By Marian O’Connor
Last Wednesday, a group of UC Santa Cruz female staff members gathered at the Body Diversity Town Hall meeting to discuss one of the single most politicized aspects of women’s lives: their bodies.
The meeting set out to address the topic of body diversity on campus, and to look at issues facing people of differing shapes. The group set out to pinpoint certain areas on campus that need to consider larger-bodied people in their existing framework of practices, like politics at the pool and making transportation on campus more accessible to people who have difficulty getting to and from classes.
Deb Abbott, director of UCSC’s Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Intersex (GLBTI) Resource Center, began the meeting by discussing how she came to terms with her own body. She suggested that her body image insecurities were, in part, a result of the media’s refusal to portray bodies that resembled her own.
“In my mind, people who have large body sizes or who have a body that doesn’t conform to the status quo, these people get outright scorned,” Abbott said.
Abbott continued by relating that she has had to break away from mainstream projections of body image to gain comfort with her body.
“I’ve had to work really hard to feel good about my body because of the media saturation which does not depict my body anywhere,” Abbott said.
Many of the women at the meeting vocalized a concern over the use of the word “fat,” and the negative connotations and stigmas attached to it. Abbott discussed the shame that prevents many women from shopping at separate “fat” clothing stores.
Beth Rees, the organizer of the meeting and an employee of the Women’s Center on campus, believes that meetings and discussions like this raise awareness of the sometimes invisible discrimination felt by the overweight.
“It needs to be discussed as a topic, but it isn’t given the language for the visibility to occur,” Rees said.
Another topic almost unanimously agreed upon was the insecurity many heavier women feel while exercising. Anna Steitz, a volunteer at the Women’s Center, explained why she avoids the gym.
“I haven’t used the Wellness Center yet,” Steitz said. “I just don’t feel comfortable changing with women my own age.”
The discussion then moved on to put body image issues and the fat activism movement into greater perspective. The prominent issue at hand is that society at large feels that fatness is a personal control issue, without taking into account many other factors that go into a woman’s body and appearance.
Many women’s bodies are, at least in part, genetically predisposed to being a certain shape, and some women do not have immediate access to healthy foods that help dictate the form of their bodies.
“I eat really well and my weight still fluctuates,” Steitz said. “I’m never going to be really skinny.”
Many of the women suggested changes in the UCSC community that would make the campus more comfortable for people of all body types. Some of the suggestions included a curtain in the showers and gym changing room for people who are uncomfortable changing in front of others. Other areas of concern were transportation to and from classes that are difficult to get to quickly, yoga classes for heavier women, and faculty and staff training on body diversity.
This spring the Women’s Center and the Wellness Center on campus will be co-sponsoring movement classes for all sizes in hopes of addressing some of these issues. However, Rees noted that this event had a small attendance rate and suggested that this might be a reflection of how invisible fat discrimination is in mainstream society. After the event she reflected on her hope for fat activism on campus.
“I think this event was a good indicator of what needs to happen in order to create a space with more body diversity,” Rees said. “If you are a body of a big person you should take pride in yourself.”