"Seventeen delving into that territory seems like crossing a line. Can't we leave the delicate assessment of teenagers' bodies in the hands of, you know, doctors?...And beyond that, if they're going to tweak government BMI guidelines, why take it in a potentially damaging direction?"
Body Image in young women
I think at some point in our lives, every woman has struggled with body image in some way or other, even girls who are of healthy weight. I am one of those women, who, despite being of the healthy body fat percentage for my height and age, still struggle with feeling comfortable in my own skin.
And it's hard. The average American sees over 3,000 advertisements a day. For women, that means over 3,000 images that are likely to NOT represent us in a healthy, or even realistic, manner. It's common, or at least should be common knowledge, that photos of super models and makeup models in beauty magazines are heavily Photoshopped, airbrushed and doctored to the point where the beauty standard shown in them is quite literally unachievable. Jean Killbourne's documentary "Killing Us Softly" explores the sexualized depiction of women in the media, and what she finds is eye-opening and depressing. (There are 3 versions of her documentary, with a 4th in the works. She keeps her information updated to follow changing modern times and as a way to compare advertisements from the past to current ones.)
With all that negativity thrown at us and the message that being "skinny" and "perfect," it's very difficult for us to feel comfortable in our own skin. If those women who fit the standard of "skinny" are unhappy with themselves, how do women who don't fit that image feel? And what about young teen girls who are coming into new life experiences and peer pressure? Seventeen certainly is not helping by posting inaccurate information about BMI.
Claire Myasko from Proud2BMe says of the BMI calculator on Seventeen:
"So the U.S. government says that a BMI of 14.8 for an 18-year-old is considered medically underweight and a teen with that BMI should be seen by a doctor. According to Seventeen, however, this BMI is in the 'healthy range.' Yeah, major inconsistency and a big, big problem."
Lauren Stalnaker has created a petition for Seventeen, which now has over 3,000 supporters, asking to change it. Her message:
"While I understand it is not your goal to promote eating disorders, this portion of your website certainly does just that. By leading a 17-year-old to believe that a BMI of 15 is healthy, you are telling them that being ‘very severely underweight’ by normal standards is acceptable. Your 17 Body Peace pledge was something that inspired me as a reader when I first heard of it. I signed and vowed to work to love my body again. This BMI calculator is sending the opposite message to your readers. Please do something to fix this."
So far, Seventeen has not replied.
As someone who used to read Seventeen when I was younger, I can attest to how influential its messages can be. This is no different. It's a message of not accepting your body the way it is, disguised as a message of "being healthy." If it were really about being healthy, why would Seventeen need to use BMI levels that are drastically lower than what is actually considered healthy? And why would they want that message sent to young girls who are very likely to take this message to heart and internalize the idea that their bodies are not normal? And this is the kind of thing that can stay with them for a long time. I know it has for me.