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Student Takes On Her University In Powerful Essay About Body Shaming

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Like many universities around the country, Colorado College encourages students to stay fit and active through a number of healthy lifestyle programs. But in a recent op-ed published in the Feminist Wire, Colorado College senior Jade Frost argued that these kinds of programs are inadvertently body shaming students—men in particular.

"Several aspects of the CC community such as numerous healthy eating habits, gym programs, and outdoor activities, foster a culture of body shaming even for male students," Frost writes. "While I am not suggesting that these aspects are detrimental in and of themselves, I argue that the college values these things [healthy lifestyle programs] in ways that are overwhelming and exclusionary."

Although the national conversation around body shaming predominantly focuses on women, Frost, who is a double major in feminist and gender studies and English, chose to focus on men. In an interview with SHAPE, she explains: "We don't really talk about masculinity a lot on campus, or the notions of it, or how hard it can be for some guys to function in masculine spaces."

During her four years as a student at CC, Frost says she's made an interesting observation. While healthy students enjoy what she calls "body privilege," students who aren't so fit or outdoorsy are seen as "not having body management."

She uses a program called Tigers Don't Waste as an example, arguing that though the idea encourages students not to waste food, it also inadvertently tells students not to consume too much.

The program, Frost says, "is one way to praise students for hiding their food consumption, while scrutinizing others for showing that they have too much food consumption."

While exploring other platforms of body shaming on campus, Frost discusses how the fitness center has an "unspoken rule" that the cardio section is for the feminine and the weight room is for the masculine. "If a man is seen running on the treadmill or cycling, he is exuding his strength, but not as much as he would in the weight room," she writes. "There is an importance to live a healthy lifestyle and take care of your body...there is also an importance not to shame men into thinking they are not man enough because they do not display physical strength."

This idea speaks to a much larger struggle several colleges are facing with students: Promoting health and wellness, while not fat-shaming students and damaging their self-esteem. For example, in her essay, Frost refers to an incident that took place last year at Bryn Mawr College, where the university issued an official apology after sending out an email to 100 students with high BMIs, asking them to take part in a free weight-loss program. While the email was intended to highlight potential health risks, critics argued that the college was fat-shaming students by addressing their weight.

But has Colorado College actually crossed a line? Is the school unknowingly body shaming its students while trying to promote wellness?

The answer is complicated. Leslie Weddell, CC's Director of News and Media Relations told SHAPE in an email, "Colorado College, like many colleges across the country, seeks to be as inclusive as possible. It also promotes a variety of healthy lifestyle programs for its students. These programs are open to all students and are aimed at promoting wellness and preventing health problems."

For many students, appearance and self-image are huge sources of stress. That said, the pressure to live up to the 'ideal' body standard isn't something that originated at Colorado College, and it doesn't happen in a vacuum. Frost said it best. "It's not CC itself to blame," she says. "It's a culture that has been around for years that has sponsored an environment that causes an inadvertent chain that people don't realize. I just wanted to bring some light to that."

That's something we can all respect.

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