Can a university really threaten suspension because of how much (or how little) someone weighs? If they’re an IV league school like Yale, apparently the answer is “yes.” The school told student Frances Chan she had to gain weight if she wanted to stay, says this report. She tells her own story in a Huffington Post article entitled, “Yale University Thinks I Have an Eating Disorder.”
Frances Chan comes from a long line of naturally thin people. The 5’2″ student weighed 92 pounds when medical professionals at Yale put her on notice. She was subjected to regular weigh-ins to monitor her weight. This drove her to do everything she could to gain. She says in the Huff Post piece:
Finally, I decided to start a weight-gain diet. If I only had to gain two pounds, it was worth a shot to stop the trouble. I asked my health-conscious friends what they do to remain slim and did the exact opposite. In addition to loading up on carbs for each meal, I’ve eaten 3-4 scoops of ice cream twice a day with chocolate, cookies, or Cheetos at bedtime. I take elevators instead of stairs wherever possible.
We’ve blogged before about the way fit and fat can come apart. We’ve also talked about why thin-shaming is as unacceptable as fat-shaming. It’s not that eating disorders aren’t something we should care about. But not everyone who is thin necessarily has an eating disorder. And in any case, eating disorders are not grounds for suspension from university!
It’s not even clear that people can be forced to address their eating disorders without compromising their autonomy. See my post “Ana, Mia, and the Health Imperative: Do We Have to Eat for Our Health?” The approach they took was intrusive and in violation of Chan’s right to bodily autonomy. Imagine if they’d gone after her for being overweight? For all we know, Yale does that, too.
The problem, claims Chan, is not that Yale is concerned about students with eating disorders. Rather, it’s that they use BMI as their primary diagnostic tool. BMI is not a good measure of individual health. In fact, as Sam outlines in “Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI,” it was designed as a way of measuring health across populations.
The good news story (because remember, I have made a commitment to blog about happy and empowering things this month)? Chan used it as an opportunity to tell her story to a wider audience and to raise awareness about eating disorders. The Huffington Post article ends with this notice:
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
And in an epilogue to the story, Chan reports on her Facebook page that Yale has backed down and one of the medical staff apologized:
“Positive updates from Yale Health 🙂 “Just visited Yale Health with my parents and met with a new doctor. She apologized repeatedly for the ‘months of anguish’ I went through and admitted that BMI is not the end all be all. She also looked at my medical records since freshman year (which the previous clinician had not done) and noted that she saw that my weight had remained around the same. So she trusts that I do not have an eating disorder and admitted that ‘we made a mistake.’ She also does not want me to feel uncomfortable coming to Yale Health if I get a flu or something. I do still have to see them, but at most once a semester. And I’ll be away for the coming year, so….LET TIME BE A MIGHTY RIVER!!!”