‘Hella Problematic’: Students, experts weigh in on fatphobia at SU

One of his friends recently lost a significant amount of weight, and while he previously struggled to get cast in roles, he got four callbacks after losing weight.

“It’s part of the business,” he said. “If you’re going to play the ingenue, the attractive type, there’s a certain social standard that you have to fit.”

Understudies in the industry are also typically required to be close enough in weight to the person playing the leading role because they have to be able to fit into their costumes, Poulin said. And choreographers often expect students to be fit enough to jump to certain heights and perform different dance moves, he said.

Outside of the classroom, fatphobia tends to manifest itself in social settings as well, specifically in schools with heavy party cultures, such as SU.

Poulin often does not notice fatphobia because he has a thin body. Though on Halloween, he dressed up in a Luigi costume that made him look larger than his usual size, and said that no one would talk to him. But the next night, when he wore an outfit that exposed his body, significantly more people approached him.

“(The Luigi costume) made me look super distorted and larger than I was, and just no one would talk to me,” he said. “Body’s an important factor of whether or not someone’s going to talk to you.”

The anonymous freshman said that one time when she was going out with friends, none of them had to pay the cover charge, but because she has a larger body, she did.

“Girls get in free, but only if they’re skinny, and stereotypically pretty,” she said.

On another occasion, the freshman went to a party hoping to have a good night. But when a man approached her and said, “what are you doing here fat ass?” it ruined her night.

Sarah Bolden, a doctoral student in the School of Information Studies who studies digital fat activism, said party culture often perpetuates peer pressure, which can lead people with bigger bodies to change their behavior and ways of life.

“Maybe you want to wear the more revealing clothes, but if you feel like you’re fat, or you are fat, there can be a lot of shame involved in that,” she said. “You end up shifting how you behave in a world that you don’t feel is designed to accommodate you or you don’t feel like you’re necessarily welcomed in.”

Bolden added that if someone feels like they are taking up too much space physically, they could feel unwelcome in the room.

Duggirala noticed friends skip meals to get drunk more quickly or force themselves to throw up, or “pull trig,” to continue drinking, they said.

“It’s literally the grossest thing I’ve ever heard,” Duggirala said. “There’s such a high occurrence of disordered eating (behaviors) on college campuses.”

Duggirala also said that because their partner is mid-size and deemed traditionally attractive, people will often approach their partner and try to flirt, despite Duggirala’s presence.

“The assumption is I’m not a threat,” they said. “I’m also something that is and should be disposable.”

Ragen Chastain, a speaker, writer and trained researcher on fat activism, said there is a tendency among college students to associate with people that fit into traditional beauty standards. Society often glorifies people who are thin, white, cisgender, heterosexual and do not have a disability, and those who don’t meet those standards can often feel left out and unwanted.

In some cases, fat people will choose to not be social and isolate themselves because of weight stigma, Chastain said.

“The problem isn’t the fat person’s choices to try to keep themselves safe,” she said. “It’s that weight stigma exists in the first place. But it can really create a situation where fat people don’t feel welcome.”

Lalonde said she often feels like an outsider in most social settings given her age and weight.

“They’re like, we don’t want to hang out with this, like old grandma,” she said. ”And I don’t know if it was because of my size, or if it was because I’m an older student.”

College students often hear that they are at the age where their bodies are supposedly in the best shape, which can target larger bodies and make college campuses a “breeding ground” for the rhetoric that thin figures are ultimately better, Duggirala said.

“No matter how smart you might be, or talented you might be, or personable you might be, you’ve committed the kind of social sin of failing to have a thin body,” they said.

Danae Faulk, a doctoral student in the religion department who studies fatness and religion, said laziness and fatness are almost always associated with each other, especially for women. She works in a fifth floor office in the Hall of Languages and opts to take the elevator, which often causes her male colleagues to criticize her.

“There’s an ableist rhetoric,” she said. “There are obviously implicit thoughts people have that I need to get in shape or lose weight.”

Faulk also said fatphobic rhetoric around obesity and COVID-19 complications has persisted throughout the pandemic, especially since those that have a body mass index of 30 or over, including Faulk, qualified for the vaccine sooner than the general population.

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