Project is a group-based intervention that helps decrease eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction in high school girls. There are currently 388 trained facilitators for this program across the United States. Mysko also mentioned how NEDA is working on a similar program for young men.

The final panelist was former Seattle Mariners Catcher Mike Marjama who now serves as a NEDA Ambassador. Marjama presented his personal struggle with body dissatisfaction and an intense desire to change his body, which led to extreme behaviors around food and exercise, an eating disorder diagnosis and eventually hospitalization. His treatment and recovery however, led him to a baseball career and renewed appreciation for mindfulness and balance. After retiring he decided to speak openly about his disorder and his story has since been featured on Good Morning America. As an Ambassador for NEDA his goal is to help boys and men see through outdated stereotypes about eating disorders so they can get the help they need.

Eating disorders are one of the most dangerous mental health issues and should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, they are too often overlooked in people with higher weight bodies, in athletes of all calibers and in traditionally marginalized populations. Our hope is that the information shared in the Oct 2nd hearing will assist legislators in creating policies that not only support prevention and treatment for eating disorders but improve overall public health.

Additional Advocacy Resources:

  • Get involved, learn about state-specific legislative actions and become a NEDA advocate.
  • Read summaries of current legislative actions, read about current initiatives and get involved with advocacy days on Capitol Hill with the Eating Disorder Coalition.
  • You can find out more about The Center for Eating Disorders’ recent advocacy work here.

Written by: Julie Seechuk, Social Work Intern 

8 Tips for Raising Body Positive Kids (Who are also Competent Eaters)


If your goal is to raise kids with high levels of self-esteem, eating competence, body satisfaction and a healthy weight (which is different for everyone) then join the chorus of advocates saying #wakeupweightwatchers and ditch the diet mentality for yourself and your family.  We know weight-loss diets don’t work. We also know they can cause serious harm, especially when introduced to kids and teens.  Let’s prevent the weight loss industry from profiting off our children’s generation.

So if dieting doesn’t work to help kids maintain a healthy weight, what is a parent to do?  These 8 tips are a great place to start.

  1. Make a commitment to having family meals together as often as you can within your family’s schedule. Having regular sit-down meals as a family has been shown to be a protective factor against a range of health and mental health problems including disordered eating.1,2,3,4 
  2. Introduce and incorporate a variety of foods from different food groups at every meal. This doesn’t assume your kid will actually eat them but it’s important to expose them, even if it’s just on someone else’s plate.
  3. Teach and model body acceptance (as opposed to body criticism or body comparison). Kids are always listening and watching how the adults around them relate to their own bodies.
  4. Support your child’s natural ability to regulate hunger and satiety. Promote trust in their ability to self-regulate. We recommend learning more about Ellyn Satter’s Family Feeding Model and the Division of Responsibility in feeding.

Research has shown that size acceptance and learning to use hunger and fullness cues produces sustainable improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, physical activity, self-esteem, and depression compared to dieting.” 5

 

  1. Engage in physical movement as a family with the goal of adventure, fun, coordination and social connection. Try not to frame exercise as punishment, as a way to gain permission to eat or as a means to an end (i.e. weight-loss).
  2. Incorporate all foods without fear or mixed messages. Food is energy and fuel but it’s also okay for it to be enjoyable too. Don’t forbid specific foods or categories of foods (unless there is an allergy of course). Refrain from using food as a reward at home and in the classroom as this can confuse kids, encourages them to eat in the absence of hunger or may lead to a pattern of rewarding oneself with food.6
  3. Refrain from labeling foods as “good foods” vs “bad foods”. Connecting foods with negative labels like bad, toxic or junk foods, can send kids a message that food is related to morality. Even young kids may internalize these labels. Ex) I ate a bad food, therefore I must be bad or I should feel badly. This can trigger strong feelings of guilt or shame related to eating as well as increased emotional eating.
  4. Support healthy sleep habits. Kids who don’t get enough sleep, or have chaotic sleep schedules, show changes in hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Not getting enough sleep can also impact the way a child’s body metabolizes certain foods.7

While these tips are meant to be a very basic place to start, they might still feel overwhelming since we live in a culture of toxic messages about food and weight. It’s hard to let go of anxiety about our kids’ eating behavior and weight. These can also be difficult to implement if you have your own history of body image struggles, eating disorders or dieting.

If you’re worried that your own relationship with food or weight might be complicating the way you approach these issues with your kids or teens you’re not alone. It can be helpful to get support from a therapist with eating disorder expertise or other non-diet practitioners. At The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt we provide a number of services that can help, including:

If you’re interested in any of these services, please call (410) 938-5252 for more information. 

Previous Post: 10 reasons NOT to introduce dieting during childhood & adolescence


References:

  1. Losing weight won’t make you happy
  2. Are Family Meal Patterns Associated with Overall Diet Quality during the Transition from Early to Middle Adolescence?
  3. Family meals during adolescence are associated with higher diet quality and healthful meal patterns during young adulthood.
  4. BENEFITS OF FAMILY DINNERS
  5. 10 Reasons to Stop Dieting Now
  6. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: how to eat, how to raise good eaters, how to cook
  7. The connection between sleep and growth

Additional Recommended Reading: Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift

 

10 reasons NOT to introduce dieting during childhood & adolescence


Weight Watchers recently announced that it will offer free memberships to teens starting this summer. This announcement led to parents, physicians, dietitians and therapists around the world speaking out – and rightfully so – about the harmful effects of encouraging dieting in our kids. Why? Weight-loss diets have not been shown to provide any long-term health benefits.  Furthermore, dieting remains a major predictor for the development of eating disorders and worsens negative body image.

If you have kids or teens in your life that are feeling the pressure to diet or lose weight,  here are ten important facts and considerations to bear in mind.


1. Restrictive diets negatively impact children’s normal stages of growth and development. 

“Dieting is associated with potential negative physical health consequences. Nutritional deficiencies, particularly of iron and calcium, can also pose short- and long-term risks. In growing children and teenagers, even a marginal reduction in energy intake can be associated with growth deceleration1

2. Dieting is a major risk factor for the development of eating disorders. It can be hard to recognize eating disorders in teens or children, as many harmful attitudes about weight and food have become normalized in our culture. However, the problem is very real. And eating disorders don’t discriminate by gender, body type, ethnicity, or social status. According to Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., in the U.S. alone, more than 50% of adolescent girls and 33% of adolescent boys have used unhealthy weight control behaviors. Even when such behaviors don’t develop into clinical eating disorders, they can still have a significant negative impact on physical and mental health.

3. Dieting disrupts children’s innate ability to eat intuitively. Dieting teaches kids to override natural hunger and fullness cues which can have lifelong effects.

4. Diets often rely on externally mandated measures of food or fullness which  undermine our innate ability to feed ourselves well. Using external systems such as “points” or other charts and arbitrary ways of monitoring food intake teaches kids to shut down or ignore their own internal regulatory systems (including hunger and satiety cues) and to mistrust their own bodies.

5. Focusing on weight is problematic as it is not a reliable measure of health. Furthermore, weight-focused discussion in and of itself is a risk factor for obesity and eating disorders.

“Several studies have found that parental weight talk, whether it involves encouraging their children to diet or talking about their own dieting, is linked to overweight and EDs.” 2

6. Dieting teaches kids to associate eating with feelings of guilt and shame as opposed to viewing food as fuel and energy.

7. Dieting negatively impacts body image. Weight fluctuations, common with dieting behaviors, often end up fueling the cycle of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.

8. Findings clearly indicate that dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviors predict significant weight gain over time.3 Weight loss diets are actually associated with higher lifetime BMI.

9. Weight loss diets are associated with decreased metabolism, food preoccupation, and binge eating.4

10. Weight loss diets are associated with increased rates of depression and decreased self-esteem.5,6

Once we all understand the facts about how diets actually impact children (and adults), we can help families focus on implementing actual evidence-based strategies that we know are more likely to result in positive outcomes and healthier kids.

The question becomes: How can family members and friends best support our nation’s youth towards a peaceful relationship with food and positive body image without introducing potentially harmful diet routines?

Check out our next post, 8 Tips for Raising Body Positive Kids (Who are also competent eaters) for some basic ideas and strategies.

References:

  1. Dieting in adolescence
  2. Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents
  3. Dieting and Unhealthy Weight Control Behaviors During Adolescence: Associations With 10-Year Changes in Body Mass Index
  4. Intuitive Eating Category: Studies
  5. Risk and protective factors for depression that adolescents can modify: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies.
  6. Losing weight won’t make you happy 

Contributors:
Rebecca Hart, R.D.
Caitlin Royster, R.D.
Rebecca Thomas, R.D.
Kate Clemmer, LCSW-C
Hannah Huguenin, R.D.

A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY Film – Part 2

In addition to her debut as a filmmaker with The Student Body, Bailey Webber is an up-and-coming public speaker and has appeared as a guest on several television and radio shows. If you missed Part 1 of our conversation with Bailey, you can find it here and you can meet Bailey, along with her father and Co-Director of the film, Michael Webber, on February 26 at The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt


Q&A with Bailey Webber – Part 2

What have been the most common responses or reactions from people who’ve seen The Student Body? Have they all been positive?

BW: For about a year the film has played at film festivals and special premieres and screenings around the country and my dad and I have been fortunate enough to attend many of them and engage with the audiences. This gives us a great idea of how people are responding to the story and information and I’m so happy to say that the reaction has been incredible!

We have had adults stand up and explain that the story has completely changed their perspective on themselves, their kids, and others.  Students have felt empowered to speak up for the first time and share their own experiences, when before they were too ashamed to say anything.  Teachers, doctors and school nurses have thanked us for making the film, have shared their own emotional stories.  We receive emails and phone calls from people around the country, encouraging us to keep getting the message out.  We even have clinics that want to incorporate the film into their patient programs. 

Just this week we spoke with a clinician who has been battling this issue in her own school district for years, but with no success.  Months ago she arranged to bring the film to her city and worked to encourage the community to join her in seeing it.  The screening was last night and she called us immediately after.  She was so excited and explained that the school officials have finally agreed to stop sending out the letters and will be looking for help to approach the issue in a more productive way!  We were all so excited!  It’s such a game changer and it makes me feel so humbled and overwhelmed to see the film is being used as a tool to help bring about change with these issues. 

Do you have any personal advice or a message of hope for kids and teens who’ve been impacted negatively by bullying, BMI report cards or weight teasing?

BW: The biggest thing to know is that you are not alone and your voice does matter.  I also want them to know that things can change, but only if we are willing to speak up and engage.  Along those lines, there are a few things that I suggest to young people:

  1. Always be respectful. Taking a stand, speaking your mind and challenging authority doesn’t mean you have the right to disrespect another person in the process. Otherwise, you’ve just done something wrong yourself!
  2. Find an adult to learn from and help support you. My friend, Maddie, had a strong, smart, loving mother who was willing to stand behind her when she protested. For me, my dad had my back all along the way as I challenged authority at every corner. This can help give you the courage you need when taking on big challenges and getting outside of your comfort zone.
  3. Know your rights. My dad taught me that 90% of having rights is knowing my rights! Learn from an adult what is possible, what actions you can actually take, and what your rights are. Then bravely exercise those rights! Trust me, it feels great!
  4. Use your powerful voice! It’s surprising to learn that many people might feel the same way you do, but everyone is just waiting for someone else to speak up. Well, maybe you should be that “someone”! Start the conversation with your peers, your teachers, your parents and your school board. You’ll be amazed at the change that can happen when you finally choose to use your voice. I’ve experienced this twice in high school and you see it in the film. It’s amazing, it’s simple, and it can really change things for the better. You can do it, too!

What was it like to embark on a project this big with your dad as your partner? Did the two of you learn anything new about each other in the process?

BW: Working alongside my dad was amazing!   Growing up he always taught my sister and me to tackle big and difficult things, to face our fears, and to overcome any disadvantages that we might have rather than use them as excuses.  For me, making this film was an example of all of these things and having my dad mentor and encourage me through the process was everything.

Father/Daughter Filmmaking Duo, Michael Webber & Bailey Webber

In the beginning, he also explained that this was my project and he will be there to equal my effort, but no more.  In other words, if I don’t put in the time, if I don’t do the research, if I don’t do the work, neither will he.  But if I give it everything I have no matter how difficult the obstacles, then he will give his everything too.  We joke about it now because the film became an obsession for me and I would drag him all over the country and spend the next three years helping me make this film.  He even set aside other films he was working on just to help me see this through!

My dad would also assign books for me to read on filmmaking, journalism, writing – and I would read them all!  He would give me lists of films to watch and study and take notes on, and then he would discuss them with me.  He taught me how to edit, how to write for film, how story works and how to build these big story boards to work from as the production evolved.  It was the greatest filmmaking course ever! We had so much fun together and I hope that comes out in the film, especially with the humor that we brought to it.   So for me, the experience has changed me forever.

Who do you think could benefit from attending the screening of The Student Body here in Baltimore on February 26th? What overarching message do you hope they will take away from the event?

BW: Public screenings like this are great for parents, students, teachers, lawmakers, and anyone in the healthcare field.   All of these groups are represented in the film and will benefit from experiencing the other perspectives in the story.  My hope is that people will come away from the film with a greater understanding of the complexity behind obesity and eating disorders and with a new appreciation for the struggles that people have with their weight and body image.


Many thanks to Bailey Webber for taking the time to share about her experience filming The Student Body.  If you’d like to see the film and have a chance to ask Bailey and her dad, Michael Webber, more about their experience, join us in Baltimore on February 26 for a FREE SCREENING in recognition of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Attendance is free but space is limited – RSVP Today!

The Student Body

Read More: A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY – Part 1

A Conversation with Bailey Webber, Co-Director of THE STUDENT BODY Film – Part 1


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.

Watch the trailer and reserve a seat at The Baltimore Screening of The Student Body on February 26, 2017 in Towson, MD.