Gobsmacked! Astonished!

Wait! Did I – unbeknownst to myself – travel back in time?

This is still the 21st Century? Correct?

Given that this is the year 2022, how did a public middle school make such an egregious, unfeeling and outdated blunder?

Ashley Wells Heun, a Southaven, Mississippi resident, posted this startling notice from Southaven Middle School.

“So this is what my 8th grade daughter brought home from school today. I am beyond p- — — -ed,” wrote Ashley Wells Heun in her Tuesday, Jan. 11, Facebook post, which included a photo of a permission slip allegedly sent home from the Southaven Middle School, a public school in Southaven, from school counselors.

‘According to the photo, the notice came with an offer to receive ‘healthy literature’ as well as ‘shapewear, bras and other health products.’ The introduction on the form, which was titled, ‘Why Do Girls Suffer from Body Image?’ explained that ‘female body image is a product of personal, social and cultural experiences, and often emerges as a desire to adhere to an ‘ideal’ body shape.’” –Yahoo!Life, Jan. 13.

The understandably irate mother continued, “So you begin this masterpiece detailing how damaging a negative body image is for girls, how the stress of conforming to an impossible perceived image can adversely affect their mental health, and then OFFER TO GIVE THEM SPANX SO THEY CAN BETTER FIT THE PERCEIVED IMAGE?!?”

Say what? The school is offering the students garments that will “help” the students – who, by the way, are ages 10 through 14, in 6th through 8th grades – reshape or give the appearance of reshaping their young bodies so they resemble some wildly constructed image of a comic-book or fairy-tale adult female? In reality, given the physical constraints that spanx can impose on a body, the garments could inflict actual physical damage. (Note: Questioning the spelling of the word spanx, I looked the word up. Much to my surprise, the items

resemble undergarments that were on their way to becoming obsolete when I was a teenager back in the 1960.)

The letter concluded by offering parents the option for the school counselors to send the students – female students, that is – “healthy literature, shapewear, bras, and other ‘health’ products.”

Again, say what? After I spun around like the Tasmanian Devil a couple of times, I came to the realization that these educators intended to be helpful – perhaps save some young girls from the deep hole of depression that such misplaced emphasis on appearance inflicts.

As my spouse said, “I guess, sometimes people, from their perspective, think they are helping as opposed to driving the knife in further.

“Actually, the intended correction demonstrates the entire problem,” Nevada added.

In fairness, the school and its counseling department, almost immediately disbanded the body-image program and rescinded the offer of body-altering undergarments. Apparently, the clothing, including some other “health products,’’ had been a donation. From whom? That information was not provided. Hopefully the donor is not someone or some corporation with a vested interest in future sales.

But, you do see how training children through their preteen and teen years could be beneficial to the bottom line of fashion design manufacturers and retail stores? It could boost future sales.

Sorry, I tend to be a tad suspicious of motives.

The incident could have been worse. Suppose that no one noticed that Southaven Middle School had applied this mid-1700, Civil-War-era remedy to the body-image issue. Horrible images of Scarlett O’Hara being pushed, pulled and forced into a far too small whale-boned corset flooded my feeble brain. O’Hara was the main character in the outdated, 1939, tragic movie “Gone with the Wind.”

Imagine for a moment that you are a preteen girl starting middle school. As you try to adjust to the unfamiliar environment, you notice that everyone around you – including your peers, your counselors, and even your teachers have become complicit in diminishing – not building – your self image.

Even though their aim was not only to bolster your self confidence, but to also help you attain a healthy lifestyle, they are causing you to feel more and more incomptent and uglier!

As admirable as their motivation was, it was an incredibly misdirected endeavor!

Indeed, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a positive goal. However, nurturing pubescent and prepubescent students (both girls and boys have image issues) in an aim to help them develop a positive self image needs to be handled with the utmost forethought and caution.

Plus, we must remember that, “Regardless of a person’s body shape, it is the style and the substance that the person exhibits which ‘truly’ counts,” -S. Nevada, Jan. 15.

Fortunately, Heun’s daughter was apparently unflapped by her school’s big blunder.

Heun happily reported that, ”...her daughter declared the letter to be ‘stupid’ and didn’t think anything else of it. But Heun is worried about the other students in the eighth grade class who might not have been able to brush the letter off as easily.” –USA Today, Jan. 14.

I am fairly confident that our grandkids – seven of 10 are girls – would also label such nonsense as “stupid beyond belief!” Actually, our three grandsons would make the same assessment.

Our entire culture needs to confront the dreadful body-image epidemic that plagues our nation. We need to do it now! However, as evidenced by the Southaven Middle School fiasco, we need to be cautious. We need to pay close attention to any remedies we might think we should implement. We need to start a hard discussion. Not only should we listen to educators and professionals in mental health fields, but also, we should get parents’ and yes, even grandparents’ input. Also, teenage students must be included in the conversation.

Perhaps if we treat the topic like the reflection of our cultural lunacy – which it is – we can talk openly and individuals who suffer from body image angst can see that they are victims of society’s misperceptions and wildly misplaced values! Perhaps we can address the outrageous demands that our society places on young females.

“If anything comes out of this going viral, I hope it starts a conversation,” Heun told ABC-Channel 7, Los Angeles, Jan.15.

Pat Nevada, whose opinions are her own, lives near Gettysburg.

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