If you were to see someone make themselves throw up or skip a meal every time you said “freshman 15,” would you still say it? The transition into college is extremely stressful for students and can be a direct link to their eating habits. A change as big as environmental adaptation, a new form of education, independence, and an altered diet raises the likelihood for differences in weight. As a college community, we need to stop hyperfocusing on this change and eliminate all weight teasing.
According to an article from Child Mind Institute, the percentage of disordered eating in college students is extremely high and continues to increase. Some leading factors that cause disordered eating in young adults include: diet culture, the media, trauma and weight teasing. While many believe bullying does not extend into college years, as students are expected to be mature, weight teasing is an extreme issue on college campuses, including West Chester University. Sly comments that may seem harmless, similar to “freshman 15” can be detrimental towards an individuals’ eating habits and overall health.
Many assume their friends and peers find these comments humorous. However, someone who is struggling with stress, environment change and weight gain does not need “weight insecurity” added to their list. I surveyed a small group of students outside of Lawrence asking them the following question: “Have you ever heard/used the term ‘freshman 15’ on WCU’s campus?” I was appalled by the intensity of this issue as 100% of the surveyed students answered yes. College students have a lot to handle, and remembering to eat three healthy meals a day sometimes doesn’t come first. For many, this means grabbing fast food that is offered on campus because they are in a rush.
While West Chester University does offer a miniscule variety of healthy foods, the culture of dining halls with the availability of endless food may be conducive to binge-eating and weight gain. Furthermore, convenient fast foods such as Chick-fil-A may make it difficult for a student to maintain a healthy diet. Thus, this alteration in eating habits may inevitably cause weight change. If numerous students are experiencing the same struggles, why do we insist on critiquing and hyperfocusing on weight change? A student’s body should not be a concern for others to critique.
Is getting a laugh out of your friends worth someone experiencing real pain? These “harmless” jokes cause a huge population of college students to feel ashamed and embarrassed. Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association, states that when anxiety is heightened, “Negative body talk and weight gain jokes have long been default modes of commiseration in our culture. But…these messages are outright harmful.” Hurtful words cause pain and pain causes people to commit regretful actions.
Many students are uneducated on the commonality of eating disorders that take place on college campuses. While their jokes are extremely harmful, they do not understand the depth of the issue. A University of Minnesota study explains that, “Experiencing weight teasing is strongly associated with disordered eating behaviors in both adolescents and young adults.” If students were further educated, I believe that our cultural habit of hyperfocusing on the occurrence of natural weight change could disseminate. Spreading awareness about the dangers of weight shaming and disordered eating on campuses could open students’ eyes to the reality of their jokes. Avoid the temptation to comment on physical appearance and instead think of the affects your words have before speaking.