“Are You Wesleyan?” Apparently Not If You’re Fat
The fairly new admissions website asks the question “Are You Wesleyan?” It shows a representation of Wesleyan’s student body (carefully selected, I assume) doing various intellectual tasks, from dancing about neurobiology to discussing Homer in the library. According to the site, being able to “contemplate infinity” and “find patterns in complexity” are important qualities for students here. I would add one other thing: not being fat. I searched through Wesleyan’s website for about half an hour and was unable to find a single picture of an overweight person.
However, it is hard to place blame on whoever selected the photos for this website as it is equally as hard to find an overweight person while walking around Wesleyan’s campus. Wesleyan constantly stresses the diversity of our student body. Wesleyan’s “At a Glance” pamphlet boasts 27% students of color and our Freeman East Asian Studies program. What I am trying to understand is why my friends could only name an average of three overweight students they knew on campus, when according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67% of American adults are overweight.
I don’t think that the small number of overweight students at Wesleyan is necessarily due to discriminatory admissions policies. I think that students here legitimize or validate their negative beliefs against overweight or obese individuals instead of acknowledging that their beliefs are prejudiced. While many forms of prejudice in liberal institutions like Wesleyan are subconscious, fat prejudice is still overtly displayed. From childish name calling to proclamations of disgust, I see instances of intolerance of obese people on a daily basis. So why then, if we are one of the most progressive liberal arts schools in New England with the reputation for social justice and civil liberties, is it still common practice to discriminate against overweight or obese people?
It is difficult for people to understand why an obese person wouldn’t change something about their life so that they could lose weight. Comments like “why don’t they just go to the gym” or “just don’t eat as much” are good examples. People are quick to jump to conclusions that fat people must be fat because they are lazy or do not care enough about themselves to make a change in their lifestyle. However, coming from a family where obesity is an issue, I know that many obese people would love to be skinny and have been trying their entire lives to be that way. It is easy for someone who has never struggled with weight to say that an overweight person should just “go to the gym.” But looking at the kind of exercise-crazy college students that go to our gym, I cannot imagine the kind of anxiety an overweight person must feel just stepping foot inside.
It is easy to hold prejudice towards a group of people that is characterized as having a lot of internalized self-hatred. From NBC’s The Biggest Loser to Oprah’s weight-loss specials, we see images and hear stories of overweight people who hate themselves and want to change. When I spoke to one of the few obese people that I know on campus, he told me that he would definitely prefer to be skinny. “If people focused on helping people be who they want to be as opposed to pitying or discriminating against people who are different, I think I would be in a much better position. I don’t need your pity, I need you to not judge me when I’m on the treadmill,” he says.
Clearly, obesity is a problem in the United States. However, holding prejudice for obese or overweight people is not a solution to the problem and we, as Wesleyan students, should know better than that. We should focus on supporting overweight people reach their goals, whatever they might be, rather than discriminating against them for looking different.