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.