Schools and Body Image

Samantha Bell, Reporter

How are schools helping students find confidence in their body and teach them healthy eating habits? Are they at all? Promoting self love and confidence is important, so why aren’t schools teaching these things? 

In my eighth grade health class the curriculum had a section about eating disorders and the dangers of them. However, I felt that the teacher went about it in a completely wrong way, and in my opinion didn’t properly warn the students of the class about eating disorders. The teacher said that only girls develop eating disorders and they do so so they can become skinny and fit social norms.  None of those things are true, any person of any gender, can develop an eating disorder for a variety of reasons, not just to be “skinny.” She told us about anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating, but never how they develop or why, only what eating habits they encourage the person to have. I sat there as we watched a documentary about a girl in recovery from anorexia, thinking about how wrong the whole situation felt. 

Both the teacher and the documentary showed exactly how anorexia worked and how someone could start the cycle of anorexia in their eating habits. I was never educated about why someone would develop any sort of eating disorder but I was taught to calculate my body mass index or  BMI, and that I absolutely needed a balanced diet to be healthy. 

I often reflect back on this day in class and think about how that class wasn’t warned about why eating disorders are harmful. That ninety minute class period was spent showing my peers and myself how to start the cycle of eating disorders, step by step. 

“In my experience, health classes focused primarily on the horrors of eating disorders and why they should be avoided. They rarely reflected on the pressures put on both girls and boys that make them feel worthless if they don’t look a certain way,” said Bingham High School sophomore, Sophia Warnes. 

Schools have worked to make the presence of eating disorders appear as just physical, and about how much food you eat. Eating disorders are not just about the food someone may eat, but the unhealthy thoughts they have around food and their body. Eating disorders are born, raised, and sustained by negativity,” (Center for Change, Eating Disorders, School…). It’s not just about what you eat, it’s a combination of culture, environment, and outside pressure.  Disordered eating and eating disorders can include behaviors like skipping meals, binge eating, restrained eating, as said by the National Eating Disorder Collaboration in their article Disordered Eating & Dieting.

 “It [the school] has encouraged kids to do a lot of things to lose weight, rather than stay fit. In a lot of the extra curricular activities promote losing weight, and not getting fit,” said junior K Nelson.

Health and PE classes have taught students that exercise is all about losing weight, rather than gaining muscles, having fun, or how it keeps your body healthy. 

Schools are not properly educating students about the dangers of dieting, disordered eating, and eating disorders. This can cause “a reduced ability to cope with stressful situations, as well as an increased incidence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors,”(Disordered Eating & Dieting). 

Education about body image and preventing eating disorders are often limited to a few pages in a textbook in health classes, if at all. 

Schools and teachers all over the country need to stop body shaming. Humiliating people who don’t have a perfect diet, and putting pressure on students who have a differently shaped body. Body Image by Sam Bell.JPG