There is no age group more at risk for developing eating disorders as teenage girls, and considering the stress of going through puberty and watching your body change is compounded by unrealistic body standards in media and often high expectations in academic and personal spheres, it's really no wonder why. Naturally, parents and educators should broach the topic of nutrition carefully with teenage girls — which is exactly why one mother is justifiably furious after posting that teenage daughter's school shamed her for packing too much for lunch.
User LemonDrizzleDisco posted about the incident on the popular parenting site Mumsnet, sharing that the school has begun monitoring the individual lunches of students for approval, which is what instigated the comment in the first place. Unsurprisingly, the commenters were so up in arms with the encounter that the thread has since gone viral.
Setting aside for a moment the fact that it is not any of the school's business what nutritional choices a teenage girl — old enough to self-regulate and control what kind of food she eats, and how much of it goes in her body — makes for herself. The mere act of calling a student out for "packing too much food," effectively shaming them for eating, may have all kinds of psychological consequences on an impressionable teenage mind. Approximately 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. have had a significant eating disorder at some point in their lives, and the teenage years are a prime time of vulnerability to them; according to the National Eating Disorders Association, the percentage of teenage girls who develop anorexia has been steadily rising every decade since 1930. Most teenagers already suffer from body image issues, with 90 percent of teenage girls reporting that they would change one aspect of themselves if they could — the number one aspect being body weight. And while there are many root causes for eating disorders and poor body image, undoubtedly pressure and criticism from adults and peers plays a huge factor in their development.
And although it ultimately distracts from the point, the other kicker is that the lunch in question was actually a healthy one that, by anyone's standards, should pass as an adequate lunch. According to the mother's post, the lunch included a peanut butter sandwich on whole wheat bread, a small banana, strawberries, grapes, and a handful of raisins and dried coconut flakes. She mentioned that it is often hard enough as it is to pack a lunch for her daughter, who is vegan, because alternatively, the school offers lunches that include items like "sausages and mash, cake and custard, sandwiches and doughnuts."
What's even more worrying is that many other commenters echoed similar concerns, where schools had banned or discouraged particular foods from lunch boxes but then offered much unhealthier options in the cafeteria. But although that is concerning (and certainly makes a lot of parents question the true priorities of the school), the main issue at stake here is the fact that the school is monitoring and criticizing nutritional choices in the first place. Teenagers should have the autonomy to make their own decisions about their bodies, be it fueling it with peanut butter sandwiches or chocolate cake (which is, unfortunately, yet another school lunch controversy that happened last month). While educators should absolutely be concerned about the health and safety of their students, that should never extend to monitoring their food intake or choices — particularly among teenage students, who are more than old enough to be making those decisions for themselves.