As a way to address obesity among American youth, lawmakers in dozens of states have passed mandates forcing schools to perform Body Mass Index (BMI) tests on students.
Following these tests, notification letters (also called ‘Fat Letters’ by students) are being sent to kids whose body mass does not fall within a narrowly acceptable range. As adults, we know and understand that this number doesn’t always represent or tell the whole story, but these letters are being given to children as young as kindergarteners, who are not able to discern the meaning behind the number, and as a result feel humiliated and shamed.
When Maddie, a determined sixth-grader in Ohio voiced her protest against the letters, student journalist Bailey Webber was inspired to take up her fight. In her first documentary film, The Student Body, Bailey takes a stand against government hypocrisy while exploring the complex and controversial truths of the childhood obesity debate.
“These decisions are being made at a government level without ANY input from experts who actually have the knowledge.”
“What started off as a short summer project turned into a full-length feature film that took me all over the county,” Bailey told WYSK in an email. “It became my mission to be a voice for young people who had been profiled and unfairly bullied by these laws.”
In the film, Bailey exposes the process that lawmakers go through when passing laws that affect the physical and emotional health of kids. “It was so absurd in some cases that it was comical! Aside from seeing the film, most people would never see what goes on in these hearings. My hope is that seeing these things in the film, hearing the experts, watching the lawmakers and putting a face to these kids will cause a dramatic change in the way we understand obesity.”
Filmmaking is in Bailey’s DNA. Her father, Michael Webber is an award-winning filmmaker and director. It was the success of his film The Elephant in the Living Room that inspired her to pursue journalism and filmmaking. “His film not only changed lives, it potentially saved them as well. Since then, I knew my calling. I wanted to be a documentary filmmaker and I wanted to make a difference among my peers.”
Bailey’s dad offered to mentor her through the process, but first she had to find a topic that she could be passionate about. After four months of searching, she met Maddie and after meeting her, knew she had her story.
What Bailey didn’t expect from the process was how the film would affect her. “It was like jumping into a roller coaster, buckling in and allowing the story to lead me wherever it went. And out of that journey, I became an activist!”
Since launching the film, Bailey and Michael have received numerous accolades and awards, and continue to speak and advocate for new policies and education regarding childhood obesity.
You can visit The Student Body website to find a screening near you, or watch it now on demand.