Childhood obesity. It's the buzzword and obsession of schools across the country as parents, school administrators, and health care providers scramble to understand why our children are getting heavier. But maybe this whole national discussion has left us a little too careless about where we draw the line between a young person's weight and his or her right to privacy.
We have heard horrifying tales of schools 'fat shaming' children by sending letters to parents when they think their children are overweight.
Yale University student Frances Chan experienced a similar breed to shaming. Although in her case, the school was shaming her for being too thin. And administrators were threatening to expel her if she didn't bulk up.
It all began last September, when Chan visited the university's health clinic about a lump in her breast. At the time Chan was 5'2″ and 90 lbs., which made her BMI - or Body Mass Index -16.5. A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight. Chan's doctors raised concerns about her weight and the student received a email about “a concern resulting from your recent visit.” Chan became understandably concerned that this had to do with the lump in her breast.
When she revisited the clinic in December she was told that she had been identified as having an eating disorder and that university officials wanted her to bulk up and attend counseling and treatment sessions for an eating disorder — or else.
"The medical professionals think I have an eating disorder -- but they won't look past the number on the scale, to see the person right in front in them," Chan later wrote in an essay on Huffington Post about her ordeal.
Chan - and eventually her parents - tried to explain to university officials that she had always been thin. As had everyone in her family. Her parents wrote letters and even sent in Chan's previous medical records to collaborate her story.
Chan initially tried to comply with the demands placed upon her - weekly weigh-ins, visits with nurses, nutritionists, and a mental health professional. She also subjected herself to a diet of ice cream, Cheetos, and no exercise in an effort to gain weight. When she finally gained two pounds, the student thought she would be in the clear, but her nurse told her she needed to gain another three before she would be considered 'healthy.'
"She had finally cracked me," Chan recalls, "By forcing standards upon us that we cannot meet, the University plays the same role as fashion magazines and swimsuit calendars that teach us about the "correct shape" of the human body."
Chan took her story to the media, writing the aforementioned essay for the Huffington Post and talking to reporters about her situation.
For their part, Yale has finally admitted their mistake, freeing Chan from all mandatory health checks - except for one checkup a semester.
Chan hopes her ordeal will force the university to reevaluate how a student’s health is measured.
“At Yale, you’re taught to be the change that you want to see in the world,” Chan said in her essay. “Well, this seems like an easy thing to change.”
Related posts on MNN: