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Emerson isn’t just a performing arts school: It’s performative.

An inside look at fatphobia and sizeism through the lens of students who experience it daily

I recently redownloaded Pinterest to mindlessly scroll through pins, hoping to find some inspiration for my wedding. I deleted the app years ago and it felt only right to redownload it during the all-encompassing wedding planning process. 

What I failed to realize however, was that by getting on Pinterest again, I was subjecting myself to the pins and boards I made in the past. While some of them were the typical middle school boards ‘best friend poses’ and ‘tattoo ideas’ that I look back on and cringe, others were entirely more concerning: the glorification of eating disorders and skinny culture.

The words “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” written in typewriter ink stared back at me. Immediately, I opened the board and spiraled. In it were other ‘inspirational’ quotes, diet tips, and exercises to lose belly fat and get thigh gaps. 

Today, I look back on that girl who made those pins and my heart breaks. My heart breaks for the girl that lived her life by the words of Kate Moss and wanted, more than anything, to be skinny and pretty. Today, I still struggle with my body and my overall acceptance of it. Today, I still struggle with disordered eating and comparison, but at least, today, I want to get better. 

What makes this journey of self love even harder is going to school at Emerson. I, like many fat individuals on campus, have experienced extreme fatphobia and sizeism from the institution and its students. Throughout my interviews and interactions with Emerson students, I found one thing: Emerson College and many of its students are performative. 

Artist credit: https://www.instagram.com/cosmicandie/

Caroline Elliott is a senior BCE major, choreographer, and member of Emerson’s Dance Company Executive Board. Her body, people assumed, created an issue of ability. 

As Vice President, Caroline believes that certain interactions she’s had wouldn’t have happened if she was smaller or ‘looked like everybody else.’ Up until she joined the dance company, their t-shirt sizes only went up to large. Her body, so entirely visibly ‘other,’ set her apart from other dancers. 

Growing up, girls like Caroline and I have quickly learned that people don’t want our bodies to exist. We learned that most people will look at us, look through us, and write us off. At Emerson though, our intuition becomes hazy with the masses of the student body claiming ‘all bodies are beautiful.’ We believe the students who falsely claim positivity and inclusion only for their actions and words to be turned upside down when it comes to accepting us.

Artist Credit: https://www.instagram.com/cosmicandie/

When Lauren Pies got incredibly sick, the comments surrounding her body were endless. Within a month she had lost thirty pounds and was unable to keep anything, even water, down. Instead of concern for her health, peers questioned how she lost weight, they congratulated her, and said things like “at least you got skinny.”

“I feel like we’re all just kind of pretending it’s not happening,” said Lauren in regards to the fatphobia and sizeism on campus. 

Lauren has been bullied for her body as long as she can remember, but was looking forward to a different experience in college. However, she was met with only conditional support and acceptance from students. She is surrounded by discourse about the fear of gaining weight, the encouragement to stop eating, and the offerings of drugs to keep the weight off. 

“I’m talking about how inclusive they are and how they think all body types are beautiful and all these kinds of things. When you put it in certain situations and certain contexts, it switches. It changes. It’s not that same super inclusive opinion,” said Caroline.

We are ‘classroom friends.’ Good enough to talk reason with in ethics class, but never good enough to post pictures on instagram. We are the perfect approachable person to help out with a paper, but never to be seen outside of class.

“Emerson does a lot of preaching about acceptance. I think Emerson talks a big game but doesn’t follow through in a lot of ways and I think it kind of translates to fatphobia and body acceptance,” said Senior Katie Neill.

We have always been aware of our bodies, because let’s be honest, no one can be blind to someone’s body, but at Emerson, this feeling shifts. Katie, like myself, came from a small town where people knew us before they knew our bodies. 

Being on a skinny campus in a fat body is frightening… especially when that campus has an overall culture of comparison. We become conscious of our bodies in a way unlike ever before. 

Artist credit: https://www.instagram.com/cosmicandie/

“I became more aware of my appearance when I was meeting new people. I never felt accepted in the community because of my body,” said Katie. 

Feeling diffident and self-conscious are common freshman insecurities that are amplified when you’re bigger. Sometimes these insecurities take over, and we struggle at forging new friendships, reaching out, or making plans. But how can we be blamed when too often, these ‘friends’ constantly body-check, compare, and comment on our size? 

“How do you infiltrate that?” said Katie. 

Walking into the classroom is no different. I am forced to be keenly aware of the layout of the room. Where can I sit so that people won’t see me? Will this class have adequate desks and design so that I can fit comfortably? Am I going to have to spend all class period thinking about how uncomfortable and out of place I look here? 

Melina List is the Vice President of Advocacy for the Emerson Access Student Disability Union and aims to make campus a safer, more inclusive, and adequate space for everyone. In their work, Melina has found Emerson, as an institution, to be much more reactive than proactive when it comes to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).

“But there’s just such a large group of people that they’re alienating with the classroom design, that they’re essentially saying, ‘you’re not welcome here, we didn’t expect you to be here. This space isn’t for you,’” said Melina. 

Sitting in the back of the classroom can only protect me so much. I am hyper-aware of the heads that don’t turn to listen to me speak, and even more aware of the heads that DO turn when mentioning trigger warnings concerning fatphobia. 

As fat individuals, we spend so much time and energy thinking about how uncomfortable it is on campus. We just want to be college students. We just want to live a life without these worries.  

If we attack fatphobia at its root cause, students wouldn’t feel so ostracized, harmful diet culture wouldn’t exist, and fat individuals wouldn’t be so focused on simply finding a way to exist. 

Calling attention to these issues is only the beginning. Institutionalized and societal change is necessary to make campus accessible to everyone, despite their size. 

I think those of us who share these experiences can agree on one thing though: Fuck you Kate Moss. 

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Sadie Collins

Emerson '23

Sadie Collins is a junior at Emerson College studying journalism, literature, and environmental science.
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