Opinion: Don't get fit just to fit in

I can still see it when I close my eyes. It’s dark. An overweight freshman boy stands outside the gate to the Mods, kept outside not only by the law, but also because he lacks the self-confidence to socialize properly. He sees all his slim, pretty, well-dressed peers floating about, and for a split second feels like he’s inside the gate, then remembers he’s not. He feels unwelcome, whether or not he really is. He hears laughter and thinks it’s directed at him. For some reason, it’s always raining when I imagine it.

Boston College culture values fitness and attractiveness, and while it’s not always the nightmare that one insecure freshman thinks it is, it certainly has its ups and downs. The ups are great, but the dark side can get very nasty. Too often do Boston College students prioritize “looking” good over their health, and our social scene definitely encourages this attitude. I remember overhearing, and I quote, “Yeah, if you want to get invited to parties, just be physically attractive, be in shape and don’t be fat.” Rarely does anybody put these things so bluntly, but even unspoken this shallow attitude is much more prevalent than it should be.

Just struck me as a lonely image for some reason

The insecurities underlying the BC fitness-craze are pervasive and contagious, and its consequences are severe. Too often does the desire to be fit stem from the desire to fit in.

And good luck just ignoring it. It’s built into the school; you literally cannot miss the massive fitness palace that is the Plex. This is, of course, not necessarily a bad thing. While our resident fitness center serves as a constant reminder of what we should be doing, it does offer a valuable service. I personally feel I’ve benefited a lot from the Plex and from BC’s sports and fitness culture.  My freshman year RA came up with a plan to help me achieve fitness safely and scientifically. Here’s the problem: he went above and beyond. It’s not really the norm for BC, and even as he helped me I saw a thousand ways I could’ve done the whole thing wrong.

When asked if going to BC changed his attitude towards his body, A&S junior David points out the pros. He tells a story similar to my own: “I’ve lost about 20 pounds since coming here. It’s been mostly a good thing for me. But I can understand why someone who is not fit or a part of the fitness culture here might feel isolated, even though I’m mostly happy with my experience here.” Even though he’s not as sensitive to the campus-wide insecurities, he acknowledges they are there. David attaches another caveat to his praise, pointing out the unfortunate contrast between BC’s fitness culture and BC Dining, which “doesn’t have very many healthy options.”

Students look apprehensively at their scant healthy options

He’s right. Let’s be honest, those salads are overpriced. Diet is one half of the magic fitness equation (the other half being exercise), whether or not BC Dining cares to admit it. When image-consciousness goes awry—which we’ve all seen happen here in some way, shape or form— it often involves eating disorders. This problem affects young men and women at BC and well beyond, and the dining halls are feeding it (pun intended) through their failure to adequately supply healthy options.  Making such options more accessible would deter students from pursuing dangerous and drastic approaches to weight loss, muscle gain and the like.

When asked how college culture contributes to student attitudes towards fitness, Matt Rossi, A&S ’14 summed up the problem quite nicely: “I would say that there is definitely pressure [to be fit] but not directly. It’s simply that a lot of people value looking good. I would say that instead of promoting health, it promotes the illusion of health, because many people who are completely healthy still feel the pressure to conform.”

Matt’s comments are consistent with my own experiences. “I don’t like myself” unfortunately factored into my motivation to get fit. Here’s the scary part: I did not really feel that way before coming here. I’ll acknowledge this may have less to do with Boston College itself and more to do with my own individual response to Boston College, but I am confident I am not alone. I can see my attitude in the young man who lifts weights every single day; it’s especially visible in the veins popping in his neck. I can see my attitude in the rows of young women spending hours on the elliptical, losing much more sweat than they take in water. They’re not making themselves fit; they’re not even making themselves attractive. They’re just making themselves sick.

Again, looking good and feeling good do not always coincide. A responsible administration should promote an environment in which students value the latter more and the former less.  And ours is at least trying; we do have an Office of Health Promotion, after all. Yet at the end of the day, it’s up to students—not administration— to create an environment that makes everyone feel included. No office or administration can handle that for us, and frankly, we haven’t always done the best job.

You’re fine the way you are. Don’t let anything, least of all your college, make you feel differently.

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