meltdowns, body issues, and bizarre school triggers

We had what one might generously call an “incident” – it was more like a nuclear explosion – in our house recently, and the fallout has been huge.

Seriously huge.

It started out innocently enough.  I’d brought home a few things for Bear, mostly athletic wear that I’d found on sale and thought she’d like.  She’s at this weird in-between stage, moving out of girls’ sizes but still not quite proportioned for women’s, so I figured we’d be lucky if half of them worked out.  But even buying and returning is easier because damn, that girl approaches shopping like it’s an Olympic event.

Did I expect some boo hooing if a particularly cute item didn’t go her way?  Sure.  But I definitely wasn’t expecting her monumental meltdown four shirts into our “let’s just try these on and see what you like” session.

Listen, I’ll be the first to admit that trying clothes is hard on a girl.  We’re edgy and sensitive and opinionated to boot.  Add in the joy of being bloated from (ahem) hormones or just an enormous cheeseburger, and suddenly you’re evaluating clothes over a giant jelly roll.  Not fun.

I know when I’m in that kind of place, so I can make an informed decision about whether I’ll be able to endure clothes shopping.  Getting blindsided by Bear was like taking my bad shopping day and multiplying it by 100.  Good times.

So shirt #1 was a disaster because Bear said it showed her belly.  (No, I’m not buying my daughter crop tops – she was distraught that it showed she HAS a belly.)  Shirt #2 was likable but the proportions are off, so that one she’ll save in the closet.  Bear loved shirt #3 but burst into tears because it’s a form-fitting tank and she hated how it looked on her.  Return.  Shirt #4 was the final straw – Bear put it on and collapsed into tears on her floor with big wracking sobs of “I’m so FAT.”

What the hell?!?

The excitement of a few new shirts was now completely derailed by body issues and I shifted to an entirely different space.  We talked about body image and what Bear means by the word “fat” and how it feels to see all the skinny girls at school who can wear the tight UnderArmour shirts. How girls can be way too hard on themselves and that I’ll always tell her the truth, but if there’s something she genuinely doesn’t like about herself then we’ll talk about what she can change. That God created Bear with a particular body type and that she needs to learn to love herself, and the very best thing she can be is as healthy as possible.

Many, many words and tears and hugs later, Bear was able to tell me what sparked this sudden breakdown.  A classmate had been talking about two girls that Bear knows, specifically about their weight.  It brought up all of her own body issues along with a fervent fear that girls will talk about her behind her back.  (Aren’t we a delightful gender?)  And then came the second what-the-hell moment of the afternoon.

Bear’s cry that she didn’t want to be weighed in P.E. class.

Okay, y’all, I’ll admit I dropped the ball on this one.  I got a bit upset about this last spring, but I genuinely thought being weighed in P.E. class was linked to a particular unit.  Turns out that this is being done regularly (two or three times a year) at our elementary school.  I reached out to Bear’s P.E. teacher, and while she seems to be approaching this with as much sensitivity as possible by weighing the kids apart from the group – anyone else remember the joy in fifth grade of weight checks for girls? or is that just me? – I explained that Bear would no longer be participating in this aspect of their program.

But here’s the thing…I can’t figure out why they’re doing it at all.

My first thought was that it must be in the North Carolina P.E. standards, but two other local schools don’t weigh their students in P.E. class.  So I went to the state website to check out the health-related fitness objectives the teacher is responsible for (yay, internet!).  Except I couldn’t really find anything there either.

The closest I could find was this:

Essential Standard 4.HF.3 – Understand the importance of achieving and maintaining a health-enhancing level of physical fitness.

Clarifying Objective PE.4.HF.3.2 – Evaluate oneself in terms of the five recommended behaviors for obesity prevention.

Huh.  Well, I guess one could interpret that to mean evaluating students’ height to weight ratio based on their age.  Except then I searched for an explanation of the objective, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction provided this support tool to assist teachers.  It turns out that the five recommended behaviors for obesity prevention have to do with amount of sleep nightly, eating well-balanced meals, daily physical activity, hydration, and limiting screen time.

There’s nothing in there about monitoring weight.  Nothing.

Now, I’m not living in a cave.  I understand that childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, and the World Health Organization has a Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity working on suggestions for reversing the alarming trends we see in our young people.  I get that this is a significant problem.

I just don’t get how Bear’s P.E. teacher is qualified to stand my child on a scale and tell her she needs to lose weight.  The importance of physical fitness?  The value of daily physical activity? Absolutely, she’s certified to instruct in those areas and in many more.  But advice in the medical field?  Nope, not rolling with that one.

Between Bear’s pediatrician and us, we’ve got this covered.

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