NYC Education Department Calls Third-Grade Girl Overweight: Is This a Body Image Disorder in the Making?
Posted on May 27, 2014 by Jennifer Lilley
Well, here we go again. One week, it’s all about obtaining a thigh gap (or, what my former group of male friends would refer to as “the perfect air-gap”), and the next, it’s about removing rib-baring mannequins from stores. Right now, recent headlines are focusing on Gwendolyn Willliams, a thin, 4-foot-1-inch third grader who was sent home with a “Fitnessgram” in which the New York City Department of Education deemed the child overweight (1).
But here’s the kicker. The girl only weighs a mere 66 pounds, one pound over the acceptable level. That’s right, a little girl is considered overweight because she’s 16 ounces over some one-size-fits-all “standard.”
Still, a pound is a pound and so that night, Gwendolyn’s mom observed her daughter grabbing at the skin around her waist (children aren’t supposed to read the letter before giving it to a parental figure, but curiosity got the best of Gwendolyn and therefore, she was aware of her new “overweight” status). As she pulled at her skin, she asked her mom if that was what the Fitnessgram was all about.
Sad, isn’t it?
Where is the line drawn?
I know, I know, I’m sure some fitness fanatics will get all serious about this and say that “the rules are the rules” and technically, whether it’s one pound or 40, little Gwendolyn is overweight. They’ll tell us not to get in a uproar over the rules. She just happens to fall on the low end. True.
And yes, I can imagine that while some people might agree that putting her in an overweight category for the sake of a pound is ridiculous, they’ll also ask where the line is drawn. Which I understand. After all, would it still be ridiculous if she were “just” five or 10 pounds overweight? After all, that’s how weight gain starts.
I know this all too well. Thoughts of “Ah, what the heck, it’s just a pound” make it easy to justify having another cookie and another slice and so on. Before you know it, you’re 70 pounds heavier, shopping for clothes in the plus-size section and out of breath going up one flight of stairs.
But this story is more than just documenting a number on the scale, putting someone in a category, and calling it a day.
Why this story is a body image and eating disorder issue in the making
Numbers aside, this story is about the emotional scars that have unfortunately already taken root in this little girl’s mind, as she’s already grabbing at and questioning her belly area, less than 24 hours after reading the fitness letter.
This, too, I know all too well.
Before you know it, you’re trying to get that pound under control, and in the excitement of doing so, can easily head down a path that includes bringing your scale on vacation, or fretting about having one measly mint just to keep it all in check.
Considering that about 80 percent of 10-year-olds have been on a diet and that, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, 70 percent of children ages 6-12 would prefer to be thinner (2), it’s likely that little Gwendolyn is already eyeing up her food portions a bit differently and wondering, needlessly, about whether or not she can do better when the next fitness assessment comes around. I wonder if she’ll look at mannequins differently, maybe even envy their hollow, plastic bodies. I can only hope she does not go down this road.
Apparently, the letter is part of a fitness assessment program given to over 800,000 school children in the city. This is actually a good thing, considering the growing obesity epidemic that’s sweeping the nation and affecting people of all ages. Assessing fitness levels can be a helpful, eye-opening catalyst for change among those who think french fries count as a healthy food because they are a potato. As an aside, it turns out that 60 percent of Americans eat their potatoes fried and consume just 1.5 cups of the recommended two to three cup intake of vegetables daily (3).
Perhaps, to some degree, fitness assessments can increase awareness about unhealthy habits.
However, it’s when a little girl starts exhibiting a sense of shame as she scrutinizes what one pound of “excess” skin looks like that “unhealthy” takes on an entirely different meaning.
Sources for this article include:
Jennifer Lea Reynolds
Jennifer Lea Reynolds is a weight loss success story who enjoys living a healthy lifestyle. A fan of the elliptical, roasted asparagus and remembering to put the lid on the blender, she’s appeared in many national and local print publications. She lives in New England where she writes professionally about health and wellness in online publications including U.S. News & World Report, Reader's Digest, Woman's Day, The Huffington Post, and more.