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The Body Toxicity at Bates

I’m not a calculating person. Since coming to Bates, however, I’ve learned how to be one. The body toxic culture here at Bates has led me to deliberate over everything I chose to wear or eat.

I’ll put on a shirt in the morning, look in the mirror, and ask myself if I really feel like listening to people comment on my waist, breasts, or butt. I’ve adopted a new vocabulary to justify my food choices in Commons. I’ve succumbed to the fitness addiction that plagues campus. I’ve found myself scrutinizing, analyzing, and judging other people’s bodies in the way I perceive others scrutinize, analyze, and judge me.

I don’t like these habits I’ve adopted, but I’m surrounded by so much inflammatory rhetoric and negative attitudes surrounding bodies and body image at Bates. Being at Bates has made me feel, for the first time in my life, that my worth is inextricably tied to my body.

Growing up, my body image was never something I struggled with. I was brought up in what I considered a “body positive” home, and I have to give my parents credit for really embracing the art of raising a girl in the digital age, an era in which the “standard” female body on Instagram is similar to a Victoria’s Secret model.

I was taught to eat food based on how I thought it would make me feel, and exercise because heart disease runs in my family. I never classified myself as a “petite” person or compared my body to others until I came to Bates and my friends did it for me.

Freshman year, I was shocked by the quantity and frequency at which I received unsolicited comments about my body, and how nonchalantly people vocalized these judgements. I became privy to the unfortunate reality that first impressions are made before I have the chance to open my mouth. It makes sense that on a campus of such highly motivated individuals, we turn to our bodies, the one aspect of our lives over which we can demonstrate complete authority, and manifest ideas about how we should look by comparing ourselves to one another.

This is an increasingly common phenomenon across college campuses in America. At Bates, it turns commons, the gym, and our closets, into generators of guilt, shame, and insecurity. Other campuses recognize the pain and destruction this culture creates.

I am perfectly aware of the privilege I am granted solely based on my body type, and for these reasons I feel guilty expressing my frustrations about the toxic culture as I experience it. I know that my ability to move through the world with ease is facilitated by the genes that determine my metabolism and build, and the comments I receive pale in comparison to everyday body discrimination others who look different than me face.

This never ending destructive cycle at Bates, however, goes relatively unacknowledged. When I bring up these issues with friends, I’m often shot down. The examples I give and discomfort I express when I bring up the girl who told me in passing she “wished she had the boobs to pull off that shirt” I was wearing are written off as compliments, and I’m told to learn how to take praise with grace.

They may sound like compliments, but I know deep down that these comments don’t come from a place of genuine desire to build each other up. They stem from deep- seeded envy and insecurity, and I know this because I’ve made these comments, too. Here at Bates, we hide behind the popularly espoused belief that we are a community dedicated to the inclusion and acceptance of anyone and everyone, and these ideals that remain at the core of the College’s mission statements are at risk of becoming propaganda.

I have watched as this pattern of toxicity has torn down some of my friends, and completely destroyed their confidence. In recent conversations, I have learned that many of my Bates peers accept this toxicity as a normal or inevitable part of their college experience, when it doesn’t have to be. I don’t know exactly how to go about changing the mindset of our student body, but I do know that Bates lacks a space to talk about these issues that I’ve come to learn are at the forefront of many students’ consciousness and daily lives.

If we as a Bates Community really want to be known for our dedication to inclusion and acceptance, we owe it to ourselves and each other to open up the lines of communication and acknowledge that a problem does, in fact, exist.

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