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Ana Maria Cornea / Gavel Media

(Not So) Hidden Fatphobia at BC

My first introduction to the Boston College student body occurred through the website Niche, which is known for its college rankings and reviews. I was surprised to read that 40% of BC’s reviewers chose to describe the typical BC student as “hardworking, beautiful, fit, preppy, and driven.” While that description is relatively positive, in my opinion, it’s strange to create a “fitness norm” or a body standard for an entire student population. Whether or not they were intending to insinuate that thinness is the standard at BC (because fitness doesn’t equate to thinness) that's how it came across to me. After actually attending BC, I can confirm that I see very little body-type diversity on campus, and it is clear that many students are biased against the people they perceive as fat on campus. However, this problem is not unique to BC. Fatphobia exists all throughout society and BC merely serves as a microcosm for this phenomenon. 

According to the Boston Medical Center, fatphobia is “the implicit and explicit bias of overweight individuals that is rooted in a sense of blame and presumed moral failing.” Body shaming, however, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act or practice of subjecting someone to criticism or mockery for supposed bodily faults or imperfections.” These two concepts are distinct because fatphobia is rooted in systemic oppression while body shaming is not. Body shaming can include making fun of someone for their height, weight, or other physical features, like moles or "hip dips." Body shaming is an extremely harmful form of bullying that can have detrimental effects on one’s self-esteem, but it does not have the same correlation with institutional discrimination that fatphobia does. 

I have observed instances of fatphobia in many ways on campus, whether it's through comments people whisper under their breath, posts made on Herrd, or direct comments about someone’s body made to their face. During my first week at BC, my friend overheard a girl whisper to her friend “I can’t believe she's getting dessert…,” referring to a girl grabbing a cookie after dinner. That comment expressed a fear of being fat due to the perceived lack of social desirability that comes with fatness, which is inherently fatphobic. 

Herrd unfortunately has become a forum for fatphobia. Typically, someone will make fun of a man for being under six foot, which of course is a form of body shaming (that I am not condoning), but the man’s immediate response is something along the lines of “well you’re probably fat, so…” as if that is the absolute worst thing a human could ever be. Men who are below the average height of about 5'9” are not systematically oppressed because of their bodies, yet they choose to exercise their power over a marginalized community to feed their bruised egos. Some BC students will make fun of fat people (typically fat women) on Herrd without being provoked, which shows it is not merely a defense mechanism, but a true bias. A recent post making fun of a woman's weight after she made fun of a man for being under six foot received over 90 upvotes. 

This prejudice has consequences. People with larger bodies are more likely to face discrimination and misdiagnosis in the medical community, primarily because health professionals may blame their patients' symptoms on their weight. Nylon researched fatphobia in the workplace and discovered that women with larger bodies on average made a lower salary than their thin counterparts. People with larger bodies are also more likely to be given a job that does not interact with the public because they “don't fit the image” of the company. Despite the documentation of this prejudice, only two states, Michigan and Washington, have banned workplace discrimination based on weight.

The comments that some BC students are making about their classmates with larger bodies are misinformed and could lead to mental health issues and eating disorders. As reported by the National Eating Disorder Association, “full-blown eating disorders typically begin between 18 to 21 years of age.” In particular, the Child Mind Institute says that college students are at risk to develop potentially deadly eating disorders because of the stresses of classes, social settings, and independent living. Those factors, mixed with the constant messaging that our bodies are not good enough, create the perfect storm for developing an eating disorder. 

As students, we all have to do a better job of treating one another with respect and dignity. Our treatment of others should not be contingent upon their ability to fulfill societal beauty standards. People with larger bodies are often dehumanized by society simply because they do not fit typical beauty standards, and we should feel responsible for checking our own biases and making the BC community a more loving place.

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poli sci and history major who chronically rewatches movies/tv shows that were popular in middle school to feel something