Health has been the turning point in the way we talk about dieting and body image. Health has become coded language for thin in a society increasingly obsessed with restrictive dieting and a singular celebrated body type. Social rituals demand that women shame and police each other’s eating habits and body image. Women will often bemoan how “bad” they’re being for eating a certain food, or take time in social gatherings to comment on the detailed ways in which they scrutinize their bodies.
These social norms — the way we speak about our bodies, the images we consume and the internalized feelings we develop — are reinforced and heightened by the culture of dieting in which we live. Much like the beauty industry creates a need — your insecurity — and then sells you a product to “fix” it, the diet industry manufactures a sense of shame and guilt over one’s body. This guilt is continually reinforced and supported by our media, and the industry proceeds to sell you a miracle cure to not only fix your “problem” areas, but also to make you healthy. In college, this mindset is only perpetuated with weight-gain fear-mongering myths like the “Freshman 15.”
In an environment that encourages us to overexert and under-sleep, with budgets that force us to eat Ramen noodles most nights, it can be nearly impossible to maintain any healthy habits — physically, mentally or otherwise. It’s wrong to say that being thin makes you healthy, it’s wrong to say that becoming thin will make you healthy, and it’s wrong to assume the status of someone’s health based on your opinion of their body.
Yet, despite how rude and presumptuous it is, the diet industry profits off the idea that your appearance is inextricably linked to your health. Truthfully, this misappropriation of health only maintains the shame and guilt that come with restrictive dieting, and can create an ironically unhealthy relationship with food and exercise.
Different bodies exhibit health in different ways, and this does not always mean weight loss. But how can we navigate the minefield that is “health” without falling back into the ingrained shaming we’ve been taught our whole lives?
Being aware is the very first step — knowing that the shame you feel can be dealt with and changed through education, mindfulness and support. In college campuses across the country, we have organizations that support our cultures, our foods and our artistic endeavors, but not many that support our health or our body image. Combining education and outreach through online content, Fit University (Fit U) emerged out of Boston, much like Her Campus, and began a chapter-based society centered on healthful, supportive fitness. Fit University is an encouraging answer to those struggling to maintain healthy habits that extend beyond the physical, in a culture that promotes self-hate and restriction to maintain an ideal. In a university setting, where adopting unhealthy attitudes toward food and exercise is all too easy, Fit University exists as a supportive body-positive community of people who uplift and encourage each other in a mentally healthful way, excluding negative body imagery and fostering healthy relationships with food and exercise.
Fit U’s online content features recipes simple and inexpensive enough to be made in a dorm room, workouts that only require 10 minutes of your time and educational resources to learn about topics like body image, mental health and the myth of the “Freshman 15.”
Fit University is unique because it recognizes health as something you feel, not necessarily something you can see or measure. Health extends beyond your body. Your mental and emotional health is equally as important and should never be secondary to a workout or diet. Fit University supports and encourages its members to make moderate, healthful choices without imposing rules or consequences and without using shame as a motivator.
With an open dialogue both online and in group meetings, Fit U can talk about health introspectively, in a way that challenges the typical “weight loss equals health” formula, where weight loss is the only thing that matters. This new way of thinking about health not only combats unhealthy, restrictive habits, but also allows an inclusion of all body types to incorporate healthy habits without fear of shame.
Fit University Founder, Sarah Gaines, has summed the group up with the following quote:
“Fit University is a college student’s go-to source for all things health and fitness. Through our online content – think recipes you can make in your dorm room, workouts to squeeze in between classes, how to balance mental health & fitness – and our Fit University campus chapters, we are an all inclusive community of fit and healthy students and we want you to join our movement. We’re here to guide you and inspire you both online and on campus. At Fit University, we don’t believe that fitness is a certain look. We don’t believe that doing two-a-days every day of the week makes you a better person than someone who goes for a walk just a few days a week. At Fit University, we aim to have fun while staying fit and healthy in college, whatever your form of fit may be.”
A movement toward supportive, inclusive fitness that seeks to prevent restriction and shame is something sorely lacking on college campuses — something UF and other universities could certainly benefit from. If you’re interested in learning about fitness in a healthful way, Fit University is a supportive community that allows you to ask questions, feel safe and most importantly, to decide what is most beneficial to your mental and physical health.
Fit U is taking on the task of making fitness healthy, having fun and fostering friendships along the way — fitness becomes something enjoyable in your regular routine, instead of dreaded and judgmental.
Photo credits: Sarah Gaines, www.gofitu.com