A BMI calculator on a website for teen girls? Seventeen apparently thought it was a good idea. The magazine for adolescent girls featured a calculator on its website until recently, when the backlash began.
The magazine's BMI calculator came under scrutiny when 17-year-old recovering anorexic Shirley Wang ran across it and posted about it on Tumblr. The BMI (Body Mass Indicator) is an index calculated from a person's height and weight and used to assess whether his or her weight falls in a healthy range. According to Seventeen's calculator, Wang wrote, her BMI of 14.8 is "healthy" for her age -- an assessment that starkly contrasts the Center for Disease Control's BMI calculator, which lists 14.8 as "underweight" and advises that the teen should "be seen by a healthcare provider for further assessment to determine possible causes of underweight."
BMI -- even when assessed according to government standards -- is a controversial way to measure healthy weight. When it is inaccurate and offered to teenage girls, a demographic that is both easily influenced and at high-risk for eating disorders, Claire Mysko of Proud2BMe argued, it can be especially dangerous.
Lauren Stalnaker, a college student in Northern Virginia, saw Wang's blog post and was so upset about the calculator that she created a petition on Change.org asking Seventeen to "fix" the situation by removing the tool from its website. In the petition, Stalnaker wrote to Seventeen that, while she understands "it is not your goal to promote eating disorders, this portion of your website certainly does just that. By leading a 17-year-old to believe that a BMI of 15 is healthy, you are telling them that being 'very severely underweight' by normal standards is acceptable."
The petition received over 3,000 signatures and, according to Proud2BMe, Seventeen removed the BMI calculator from the website between the evening of November 28, 2012 and the morning of November 29, 2012. The magazine has yet to comment on the controversy, but the women -- and men -- who signed the petition were very vocal about why the calculator needed to go. As one of them, Summer Lane, put it, "I had a hard enough time in high school with body image. Please change this. We don't all need to starve to death to be 'pretty.'"
UPDATE: 12/6 2:42 p.m. -- A Seventeen spokesperson responded to the controversy with the following statement:
Thanks to our readers, we have become aware of a glitch with the BMI calculator on Seventeen.com, which has been removed. Staying true to our Body Peace Project we want all girls to live confident, happy, healthy lives.