04 March 2013

What The Monthly Weigh-In Really Says

H. Armstrong Roberts

There are all these misconceptions about very large masses of land – entire continents and countries assigned to a few main clichés or stereotypes by which people in other continents and countries judge them by.  America: land of the free, home of the brave, where the streets are made of gold and people of all shapes, colors and styles are best friends and sings songs about their togetherness.

I’ve been lucky to travel quite a lot in my 22 years.  I’ve been lucky to live in other countries and see other places and witness firsthand how wrong the misconceptions actually are.  When I went to live in Madrid, I was told not to be surprised by how Catholic everyone was.  Then, of course, I actually went to Madrid, and didn’t encounter a single Catholic.  I went to live in Prague, and was told that, there, tourists were welcomed and befriended effortlessly.  Then, of course, I actually went to Prague and didn’t make a single Czech friend.  And I’ve lived in America for most of my life, constantly being told that this is the most open-minded, accepting, liberal nation in the world, but have seen not a single thing to prove any of those statements (other than television shows, which last I checked, aren't real).  Spain, the so-called “Catholic” country, legalized gay marriage and abortion way before we did (and may I remind you all that gay marriage still isn’t legal nation-wide).  A trip down the Bible belt will tell you that we’re still one of the most religious countries in the world – heck, the entirety of our constitution is based on trust in God.  Liberal?  Yes, we have a black, Democratic president – but only half the country actually supports him at this point.

I bring this up because one of the many “America is paradise” clauses includes the supposed fact that, here, people of all sizes and shapes and colors are accepted.  We’re the melting pot that’s supposed to put all other melting pots to shame.  But then, why, when I interviewed Marshana D. Ritchie, the only black contestant on Season 12 of “The Bachelor” did she tell me the first question that she was asked by one of the other women on the show was, “So, do you even know who your biological father is”?  And why, if we’re supposed to accept all sizes, do children get made to feel repugnant when they are overweight, and not just by their peers and the bullies that torment them, but by the adults with supposed intentions of caring and protecting them?

I write this post for two reasons.  Number one: I just re-watched the first episode of Newsroom, whose opening scene will forever be my favorite opening scene to any television show every made.  When a misinformed sorority-esque student asks Aaron Sorkin’s character what makes America the best country in the world, part of his response that counteracts her silicone silliness included the following:

“We’re seventh in literacy. Twenty-seventh in math. Twenty-second in science. Forty-ninth in life expectancy. A hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality. Third in median household income. Number four in labor force and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: Number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.”

Suffice it to say, we’re not the best.  And I will forever bow my hat to Aaron Sorkin for putting it out there on national television.

The second reason I write this post is because of a conversation I had with my friend’s little sister – a 10-year-old who reminded me a lot of my former 10-year-old self.  She was quiet, shy, nerdy and, yes, chunky.  She told me that they took her height and weight in school that day (I remember the monthly weigh-ins we had to undergo through elementary and high school) and that the nurse told her she was drastically overweight for her height, and that if she didn’t make the necessary changes to her life, she would get diabetes.  The nurse then added, “People die of diabetes, you know.”  Doesn’t she sound lovely?

My friend’s sister, who I will call Maddie, isn’t even that overweight.  She has baby fat, sure, but so do many pre-pubescent kids. Maddie was so distraught at the thought of dying from being mildly overweight that she spent most of the afternoon in complete anxiety, biting her nails, tapping her foot and sitting solemnly on the couch staring at a blank television screen.  She was devastated, because some school nurse made her think that something was wrong with her – that she might die from a practically nonexistent amount of baby fat.

I’ve asked people in other countries whether they were subjected to the monthly weigh in’s that are so common in the American school system – a procedure I’ve never quite understood considering that a: school nurses are not doctors and b: why would the school need to know how much anyone weighs?  It’s a torturous exercise that I believe lessens any tiny parcel of self esteem heavier children may possess.  Nowhere else, as per my asking around, does this procedure take place.  I’ve asked relatives in Colombia; nope.  I’ve asked my boyfriend in the U.K.; nope.  I’ve asked teachers in Spain and the Czech Republic; nope.  We’re one of the only places to do this – and for what benefit?  So that a nurse can tell a child they may die of diabetes if they don’t lose weight?  I can’t help but be reminded of that scene in Mean Girls where the coach/sex-ed teacher tells the kids that if they have sex they will get AIDS and die.  There you go folks; logic at its simplest, most uneducated form.

It just amazes me.  It amazes me that we as a nation are put on a pedestal, and yet we’re probably the only country in the world that would force kids onto a scale during school hours to make them feel awful about themselves.  The makers of Mean Girls had it right; the way we’re taught certain things is just unacceptable.  Putting a 10-year-old, mildly chunky kid on a scale, telling that kid they will die if they don’t lose the 5 pounds of baby fat they’re carrying around, is unacceptable.

We lead the world in three categories: number of incarcerated citizens; number of people who believe in angels; and defense spending.  I venture to say the fourth category we lead the world in is: number of children who go home crying every day because someone has told them that they as human beings are broken, wrong, inadequate.

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