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Lose the Lies

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You have flipped through its shiny pages, perhaps inhaled a violently fruity perfume sample, and you have been imbued with its contradictory messages. If magazines were food, Seventeen would be the sugary Pixy Stix to Time’s kale: a little won’t kill you but it’s sure not healthy. Recently, however, Seventeen magazine crossed the line from hypocritical (“U R Strong and Independent!” on one page, “get a boyfriend fast with these flirty tricks” on the next) to dangerous.

The BMI calculator featured on the Seventeen.com website poses several problems. Aimed at young women 12-20, the calculator defined being underweight as “healthy”. Body mass index, or BMI, is a tool that uses height and weight to determine body composition. Used by doctors, it can be one way to measure health. Used by unqualified and impressionable teenage girls on their laptops, it can be downright damaging.

Seventeen designates a healthy BMI for a sixteen-year-old girl to be between 14.8 and 21.7. According to the American Center for Disease Control, children and teens’ BMI are considered healthy anywhere from the 5th to the 85th percentile. Narrow ranges are avoided because “Healthy weight ranges change with each month of age for each sex (and) healthy weight ranges change as height increases” (CDC). A BMI of 14.8 is not healthy for anyone: a value under 17.5 is generally considered a criteria for anorexia nervosa.

Petitions and protests have erupted online in response to the false BMI calculator. Not only is the information inaccurate, but those inaccuracies are being funneled at a demographic at greater risk than any other of developing an eating disorder. 95% of those who suffer from eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25, almost exactly the age range on Seventeen’s calculator.

Eating disorders cannot be dismissed as phases or diets. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and bulimia wreaks havoc on digestive and oral health. Both diseases are associated with depression and suicide. While one faulty calculation won’t plunge an otherwise stable teenager into a serious mental illness, the issue at hand is that girls feel the need to calculate their own BMIs at all. Seventeen is telling perfectly healthy girls that they qualify as overweight, and stamping dangerously low BMIs with their seal of approval.
Many girls who read Seventeen are barely teenagers. The closer I got to the magazine’s titular age, the less seriously I took the publication. But to a middle school student, it can seem like the glossy gospel truth.

Some of Seventeen’s efforts to promote a healthy body image are admirable. Their models represent diverse shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. Seventeen’s Body Peace Project promotes messages of inner beauty and body acceptance by real girls. The BMI calculator is a discredit to the positive strides the magazine has made.

Seventeen should make it a priority to offer accurate and up-to-date health information to its readers. What’s more, it should not be providing any kind of unqualified diagnostic tools to their underage audience. Here’s a super-quick -fix tip to lose ten pages fast: cut the lies.




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