Thursday, January 26, 2012

Obesity Discrimination

I'm in the midst of writing a proposal for a conference at work that deals with health in the community dealing with the community as a whole of college students. I wanted to learn something and I had an idea for awhile to speak about weight loss surgery growing for the traditional college age students and what "we" as a university community could do to assist the students going through the surgery as well as the community in large in being educated about surgery, the needs of student's pre and post surgery, and what resources the students already have at their fingertips that could assist them and not cost the university any extra funds to provide these awesome resources. So in this thought came a brief literature review study (i know i'm a super nerd, right!) and through it I noticed some amazing things and one thing stood out: obesity discrimination at the collegiate level. This factoid stood out and my mind started to web out into the who, what, where, and how this can happen. I started to see how different sub groups of the college age student might interact with the average obese the university interacts...then professors, staff, faculty, etc. I started scribbling down notes and before I knew it I had a path to research and was hungry for information.

As I dug into the subject matter over the last week I've discovered some amazing things. I found a school in PA that requires students to take a special class if their BMI is over 30, I found a court case where a student was expelled from a program based on her weight and was forced to sign a contract to lose weight to stay in her degree program, and even more disturbing I found stats and facts about how obesity is seen, observed, and exploited by so many. I was shocked by the information I found and I only want to learn more. I want to know what is actually happening in black and white written words because I'm angered, because I'm saddened, because I am disenchanted that a statistic like this exists. The statistic that I am speaking of is one that states that overweight and obese women aren't accepted into higher education as widely as non-obese women, that obese women receive less aid, and that obese women have less parental support. That alone hurts me in ways that I can't verbalize just yet, but now that I know I owe it to the "fat" friends to stand up and advocate and educate. For me this is beyond personal....maybe it is a way to stand up for that girl I was so long ago that I've been trying to shed.

As I sat at my desk and read these journals I had one vivid memory in my head from high school. It was my Senior year and I was around 350 lbs or larger I didn't weigh back then, but I know I had the second to largest uniform skirt in the school. I remember decorating the hallway to the cafeteria one afternoon with classmates and I remember running up and down the hall (as much as I could run) and I remember tripping and falling. I can vividly hear my thighs hit the hard, cold tiled floor of the hallway and falling in front of two guys that at the time I thought "were the coolest" and here I am looking up through my hair and hearing the laughter before seeing the fingers pointed at me. I remember hearing "there lies Shamu the killer whale" and giggles spread the hallway and I know the voice that said it...I heard these people laugh and not one offered to help me up. The people that surrounded me were people that I knew since I was little and that I had grown up and grown obese in front of their eyes. Not a one offered to help me. They just laughed. That memory is burned into my mind. It is something that haunts me every once in awhile even now at 30 and 187 haunts me.

I think this is just one of the many examples I can give you that would now be considered bullying and maybe to some discrimination on some levels, but honestly it is just a memory of a me that no longer exists except in pictures and memories. It doesn't resemble the woman that I am, but it does encompass the reality that I've known and read with my own two eyes today - it is a fact that obesity isn't liked. It is a fact that obesity is made fun of and is acceptable to do so. It is a fact that fat is not just is that way. I don't like it, but it is easy to laugh at the fat kid isn't it? Or was it?

I don't think this topic is talked about. I don't think I've ever heard "fatism" or obesity / size discrimination ever spoken about at a meeting, student affairs conference, or even at a health initiative. Maybe it should be. Maybe we need to re-think our thoughts on size. Let's size each other up in a way that will release the bonds that are holding us to laughing at the fat matter what age they are.

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