Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre (GLOBE) have recently publicised their proposal to weigh primary school children, in order to gain data on the “obesity crisis”. As I read about this, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone at GLOBE had actually stopped to consider the effects of this proposal on the innocent children it involves. As a psychologist working with young people with Eating Disorders and extreme body image dissatisfaction, as well as a mum of three, this is what I see when I consider this proposal.
I see little Annabelle. She is six and in her first year of school. Her parents have worked hard to ensure Annabelle’s experience of her body is positive. The knowledge of even having a “weight” is new and foreign to Annabelle. But today all the kids in her class are going out to another room, one by one, with people they haven’t met before to be “weighed”. Annabelle thinks about how her mum weighs the butter when they cook cakes on the weekends. She knows they need to use the right sized piece for the cake to turn out nice. If the piece of butter is too small, mum adds more; if it’s too big, she cuts some off.
As Anabelle steps onto the scales she looks up at the “trained clinician” and asks “am I the right weight?” The clinician smiles and says “you’re perfect”. Annabelle is relieved as she skips back to class; no need to cut any of me off she thinks. And so is planted the first seed for Annabelle that there is a “right” and a “wrong” weight when it comes to weight and body shapes. I see a little bit of Annabelle’s innocence lost that day.
I see Jed. Jed is 8 and in Grade 2. He is full of blond curls and cheeky bright sparkles in his eyes. Jed is funny and clever and a great kick of the football. He also carries more fat on his body than most of his classmates and sometimes the kids call him “fat”. Jed’s parents know that he feels a bit self-conscious of his body shape and remind him all the time that he is healthy and strong and that his body shape doesn’t matter. Jed’s parents have chosen to “opt-out” of the weighing program to try to prevent Jed from feeling any more discomfort about his body.
Some of the kids in Jed’s class notice he is the only one not to be weighed. “Is it because you’re too fat?” one child asks innocently. “Are your parents worried they’d get in trouble if the bosses know how heavy you are?”. Jed doesn’t know how to answer and for the first-time wonders if his body embarrasses his parents and if body shape is actually more important than being healthy and strong-after all after all no one is coming to school to measure those things. I see Jed walking home that night with one less sparkle in his eyes.
I see Jazi. Jazi is 11 and in grade six. She loves playing guitar and dreams of being a singer one day. Jazi has been through this weighing process twice before. She doesn’t like it. This year in the couple of months leading up to the weigh in she stopped eating lollies and ice-cream because even though no one will say anything she knows people will be thinking about her weight and judging her if they think she is too heavy. Jazi dreads the weigh-in can’t wait for it to be done because straight after school that day she’s going to the supermarket and buying the biggest bag of Maltesers she can find! I see Jazi begin the slippery slope of an unhealthy relationship with food and a cycle of restriction and over-eating.
I see 12-year-old Emma. Well I see some of Emma, but mostly I see Emma’s Anorexia and the shadow it is casting over this previously out-going, brilliantly talented netballer. Emma is crying in the toilet block, desperately praying that her name won’t be called out as she is terrified of anyone knowing her weight. I see a very unwell little girl, being further tormented by a thoughtless program.
I see countless numbers of children become increasingly concerned by weight and shape. Some internalise this and develop a pre-occupation with their own appearance; others externalise it and weight-stigma becomes even stronger in the next generation.
Then, I see me. I am laying awake in bed worrying about a lady I spoke with earlier in the day, Roz. Roz is a mum, petrified of losing her 14-year-old son, Joel to Bulimia Nervosa. Just last week Joel’s heart rate became irregular and he was hospitalised. I had to tell Roz I can’t see Joel at this time. I’m fully booked because the prevalence of Eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction continues to soar.
I see myself get out of bed and stand at my children’s’ bedsides. I am so in love with these children, so involved with them, yet feel so helpless about the messages they will receive in years to come about their worth, based solely on the little bodies they occupy.
So, what I do now is write. And I hope that you might read. And if you read maybe you’ll agree and also see that the ramifications of this proposal are personal and deep – they could be potentially horrific and devastating. We have to try to stop it from ever starting for the sake of the young people we love and care about.
If you’d like to help me and the many other health professionals strongly opposed to any child ever being weighed at school, it would be fantastic if you could please follow this link and sign the petition below.
Thank you so much and let’s hope to one day see as much energy and effort be put into a campaign about promoting body diversity and Health at Every Size (HAES).
PSYCHOLOGIST, and mum
LASKESIDE PSYCHOLOGY (Victoria, Australia)