April 21, 2023 | FEATURES | By Charlotte Maley
Over the past decade, a debate on equity and inclusion has emerged into the folds of popular discussion; the war on obesity, fatphobia, and body positivity. According to the National Institute of Health, weight bias is considered, in modern American society, to be the last acceptable form of prejudice. The justification for this bias can be seen in several places, ranging from healthcare workers unapologetically refusing to treat overweight or obese people, to talk show hosts, such as Bill Maher, overtly calling for the return of fat shaming.
Where the U.S. has at least attempted to take steps and mend the inequality based on gender, race, and sexuality, a reckoning with fatness has yet to take center stage according to some experts. Some students have said this includes spaces such as Colorado College.
This spring, CC senior Breanna Boynton has taken a step to address this problem. As the creator of the new group Fat Fridays, a space for differently bodied people and allies to come together to speak about what it means to not be in a standard body. Boynton is starting the work to help those who live in bigger bodies.
“I was really confronted by what it means to live in a larger body. After feeling very outside of what CC is and being a larger person in a straight sized space,” Boynton said. “I felt a sense of displacement.” Following this realization, Boynton decided to create a space where people that felt similarly could come together.
During group meetings, students have expressed a feeling that things at CC and beyond are not made for them. Many classrooms in the science building have seats that cut into the thighs of bigger people, with the seats in the amphitheater also being too narrow.
According to Boynton, fat CC students live on a campus where “buildings, chairs, and bathrooms don’t fit [their] bodies.” Of course, the college campus isn’t the only place where people in larger bodies find difficulty. Even something that many standard-sized people find uneventful, such as airplane seats, pose a struggle.
Anti-fatness in institutions can take many forms. According to author and activist Aubrey Gordon, it is defined as the “attitudes, behaviors, and social systems that specifically marginalize, exclude, underserve, and oppress fat bodies.” On college campuses, the war on fat has its own manifestations. For example, most students in the US have been taught to fear the ‘freshman 15,’ a rumor that encourages young people to look out for any weight gain upon entering college.
The popular worry is indicative of a community that valorizes thinness and, by extension, fears the fat body. As many recent scholars, such as Sabrina Springs in “Fearing the Black Body,” have argued, there is a correlation between the emergence of fatphobia with that of racism. Due to the emerging popularity of these claims, it has become ever clearer that fatphobia is not distinct from other forms of discrimination. Just as many students of color and low socioeconomic status struggle to find community on majority wealthy and white campuses, the fat minority is no different.
It is because of this that students at CC in larger bodies push for further involvement from institutions on campus, such as The Butler Center, to support them. As she heads for graduation this year, Boynton worries about the future of Fat Fridays, and hopes that there will one day be a staff member dedicated to a more formal position to help fat students. “It’s worth having designated attention to. It’s something that affects the mental, emotion, social, and spiritual wellbeing of people in larger bodies,” Boynton said.
The problem that many larger bodied students on college campuses face is not limited to inaccessibility. The struggle also comes down to many people, especially in highly educated spaces, believing that the ‘dissuasion’ of the fat body is not only acceptable, but necessary.
In a recent USA Today article, reporters claimed that college students are not hungry, but obese, and drastic measures must be taken to solve the epidemic. According to the National Library of Medicine, young, white, and educated women are the group most prone to fatphobia. At Colorado College, the majority of students are not only white but female and from educated families. This, inevitably, creates a culture that valorizes thinness and rejects fatness.
According to Bobbi Reidinger, a self-proclaimed fat woman in academia, many coworkers have both explicitly and implicitly suggested that her weight is not professional. In her opinion piece written in 2020, Reidinger claims that this is because many people in academic circles, and in the culture at large, interpret fatness as having to do with the moral capacity and physical health of an individual.
Although only a start, Boynton has begun the process of addressing this pervasive issue as it appears in higher education. “Representation is needed,” stated Boynton, “[Fat people at CC] fear going to the gym or being outdoors.”
Issues of equity are a problem of feeling like they belong. At CC, where an emphasis is placed on outdoor education, the feeling of not belonging is even present in these circles. In a recent survey sent out to students by the Office of Outdoor Education, questions of weight-related discrimination or dissuasion from programs were hardly, if at all, asked about. Where other campus minorities and disadvantaged groups are openly acknowledged, and no doubt rightfully so, CC has yet to add weight into the picture.
Boynton hopes that her group gains popularity, and that students can find a safe space there. She is also hoping that someone will be able to take it over after her graduation this June. Until then, the initiative is led by Boynton and a small group of people wanting to find a community that can make a change.
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