Confronting Fatphobia at the 5C’s


Sasha Rivera SCR ’19
The Claremont Colleges, particularly Scripps College, are known for their contributions to social justice and campus activism cultures. However, one issue is very rarely addressed: fatphobia. Sure, you might see content relating to mainstream body positivity movements on campus, but it is still often framed within specific contexts of health and appearance, and therefore does not address real, systemic issues. Events like chest-casting may be well-intentioned, but they don’t accomplish much in terms of addressing the toxic body and beauty standards that reign supreme on campus.

Usually this issue is one that isn’t really discussed, but a recent incident sparked new conversations regarding the fatphobic ways that the colleges address student health. Consortium students recently received an email about the CMS Health and Wellness Fair happening on Oct. 26. Attached to the email was a graphic showing different activities that would be held at the fair, one of which was body fat testing.

A student posted about the email in the Scripps College Current Students page, explaining her frustrations with its fatphobic connotations and the toxic diet culture at the colleges. This post started a long conversation in the comment section about 5C fatphobia, and student activists put a lot of time and energy into educating their peers about why body fat testing was problematic.

So why is having body fat testing at a Health and Wellness Fair a bad thing? To simplify a very complex issue, it enforces a toxic and outdated misconception that someone’s health is determined by the percentage of fat in their bodies.

If someone has a very low fat percentage, then they absolutely must be the pinnacle of health, right? Well, not really.

The Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH) released a Health at Every Size (HAES) fact sheet detailing different statistics and new approaches to healthcare. One of the main systemic issues larger people encounter is inadequate medical care because many physicians often refuse to fully look into these patients’ health issues because of their weight, simply telling them to diet and exercise more even if the root of the problem is something completely different. HAES seeks to combat this by performing studies and presenting information that benefits the health of people of all sizes without resorting to current fatphobic policies, such as debunking the use of Body Mass Index (BMI).

According to HAES, weight and BMI are bad predictors of health and longevity because the epidemiological evidence has shown that being five pounds underweight is more dangerous than 75 pounds overweight. Moreover, in a study comparing the HAES approach to a diet, while the dieters lost weight, they had the same overall fitness improvements as the HAES participants, and while the HAES participants maintained this fitness over the next two years, the dieters did not. After all, 95 percent of people who do restrictive dieting regain the weight in the span of three years. HAES also provided information about the dangers of restrictive dieting as it can lead to a slowed metabolism, reduced muscle tissue, and eating disorders. An NPR article also described BMI’s ineffectiveness; it was created by a 19th century mathematician—not a physician—named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, who produced a quick formula that squared height and did not account for waist measurements to measure obesity of a general population to help the government allocate resources. Not only is it outdated, it’s inaccurate to boot. BMI and fat levels are not an accurate measure of health; HAES included the results of a government survey which concluded that 51.3 percent of “overweight” adults were metabolically healthy, while 23.5 percent of “normal weight” adults were metabolically unhealthy.
These sources, as well Broadly’s article “51 Ways to Make the World Less Hostile to Fat People,” Caleb Luna’s BGD Blog post “On Being Fat, Brown, Femme, Ugly, and Unloveable,” and Huffington Post’s article “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong,” were posted in the comments alongside students’ own analyses in response to inquiries about the fatphobia in offering body fat tests. Despite these ample resources and education, there were student—specifically thin students—who refused to read the material or truly understand what their peers were saying. Instead, they took it upon themselves to tone police those negatively affected by the email and dictate what constitutes as fatphobia.

Some argued that body fat tests could be useful for the many student athletes, especially at Claremont McKenna College. However, this still encourages disordered eating and fitness habits in athletes and gives them inaccurate information that prompts them to focus on weight loss rather than building strength. Additionally, the email was sent to all students, not just athletes. Some students also misunderstood the argument, thinking that their upset peers wanted to do away with the fair altogether. That is not the case; what they wanted was to speak out against the body fat testing aspect of the fair and fight to make the fair a place where all students could explore health and wellness in a safe environment. While most eventually saw the error in their ways and apologized, others stood by their fatphobic stances, arguing that the test was not offensive and those hurt by it should simply not go. As we all know, simply not attending problematic events and ignoring oppression always solves the problem.

“When the only skinny folks commenting are commenting to disagree with fat people and speak over us, I lose hope,” Elle Biesemeyer ’21 said. “There are simple ways of standing up to manifestations of diet culture, even if it is just to declare a position of solidarity with fat folks who are saying something is fatphobic. But it is a job of skinny folks because fatphobia does not have the same traumatic impact on them,”

This isn’t the only incident of fatphobia at Scripps. Diet culture is especially prevalent on campus, with calorie counts and diet plans in the dining halls, student health newsletters and academic materials about the “obesity epidemic,” and even students themselves using “fat” as an insult and discussing weight loss as the sole path to self-love. In an institution filled with classes about breaking down oppressive societal systems, fatphobia is deeply ingrained in students due to the heavy promotion of diet culture.

“To me, it is shameful that administration performs feminism in such a way that larger bodies continue to be marginalized within our institution,” Biesemeyer said. “Diet culture affects everybody at this school, but fat bodies are most impacted. I want Scripps to take a stand within dining halls (firstly, though: DROP SODEXO), Tiernan Field House, and against the other schools to finally make efforts to empower all Scripps students to abandon diet culture and learn to see themselves as valuable and powerful no matter what their bodies look like (AND no matter what their health status is).”

Students who participated in the original post, including Biesemeyer and myself, are currently penning a letter to the 5C’s addressing the fatphobia on the campuses and demanding positive change. Personal experiences with this form of oppression and specific grievances, such as with the Health and Wellness Fair body fat tests and the dining hall calorie counts, will be shared. This letter will be presented in student publications, though the exact date is still to be determined.

Image Credit: Fem Magazine

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