Bryn Mawr's Fat-Shaming Email Causes Controversy and Angers Students, Rightfully So
We all know about the freshman fifteen, and even if you didn't put on the full fifteen your first year of college, your weight might have fluctuated a bit thanks to unlimited meal plans, no parents making you eat your vegetables, lack of healthy options, or whatever else, but would you want to be not-so-gently reminded of your weight gain by your college itself? Because that's what one school did--Bryn Mawr sent out a targeted email to its overweight students asking them to participate in a free, individualized fitness program. As I feel like anyone could and should have predicted, students were not thrilled when they opened their inboxes. Yeah, I can't think of anyone who would be.
It would be one thing if the email was targeted, but worded in a way that you had no idea of knowing it was targeted, as in it had a generally inclusive tone and didn't blatantly single people out for their weight. But the email was far from that. It opened with, "We want YOU to be in the Fitness OWLS (Onward to Weight Loss Success) Program." Umm, that's cool, I guess? If I got this email I would be wondering why I should care what program anyone else wants me to be in?
It gets worse. It continues: "The Athletic Department, Dining Services and Health Center are collaborating to offer a fitness program for students with elevated BMIs." FOR STUDENTS WITH ELEVATED BMIS. Are you serious, Bryn Mawr? Why was it necessary to include that? The email might as well have said, "Just casually dropping in to let you know you're overweight," as if people who are overweight don't know they're overweight. Man, why do people do this?
Understandably, students were pissed. One in particular, junior Rudrani Sarma, wrote a spot-on Facebook post that pretty much sums it all up. Here are some of my favorite excerpts (you can read the whole thing in Buzzfeed):
"Dear Bryn Mawr College,
Sending your students a message 'inviting' them to take a weight loss class because they're on a 'list of students with elevated BMI's' is not ethical. It's problematic, it's hurtful, and it's just plain stupid."
"You're telling students it's more important to lose weight than be healthy. You're telling students that you discriminate based on weight by compiling a list of 'fat' students...How dare you, Bryn Mawr?"
What makes the email extra messed up is that Rudrani is in recovery for an eating disorder and sought counseling at the same place that is singling out its overweight students. Also, Bryn Mawr is a women's college, and you'd think a women's college of all places would be sensitive to the pressure women face to conform to a specific body type. Nope. Apparently not.
Personally, I can totally understand why people are angry and I would've been mad, but I also feel like I have to acknowledge that the school had good intentions. Free programs are cool! But--and I feel like I must be on another wavelength to be the first person suggesting something so obvious--why the heck did they need to make this a targeted email? Why not just send it out to everybody to let students know about this program, because surely everybody could benefit from learning how to improve their health, regardless of weight??? Right? Am I missing something here??
Why didn't anybody at the Bryn Mawr Health Center / Communications Department / whatever think of this, and can I have that person's job?
Students have formed a committee and are asking for an apology from the administration. While that hasn't happened yet, a spokesman for Bryn Mawr did tell Buzzfeed, "We sincerely regret if our communication around this program has upset any student and have contacted the students quoted in the article to examine ways to improve future communications." So, I mean at least they're not being totally "sorry-not-sorry" about it. But seriously guys, somebody pass along my idea to whoever's in charge!
Hopefully Bryn Mawr (and the world, in general) has learned a lesson in sensitivity. But if nothing else good comes from all this, at least I know I'll never misspell Bryn Mawr ever again.
Images: Paola Kizette Cimenti / Flickr; Know Your Meme; Genius; Giphy (3)