New ‘body-shaming’ bill to take effect in schools

Photo by Joey Lee

By Samin Vafaee and Idaly Valencia

Shannon Condie raised her children in a story book setting complete with a cul-de-sac and a picture-perfect home. But as her children grew into young adults, the challenges of mental health and societal pressures began to seep in.

“I raised my kids always thinking they were perfect,” she recalled. “I just never thought people would look at them any differently than I did.” 

Condie, a mother of four, says she never worried about body shaming happening to them, though two of her daughters have since had eating disorders. When one of them opened up to her about having bulimia, Condie was shocked – and that was when the conversation started. 

The impact of body-shaming on the mental health and well-being of today’s youth has become a more prevalent issue amongst teenagers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with research indicating that there was an increase in eating disorders during lockdowns, especially among young girls. California Assemblymember Josh Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, sought to address this rise in body-image related health issues by introducing law AB10, which creates a model for discouraging body shaming for students in grades K-12. 

AB10 requires the California State Department of Education to implement a body-shaming model and policy via their website, and/or a manual handbook, with resources to help educate students, teachers, faculty, and parents about body-shaming. 

What does body-shaming look like?

It can be difficult to pin-point what exactly should be considered body shaming because of the complexity of the issue; however, the law defines it as, “…the action or practice of mocking or stigmatizing a person by making critical comments or observations about the shape, size, or appearance of the person’s body.” 

High school teacher Camille Butts served as a primary advocate for the bill as the legislation moved through the Capitol. In her classroom experience, body shaming during school is often perpetuated between students through jokes that aren’t always ill-willed, but still can have a major impact on a teen’s body image. 

“Body shaming between students is often seen in jokes between students that are friendly: For example, friends might joke about the height of a peer,” said Butts, who works within the public school district in Colton. “These are common statements often observed in general, but sometimes the jokes go too far and negatively impact a person’s perception of self or they could also result in negative discipline consequences.” 

Social media can exacerbate the problem. According to a Pew Research Center study, 21% of girls ages 15 to 17 say they have been harassed online because of their physical appearance. The same study shows that 53% of U.S. teens consider online harassment a major concern. 

What impact does body shaming have on youth?

Connie Sobczak, CEO of The Body Positive,a non-profit organization that focuses on providing training and resources to educate people about how to prevent body shaming, noted that “comments about physical appearance distract students from focusing on internal qualities of value, and body shaming is the extreme version of this phenomenon.” 

Sobczak adds that, “We train student leaders and educators to confidently address the self-destructive, isolating struggles many students experience with their body image, eating, and exercise.”

 The Body Positive provides training sessions with an emphasis on the importance of providing communication and education when handling body shaming-related issues.

Although body shaming can be specific to one’s appearance, Sacramento elementary school teacher and mother Sabrina Hoover categorizes it as a form of bullying. She makes an effort to teach her students the importance of treating each other as equal peers. 

 “When teaching, each week I choose a different section,” Hoover points out. “One week we talk about respect, one week we talk about how to speak nicely to your peers. It’s important to let the students know that everyone is built differently.” reports that in 12 of 15 school shootings, the shooter had been bullied. 

The Body Positive also acknowledges body shaming as bullying. It promotes working with the students to acknowledge the harm it causes and emphasizes that people feel the same pressures from society to meet a certain standard of beauty, but that doesn’t give the right to put that pressure onto others. 

How and when will this new bill address this issue?

AB 10 will complement existing law, the California Healthy Youth Act. The intent is providing students and teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to develop healthy habits, now including positive body image. 

This attention and conversation around body image can help both students access the help they need and also help mothers like Shannon Condie identify problems within the home. 

AB 10 will require the Department of Education to create a policy and post resources to fight body shaming by June 30th, 2025. 

“Jokes might distract a student from their academics and being self-critical might cause a student to have doubt in multiple areas of life,” said Butts. “These present other possible barriers to students fueling their bodies to thrive academically, interpersonally, and most importantly intrapersonally.”

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