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A Mississippi high school's attempt to address female students' body image concerns sparked outrage among parents, forcing the school to back down on its proposal.
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Ashley Heun, of Southaven, Mississippi, was upset after her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline, delivered a letter to her from Southaven High School on Tuesday, headlined "Why do girls suffer for their body image?"
The letter, in English, received by parents at a high school in Mississippi.
The letter discussed body image issues among women.
And, at the bottom, it offered parents the option to consent to their daughters receiving "healthy literature" and shapewear garments.
"We, the counselors at Southaven High School, would like the opportunity to offer your daughter healthy literature on maintaining a positive body image," part of the letter read.
"I had to reread it several times," Heun told CNN.
"My first instinct was to go to school and yell at every person I could find."
Heun told CNN that eighth-grader Caroline called the letter "stupid" and did not understand its purpose.
After taking some time to calm down and collect his thoughts, Heun took to Facebook to share his concerns.
Other parents quickly chimed in, stating that they agreed.
Ashley Heun and her 13-year-old daughter, Caroline.
(Credit: courtesy of Ashley Heun)
"It's hard to raise girls in this environment with social media, filters and Photoshop," Heun said.
"They are bombarded with images of what the ideal body is," he added.
He then sent Southaven director John Sartain a lengthy email to voice his concerns.
"The letter unfortunately takes an unexpected turn by offering my daughter SHAPING GIRDLES," Heun's email read.
"If my daughter begged me for girdles, I'd say no. Now I find you're encouraging her to wear them. Honestly, I'm baffled that a 'counselor' who is TRAINED in child psychology actually thinks this is such a good idea." , wrote.
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Sartain called Heun on Wednesday morning and they met later that day.
Heun said Sartain apologized and said the advisers had nothing but good intentions with the note.
He also told her that the show had since been cancelled.
"The district has been made aware of the permission form sent to parents by Southaven High School," Lauren Margeson, executive administrative assistant to the DeSoto County school superintendent, told CNN in a written statement.
"District officials understand how this type of information causes great concern among parents," he added.
Shapewear can be defined as tight undergarments to control or shape someone's figure.
(Credit: Adobe Stock)
"I don't think they were trying to send that message. But the bottom line is that that is the message that was conveyed," Heun added.
CNN has contacted Southaven High School for comment.
Heun stressed that he did not intend for the issue to go beyond expressing his concern.
And he added that everyone makes mistakes and that the school is working to fix theirs.
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"If anything comes out of it that goes viral, I hope it sparks a conversation," Heun said.
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John Duffy spoke to CNN about how parents can address body image issues with their children.
"We have a generation of kids who are preoccupied with their appearance, and their self-esteem and worth too often depend on their weight or flaws in their body perception," Duffy told CNN.
"Even in high school, your physical appearance is on kids' minds almost all the time."
In that sense, he stressed that children already spend a lot of time focusing on what they may perceive as negative, and that it is important to help them focus on the positive aspects.
"A more effective and helpful intervention would be to focus on both accepting your body and working on building strength, not a 'perfect' body," Duffy added.
Phyllis Fagell, author of
Middle School Matters
and a school counselor, also spoke to CNN about handling these concerns.
"Seemingly innocuous comments like 'Are you sure you want a second helping?'
It can be brutal for a high school student," Fagell told CNN.
She points out that the pandemic has also had a big effect on the mental health of students.
With schools returning to in-person classes, students are even more sensitive and body image issues may increase.
As for his advice to parents, teachers or caregivers, Fagell says: "Make sure everything lines up. From what you're saying to yourself, how you're talking about yourself, and don't rate food as good or bad."
Every expert CNN spoke with agreed that parents should do everything they can to be good role models for their children.
Heun shared that she has also struggled with body image issues in the past and still does to this day.
"It's very difficult as a parent to try not to project my own insecurities onto Caroline," Heun said.
However, she says she is aware of the difficulties children can face and understands the importance of doing her part to protect her children.
CNN's Katia Hetter contributed to this report.
CNN's Katia Hetter contributed to this report.