Mom says daughter brought home letter from school offering shapewear to girls struggling with body image: 'Baffling'

woman checking her body in front of mirror
“Why do girls suffer from body image?” was the title of a form allegedly sent home with girls from a Mississippi middle school. It also announced an offer for free shapewear. (Photo: Getty Images)

A middle school in Mississippi is facing criticism for its recent approach to helping girls with their body image: by offering to hand out shapewear.

That is, at least, according to the outraged mom of an eighth-grader who took to Facebook to post the photo of a notice she says was sent home with her daughter.

"So this is what my 8th grade daughter brought home from school today. I am beyond pissed," wrote Ashley Wells Heun in her Tuesday Facebook post, which included a photo of a permission slip allegedly sent home from the Southaven Middle School, a public school in Southaven, Miss., 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."

The Southaven Middle School principal and several assistant principals did not respond to requests for comment from Yahoo Life.

Wells Heun, in her post, 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?!?"

The image began to go viral when it was posted to Twitter by a woman who found it concerning — and who tagged Glennon Doyle for advice while she was at it, writing, "Seen on FB this morning (Southaven, MS) and I feel like this needs more attention. What now?"

Doyle, the We Can Do Hard Things podcaster and author of Untamed, who is seen by many of her fans as a parenting guru, retweeted that to her over 281,000 followers, adding, "What the holy hell is this."

Wells Heun tells Yahoo Life that she had no idea her post had been tweeted by Doyle. "I'm kind of speechless at how this kind of took off, but I'm glad that people agree how badly this comes across," she says, explaining that, after posting the handout to Facebook, she sent an email to the principal (which she shared with Yahoo Life). In the email, she noted, "If my daughter begged me for shapewear, I would tell her no. Now I find out that you are ENCOURAGING her to wear it. I, honestly, am baffled that a 'counselor' who is TRAINED in child psychology would actually think that this is a good idea."

Wells Heun says she then received a call from the principal, with an invite to sit down and discuss the situation, which she did.

"He apologized profusely and said that it was meant with 'good intentions.' They have canceled the 'program' but I'm still bothered at the lack of forethought in the first place," she says. She adds that, while the principal expressed his belief that the counselors' hearts were in the right place, "I honestly don't think you can undo this. I've had to try hard to make sure that my own body issues aren’t passed down to my daughter, but this can seriously undermine that kind of positive reinforcement when done in a school setting."

Also, says Wells Heun, "I am all for providing bras and other essentials for girls who don't have access to them for whatever reason, but handing out a letter to all the girls in class (yes, in front of the boys) is just… creepy? Inappropriate? Ill-conceived? And shapewear has absolutely no place in a middle school. Ever."

Back on Twitter, Doyle's tweet was slowly gaining steam, with plenty replying in a thread, mostly with anger.

One person tweeted that "providing bras for kids for families who may need financial help is one thing, if needed," but that shapewear was in a different category, sending an entirely different message.

"I think it is completely appalling and if it wasn't true, I would think it was just a bad joke," teen and adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Life upon being informed of the school permission slip. "Are they also offering shapewear to boys?"

Greenberg agrees with parents who say it sends a damaging message, particularly to girls, who are more prone to develop eating disorders — something that approximately 5.48 million people are diagnosed with in the U.S., according to the Body Image Center, a treatment center. Further, 89 percent of girls have dieted by age 17, while 42 percent of girls in grades 1-3 want to lose weight and 51 percent of 9- and 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves when they are dieting.

"The message is loud and clear: that your bodies need to be shaped and altered and the appearance needs to be changed. That their bodies as they are aren't good enough," Greenberg says, adding that while the effort may have certainly been "coming from a good place," it "really missed the mark."

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