Fat Talk Free Week should not end today

This week, we have seen the underpass painted to denounce our “fat talk.” We have watched students sign a giant board outside the DUC, pledging to stop talking negatively about their bodies and start accepting a healthy, balanced lifestyle. These events, part of Fat Talk Free Week, were sponsored by the student group Reflections and are a much-needed public step toward fighting the prevalence of unhealthy body image at Washington University.

We owe it to ourselves to ensure that our campus-wide efforts to promote healthy body images and combat eating disorders do not end with this week. Our University, like many comparable institutions, is inhabited by privileged, driven, perfectionist personalities—who, between the ages of 17 and 19, will experience a shift in metabolism and question the way they perceive their bodies.

Part of an adjustment to college is learning how to take care of our bodies and eat at appropriate intervals. Because of nearly unlimited access to food, high levels of alcohol consumption and busy schedules, freshmen often gain weight and must learn, for the first time in their lives, how to create a healthy lifestyle for themselves.

Many, however, take the newfound ability to control their habits to an extreme. Some studies suggest that as many as one in five female college students has engaged in self-induced vomiting. College is a time of radical self-direction—in theory, we control when we study, when we party and with whom we associate. Because we are new at directing ourselves, however, we often fail in our academic and social goals and are comforted by our ability to control habits that are more easily manipulated—among them, our diet and exercise routines. Moreover, we are image conscious, engaging in frequent social interactions where we are sized up largely on the basis of our appearances.

In many cases, these factors do not result in full-blown eating disorders, but in instances of unhealthy eating and exercise patterns. These patterns, though not pathological, are cause for concern because they are often the starting point of true diseases.

Bon Appétit includes many healthy options in its menu staples, and the South 40 Fitness Center provides classes and incentive-based programs to encourage healthy lifestyles among students. But college is a time of extremes, and information must be publicized about the other end of the spectrum—a place where students starve themselves, work out obsessively and engage in purging behaviors.

Resources at Student Health Services for eating disorder counseling should be promoted; a list of the signs of eating disorders should be posted in dorms alongside those describing the signs of sexual assault. The Office of Residential Life should introduce programming to make students aware of the risks of eating disorders before coming to college, just as Alcohol.edu programming has enhanced our awareness of the risks of alcohol abuse.

Our community has united behind other health issues pertinent to students such as drug use, STIs and sexual assault. Similarly, it is time for us to ensure that those who suffer from eating disorders and unhealthy body image need not suffer in silence.

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