TA calls for more 'size acceptance' on campus

Toni Airaksinen

  • A fat-studies scholar and Teaching Assistant at the University of Akron recently published a study in which she claims that promoting healthy lifestyles encourages "anti-obesity rhetoric" on college campuses.
  • As evidence of her claim, Corey Stevens interviewed a handful of students and recent graduates who agreed that student health centers can damage an obese person's "self-esteem."
  • A University of Akron Teaching Assistant recently called for more “size acceptance” in college curricula, saying “health promotion materials” are harmful.

    In a recent academic article, Teaching Assistant and fat-studies scholar Corey Stevens criticizes colleges for offering “health promotion” programs and flyers, arguing that such materials perpetuate “anti-obesity rhetoric” that could hurt the “body image and self-esteem” of overweight students.

    “This is especially true when one’s body literally doesn’t fit into campus classrooms."   

    [RELATED: ‘Fat studies’ course deems ‘weightism’ a ‘social justice issue’]

    To research this issue further, Stevens interviewed seven undergraduates and three recent graduates about being “fat on campus,” finding that many of them take issue with their school's promotion of healthy lifestyles.

    “The Student Wellness Organization and the Student Health Center team up to put all these [flyers] around that are like, here’s some ways that you can—you know—not get fat,” she told Stevens, adding that it “that really damages a lot of young women’s self-esteem and even mine!”

    Other students expressed concern that college campuses aren’t constructed with obese students in mind, with desk size often coming up as a source of consternation.

    [RELATED: Fatness is ‘fashionable and fit,’ profs insist]

    “Desks are a classic example and they came up in every interview,” Stevens explains, noting that “the size and shape of classroom desks represent a hidden curriculum about the size and shape of student bodies.”

    Additionally, dining halls present problems for fat students, with Stevens noting that the term “fat is associated with uncontrolled eating behavior,” causing many students concern about being judged by their peers.

    Ultimately, Stevens finds that fat students grapple with a “sense of stigma” throughout their college careers.

    “This is especially true when one’s body literally doesn’t fit into campus classrooms, bathroom stalls, and bus seats,” she elaborates, suggesting that the stigma is “enhanced by spaces where fat stigma is more salient, such as places where people eat, work out, drink, and hook up.”

    [RELATED: ‘Fat-shaming’ by doctors is ‘physically harmful,’ profs insist]

    To fight this, Stevens believes that colleges must “add size acceptance into their diversity curriculum,” arguing that “size and shape of college desks need to change to allow larger bodies to fit into the classroom” while “clothing with the university brand should be sold in a wider range of sizes, including larger sizes.”

    While Stevens did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Campus Reform, she has a long history of research in the fat-studies field, and has taught Introduction to Women’s Studies and Medical Sociology classes while completing her Ph.D.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen

    Toni Airaksinen is a New Jersey-based Campus Reform contributor, and previously served as a Senior Campus Correspondent. Her reporting focuses on campus First Amendment, Title IX, Equal Opportunity, and due process issues, and her stories have been profiled by numerous outlets including Fox News, The New York Post, PBS News, and The Washington Examiner.
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