You’re probably working to make your campus more inclusive for different types of students, and you’re probably even hosting body-positive programs. But are you being fatphobic in your work? Fatphobia is real and pervasive, and it’s affecting your students. This week, we chat with Kacie Otto about how you can shift your mindset and implement changes to support fat students on your campus.
Meg Sunga: Hey y’all. It’s Meg Sunga and welcome to Will There Be Food?, The student affairs podcast that — like your job — is so much more than free pizza. Every week we get to explore a new topic in higher ed with humans in the industry. When I say the word “fat”, what do you think of? What do you feel? In the United States and much of the Western world today, “fat” has a negative connotation. I don’t know where it started, but we’ve been equating fat people with being lazy, unhealthy, and even ugly for a really long time. Our fear of fat is why diet fads are always all the rage, the reason why flat tummy tea gets peddled to us on our Instagram feeds, and why we have such an antagonistic relationship with our bodies. Fatphobia is invasive and deeply embedded into our culture. As inclusive and social justice-minded as higher ed can be, student affairs professionals aren’t immune to fatphobia and its toxicity. On today’s episode, we are going to have a real talk about being fat on campus, how fatphobia affects our students and coworkers, and how we can reshape what support looks like for our students and colleagues of size. On today’s episode, we have Kacie Otto. Kacie is a violence prevention specialist and victim advocate at Marquette University. Kacie, thanks so much for joining us today on Will There Be Food?.
Kacie Otto: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Meg Sunga: Absolutely. So for those of you all listening, I have to preface Kacie in who she is in Presence world, but she had a dope, super, super dope blog that went viral and that is what we’re talking about today. Um, and so we’re excited to dig a little bit deeper in that conversation. Um, so let’s kick it off with…Kacie, why is being fat so controversial?
Kacie Otto: I think that there’s a lot of answers to that question and mostly I think it goes back to we are just living in a culture that is deeply fatphobic. So I can remember back to when I was a kid hearing messages about how being fat is bad. “Fat people are lazy”, “fat people are stupid.” And if fat people want to be thin, they can just lose weight. And “why don’t the stupid fat people just lose weight?” So we’re just kind of just surrounded in this really, really nasty rhetoric that is such a part of our culture that honestly people don’t even question it. They think that it is so pervasive that to even have a space to talk about it feels revolutionary.
Meg Sunga: I see. So just maybe to start this off, let’s get some lingo down, some language in regards to um, what we’re talking about today. And we’ll, let’s do this as like, um, a quick fire style and then we can kind of wrap back and unpack each word. Um, but just in your own words, what is straight priv- or excuse me, straight size?
Kacie Otto: Straight size are people who can shop for clothes in any store and the store will carry their size of clothing.
Meg Sunga: What is thin privilege?
Kacie Otto: Thin privilege is never having to think about this space that your body takes up. So for example, you’ll always be able to buckle a seatbelt in a car. You’ll always be able to sit comfortably in an airplane without your neighbor fat-shaming you. And you’ll always be able to pick the size t-shirt you want when free tee shirts are given out.
Meg Sunga: And when people are identifying themselves, what is the difference between utilizing the word “fat” or “students of size”?
Kacie Otto: So I think for a lot of, um, people who are fat, not all of them are comfortable with using that word to identify themselves because of how much shame they’ve had to face because of that identity. So sometimes that fatphobia is really internalized by fat people themselves. So for some fat people, when they hear a thin person describe someone as fat in a neutral way it can still be triggering. So, if you are a thin person and you’re not sure how to, um, name fat people, a safe way to go is “students of size.” If you’re not sure how that that person feels comfortable identifying themselves.
Meg Sunga: So for anyone listening to the podcast, go off of what your student self-identifies as always the safe bet. Gotcha. So talking about some of this as far as you know, the, the usage of language, what to do, what not to do. Um, I’d like to kind of go into that. What are, um, what are the don’ts of inclusive language when it comes to fat students?
Kacie Otto: That’s a good question. I think that you should never make students feel like they’re weird or different for being fat. I think that if you have trouble saying “fat” or “students of size”, that’s a good sign that you need to really examine that internalized message about fat people inside of yourself. And I would suggest, like, following more people on Instagram who have body size diversity or reading more about how fatphobia can harm fat people. And when most Americans are people of size, it’s really important that we consider that in student affairs too.
Meg Sunga: Kacie, what are some dos of inclusive language?
Kacie Otto: Yeah, I’d say when you can learn that “fat” is not bad word, it is a neutral descriptor, just like tall, thin, short, you can say the word without making people feel shame. And I think that’s really important. And I also think just mentioning it. So the reason I was inspired to write the blog that you were talking about earlier is because I feel like in student affairs we’re surrounded every day with inclusion and social justice rhetoric — which is amazing and part of why I love working in student affairs so much — but I always felt a little bit excluded from that because body size or ability was hardly ever mentioned in most discussions of inclusion. And there are lots of ways every day on campuses that students of size or students of different ability can feel excluded. So I think as long as you’re mentioning it in your inclusion work, then that’s a great start.
Meg Sunga: So you touched upon something that I actually want to go a little bit deeper in; these kind of like low-key ways students are feeling included on campus, whether that’s you know, language or you know, physical experiences. You know, what are some, some low-key oppressive experiences fat students are going through on campus?
Kacie Otto: So I can think of like, students who aren’t able to get their size t-shirt at orientation or staff members whose offices tell them while “we’re ordering sizes small through extra-large, so let us know which one do you want.” And if you need a 4X, you know that an extra-large is not gonna work for you, right? You have straight-size people telling you this has to work for you. You might not feel that you have the agency to speak up for yourself in that way, especially if you haven’t done the personal work of like, I guess, detangling fatphobia from your life. Um, another way I see it is like in lecture halls or auditoriums or even like any chair everywhere in a group setting can be really small and for straight-sized people too. So I’m thinking of, for example, like when you go to a lecture hall and the chairs are like so small, they’re right on top of each other and then you’re connecting with the pole. Yes, they’re connected. Are you able to pull out this dumb tiny desk? I’m like, this tiny desk is not gonna work for me. It’s not going to work for a lot of my friends. Right. So how would students feel if that’s the desk they have to sit in? Right. If they’re fat, like that’s not going to work. And nobody’s saying that to anyone. So here I am saying it: get rid of those dumb chairs.
Meg Sunga: Get rid of those dumb chairs. Yeah. It’s funny, it actually reminds me of every time I go to a student affairs conference — and this is no shade to like the people, the wonderful people, hardworking people that are, you know putting rooms together, putting these chairs together. But can we just stop like connecting the, like conference chairs because people need space and like these chairs are literally on top of each other whenever we go into these rooms. And I just like, I could not agree more, like come on, do better and it’s such a simple shift.
Kacie Otto: I thought of that for another student affairs blog post because being a fat person at conferences is also another um, place where those oppressions, like you said, the chairs. Or I don’t think people realize the anxiety that some fat people face in flying to the conference, worrying about “who might shame you, if the flight attendant would shame you, what your coworkers will think if you advocate for yourself and get the extra seat belts. And those are like, those are microaggressions that fat people face just on a daily level that might cause some emotional harm. But there is real, um, health and physical harms in microaggressions in spaces like the healthcare industry for example, where that people are seen…Um, some doctors won’t even see people over 200 pounds, which is ridiculous. Yeah. It’s also been shown that um, doctors spend less time on average with their fat patients. And so literally this fatphobia is hurting fat people. So sometimes people take a shallow look at the data of fat people in health care and see like, “oh fat people die sooner.” But it’s actually because fat people are afraid to go to the doctor because of the shame that they’ll face. But they’ve actually found in some studies that fat people live longer. So if the campus medical center doesn’t have practitioners educated in this area, then fat, students might face shame there too that does real physical harm on top of all of the other places that they’re facing microaggressions.
Meg Sunga: See? And now, okay, when it comes to fat-shaming, it’s so interesting because people are doing it sometimes very, oh, you know, overtly, intentionally. And then other times unintentionally, like in these microaggressions. How do we get people to stop?
Kacie Otto: I think that it’s just we need thin allyship. I think there’s a lot of amazing fat activists who are doing amazing work and I’ll, I can try to think of a list later from my Instagram feed, but I think it takes like thin people saying like, “that’s not funny” or “I don’t like that” because every single straight-sized person probably has a close relationship with a fat person. And I think most people know when an overt fat joke, like, how to call that out and what that is. But I also think people need to learn more about the things they say that they don’t mean harm, that do harm. So for example, a few years ago I was going for a run, like a little jog near my parents’ house and this woman slowed her car down and rolled down the window and said, “good job!”
Kacie Otto: Like how do you know what I do with my life to say like, would you say that to a thin person? No! Like fat people should be allowed to live their lives and be active members of society if they want without hearing from people like that or even friends. Like I’ve had to lose friends over problematic things they would say like, “well if you would just try a little harder to cook more vegetables” like you could or “I really think if you cut sugar you’d be happier,” but it’s like, but you don’t actually know what I’m eating. You’re just assuming because of my size.
Meg Sunga: They’re assuming that you are leading an unhealthy lifestyle based off of just physical periods. That is crazy. Also, lady, mind your own business!
Kacie Otto: Thin people, don’t do that. On the one hand, it’s like, okay, I see you. You’re trying to make a more welcoming space for people to exercise. That needs to happen, but that’s not a way to do it.
Meg Sunga: Do you think straight-sized people feel entitled to kind of invade fat people’s privacy?
Kacie Otto: Yes, definitely. Not all of them, but I think a lot of straight-sized people have never considered fatphobia. They, they, they know nothing about it. Like they just assume, yeah, “fat people are fat because they eat too much.” But it’s actually so much more complex than that. Once you start looking at the science of weight and how genetics and environment tie in. And so I think they like to insert themselves and feel like, “well, if you just tried harder…” It’s like actually, okay, I’ve done Weight Watchers several times in my life. Each time I gained more back than before. And now I’m reading this New York Times study that’s showing me how diets ruined metabolism. So that’s just, that’s not right. But there’s so much money to be made in making people feel shame about their size that it keeps happening.
Meg Sunga: I, I want to be transparent. I think that as a student affairs professional, um, let me, let me just even take that away — as a person, I’ve had to check what my own fatphobia looks like for myself. Um, as someone who is by no…like, I’m definitely in the straight sizes still. Like I’m, I’m that you know, large, potentially extra-large whatever. And then, but then it’s internalized and I think just by society and all these people around me and you know, just the way that we are — the wellness culture — I feel a lot bigger than I am. So then sometimes I identify with you know, my fat friends or fat students and it’s just this weird experience to be in. To recognize that like I may not be, myself, technically within that population and so I’ve had to do a lot of own self-work. And so I know that there are people listening out, you know, out here on this podcast that are probably going to be dealing with some of that same stuff. It’s like “I don’t know if I’m in this community or not.”
Kacie Otto: Well I think that even some fat…like I feel like I’ve been on that journey, too. Like I in college, I was definitely like size 18 and could get an extra-large shirt, no problem. And then I would think like problematic thoughts like, “well as long as I’m not that fat, I’m healthy.” And so now that I am bigger, it’s like, well that was not true and that’s not okay. Right. And so I think everyone has room to learn in that area. There is a really good Instagram account called @YrFatFriend and she’s an anonymous blogger about fat issues and fatphobia and she has some really good resources about what you were just talking about. Like if you are a straight size, but you feel that sometimes, like where do you, how can you still support people or how do you challenge that feeling and what even the sizes, how they can be like differentiated. Because I still have like – even though I’m like a size 26 or 28, I still have some privilege because I can move; I don’t need a wheelchair or other mobility aids. And I can still shop in lots of stores because they go up to that size. But there are people who are bigger than me and that’s a different reality too. So I think that everyone needs to spend time in there to truly advocate for all people of size. At the same time, fatphobia hurts everyone. Because it could be said…I’ve read this in like the Fat Studies Reader, fatphobia is felt by a super fat person who maybe has mobility issues, like they’re feeling fatphobia, but it can also be said that a teenager suffering from anorexia or is also feeling the effects of fatphobia. So this is an issue that touches every single person.
Meg Sunga: Right. That’s pervasive.
Kacie Otto: When you look at like intersectionality, I’m white. So it’s even harder for people of different identities.
Meg Sunga: Absolutely. I always, oh, I love it when people bring up those pieces. I’m just like, thank you. Yes. Thank you for bringing that into this space. We are getting into it, Kacie. I love it. So how, how is student affairs failing fat students and, and let’s even say fat, you know, staff members and the people that work on their campuses?
Kacie Otto: Well, one thing that grinds my gears is like diet talk in my office. Like you know, people doing keto. It’s like, okay, so you’re doing keto, you don’t want to look like me. Oh. So I think like student affairs, but certainly, every office probably has that happening. I think like the t-shirt thing was big. We’re always getting t-shirts for students. I was really proud; my work bestie runs orientation and she made sure that there were extended sizes and t-shirts. So that really made me happy. So that’s one way I think that we might be able to do better and hopefully, people are starting to do better. I’m trying to think of other ways. Just like, not recognizing that students might face this issue. I’m trying to think of other ways. It’s so hard because they’re all like, in my perspective, it’s all lots of offices, not just student affairs. I think in student affairs we’re kind of uniquely positioned. We do have a big hand in changing this culture because of the influence we have on students. And so I think that if student affairs practitioners take the time to learn more, they can change students who will go on to be future healthcare practitioners. But I think if we don’t do that, we’re missing a great opportunity.
Meg Sunga: Is there a mindset or a checklist people can use to figure out if their program programming or events are implicitly biased against fat students?
Kacie Otto: Well, that’s a good question. I would say just run over, um, movement in the room. Like is there enough room for people to move in between tables without hitting other people? And chairs. Are the chairs appropriate for people of all different bodies and abilities? I think those are two excellent spaces to start. Then, I think, consider like if you’re doing giveaways, are they inclusive of all sizes? If they’re t-shirts or something like that, and making sure if there’s movement, lots of moving in the activity. Like maybe you’re hosting a what’s the word? Like a scavenger hunt or something for new students. Just make sure that there are different ways to get around for people of differing abilities.
Meg Sunga: When it comes to food at programs, is that something that people need to be conscientious about?
Kacie Otto: We host wellness events – our peer educators host health wellness events. And they’ve kind of had the attitude in the past to only have like fruits and veggies, right? But those aren’t the only healthy foods. So eating a wide variety of foods is actually the healthiest. And I’d say just like not demonizing foods. Like if you’re having a wellness event, it’s okay to have carbs because carbs help you stay full and your body needs them to live. I’d say I don’t think they are, I mean certain rules on food. I think just having a wide variety that people can get all the nutrients they need is good. Or thinking about like the tone you’re sending. Are you having an event about nutrition? Make sure it’s not all diet food because then that perpetuates the message that diet food, like that people need to diet, which dies don’t work.
Meg Sunga: I agree with that. Hot take: diets don’t work, y’all. It’s just, um, okay, this is a question that I’ve been really dying to ask because I’m obsessed with our current reigning Queen Lizzo. She is body-positive, living her best life. Her music is banging. I love her and I know a lot of our listeners do as well. And if you don’t, I don’t know what’s going on. Um, she’s the best. But she was recently featured in an article where people were praising her for being brave, for being so positive and self-loving in regards to her weight and her body. But why is being brave, like honestly problematic?
Kacie Otto: Yeah, so I’m totally with Lizzo on this. If somebody said that to me, that’s a big eye roll moment and I’ve had people say similar things to me. Like, “Oh Kacie, you always wear such bright colors. You’re so brave. You’re so brave. This is just, you know, you’re just like, ‘this is my body, deal with it!'” It’s like, no, I’m not being brave. This is the body I live in. This is the body that I dress and take places. It’s not brave for fat people to live their lives. So I really, really loved Lizzo for saying that and really see why she said that. Because it’s not brave to love yourself if you’re fat because straight-sized people are just saying that because they think like, they perceive fat to be bad. So it’s like, “oh, this fat person loving themselves. Like wow.” But no, because when you remove the shame from the word fat, you can accept yourself for who you are and that’s not brave. That’s just being yourself.
Meg Sunga: Just be yourself, all of that. Um, I would also like to, um, make a motion to remove the phrase “freshman 15” from the lexicon. Oh my gosh. I don’t know where it started. Let’s be very clear. Um, and I’m on the millennial side of a student affairs pro, but it is something that always said jokingly, you know, at an orientation or housing events or as we meet with parents. And just offhanded comments in the dining hall that are always brought up, somehow, some way is this whole idea of the freshman 15.
Kacie Otto: Yeah, you’re right. I should have put that in my article. Like don’t that. Yeah. I’m curious about the data on that, because to me it seems like just another prong of diet culture and patriarchy that is, you know, pushing to tell women to only be a certain size. Like it’s a piece of that. So I know, I wonder if it’s actually informed by actual bodies changing.
Meg Sunga: Right. Or to even unpack another aspect of it as you know, is the freshman 15 those individuals, um, you know, this is the first time where they have steady access to meals, right? Is there like a food insecurity problem with that? So like there are just so many things that are problematic with that Freshman 15…
Kacie Otto: Right, or is it like, your body’s developing? Like 18-year-olds are young; it’s not unreasonable that their bodies would change in that time. And bodies changing? It’s a part of life and it’s normal and it shouldn’t be seen with shame or ridicule.
Meg Sunga: So I do want to circle back to a question or, um, a conversation that we we’re having earlier in regards to, um, the struggle that people have with the idea that fat bodies are healthy bodies and kind of just going a little bit deeper in that. What, what can you say about that?
Kacie Otto: So I think that we’ve just all been sold this cultural narrative that fat equals unhealthy, but that’s not the case. So I think unpacking that is very important. So one thing that kinda grinds and grinds my gears, is like when people are eating a lot of sweets and then somebody will make a joke about getting diabetes. That’s like, actually Type II diabetes has more to do with genetics than any person’s diet or what they eat. So that’s a big myth that further perpetuates fatphobia. I just think we’ve been sold this message in movies and TV that fat people aren’t active, but fat people do everything that thin people do.
Meg Sunga: Absolutely. Absolutely. I, I did my very first half marathon a couple of years ago. And what I loved about it was – of course it was a Disney princess marathon, one of the ways that I love to run is if there are tutus and glitter around me — but what I loved was the body diversity of the runners. I loved the age diversity of the runners because it really just shows that like trust and believe, just because someone is bigger than me does not mean that they’re not going to get to the finish line before me for sure. Um, and so people need to remember that.
Kacie Otto: I think it’s also important for people to remember, like if you don’t see fat people in a gym, it’s probably not because they’re lazy. It’s probably because the gym perpetuates hate towards them and it’s not a comfortable space to be. So if you work on campus in rec sports or in the, you know, like the recreation center on campus, consider how fat students might perceive your space. Because fat people do want to be active, right? But it doesn’t always feel like a comfortable space to be able to do so.
Meg Sunga: Right! I didn’t even realize that until you just mentioned that. Well, it’s funny because now that I don’t have a free gym, I’m no longer on campus, so I have to pay for a gym now. I would choose to go to gyms that were very inclusive in their language and you know, like there’s inspiring messages on the wall about body diversity. But I don’t really know if a lot of rec and wellness centers are doing that on campuses. I don’t know what the messaging is or how they’re pulling students of all sizes in. What does that look like at Marquette?
Kacie Otto: So at Marquette in our wellness program and I get the pleasure of working pretty closely. We started to have a continuing collaboration in violence prevention with our student wellness center. So we have a combined team of 15 wellness and prevention peer educators that we oversee. So I feel like we have the privilege in that area to give them the right messages. Like, “no, when you’re wellness coaching, you should not encourage students to lose weight, but you can talk about instead, what foods are nutritious and how to move for the sake of joy instead of losing calories basically.” Right. So I feel like in that space, we’re very lucky to give that message to our peer educators.
Meg Sunga: Right. I think fat students just want to be able to go and work out and not to necessarily be going to work out to have a goal of losing, you know, a bajillion pounds of whatever their goal weights are. And yes, gyms just are, by nature, just so excrutiatingly uncomfortable and based off of just comparing yourself all the time. So I would be curious to know how rec centers are dealing with that. Kacie, is there a danger that SApros can overcompensate and make fat students feel like they’ve been pandered to or put the spotlight on?
Kacie Otto: Yeah, definitely. And I think that is what that woman in the car was doing. So student affairs professionals, like you can have all good intentions about supporting fat students, but if you only support your fat students to their face, that’s gonna feel alienating. So you need to make sure if you’re having a discussion about including fat people, that it’s happening for everyone in the room. Not just like, “Oh, I love fat people!” to the fat students. Like, that’s going to feel weird. Or like, yes, about Lizzo, embrace Lizzo, she’s the new queen. She’s amazing. Yes, but don’t only talk about Lizzo to your fat students. Let’s talk about Lizzo to all your students.
Meg Sunga: Everybody, she needs to be preached to everybody. This episode was not brought to you by Lizzo, but…
Kacie Otto: But we wish it was, but we wish it was!
Meg Sunga: Oh my God, I love it. Kacie, is there something to be said about representation of fat bodies in campus photos to help fat students feel like they will feel included?
Kacie Otto: I love that idea. That’s amazing. I think it would go a long way to make that students feel comfortable and seen for sure. And not hard to do if we’re already doing that with people of other identities. So just add that one too. Right.
Meg Sunga: And the word “problematic” has been brought up a lot in this episode, and just to be very clear, we’re not saying just like slide in, you know, your person of color and as well as your fat student and all of these, you know, just rainbow, colorful students…but then not actually show them support on campus. Yeah. Like, let’s not do that. Like, let’s actually be about what we’re trying to do; talk about it, be about it. Kacie, I think a lot of people listening might be surprised by how much language and phrases we use that we don’t realize — so, kind of going back to the freshmen 15 conversation — are there any other phrases that are contributing to fatphobia that we need to just kind of cut out and stop using?
Kacie Otto: There’s so many, but now that I’ve kind of removed them from my vocabulary…oh yeah. I gotta go back. Let me say, don’t say like, “oh I ate a cupcake. That’s so bad.” Like don’t refer to food in moral terms because food doesn’t have a moral value and you’re not a bad person if you eat a cupcake. Okay. Right. So I think that like moralizing food is something that I hear a lot that is problematic. Cause the undertone of statements like that is like, “oh, if I eat this cupcake I’m going to be fat like you, too. And that’s bad.” Well, that’s not bad. Like, oh, saying things like, like talking about how exercising as a punishment for eating food. So I think it’s best to talk about exercise as a way to bring joy to yourself or to distress or to feel strong, but it’s not good to talk about, “oh, I ate, you know, a doughnut, so I’m gotta go for a run later.” That’s problematic. And any, any diet talk is just the real bummer, like Weight Watchers, keto, oh one other one like Atkins — Whole 30 — all of those are a piece of this diet culture that makes spaces less comfortable for people of different sizes. I understand if people haven’t done the work in themselves to learn about how diets aren’t effective. I understand if people are still there, but I would just hope that at least if you could not talk about your diet…it’s pretty boring. I’m sorry. It’s pretty boring. But also it is perpetuating a culture that makes fat people less safe and less seen. But yeah, it’s also like, the Whole 30 is so boring. Like why can’t you eat beans?
Meg Sunga: Well, yeah, that’s the other piece of that is you know, we’re not telling people that they can’t do these things, right? Like, you know, do whatever is best for your own health and body journey that you feel fit. Like that’s fine. I think it’s just the way that we’re doing it. You know, it’s that we are better than you, that holier than thou attitude or the underlying microaggression behind all of those feelings. I think what people listening — because I know there are people out there that are going to be like, “Oh man, like I’m that, cause I’m usually the person, I am that person. I’m that person they’re talking about.” Like I go to Orange Theory and I do all of these things and I don’t want, I don’t want anyone to feel bad that we’re talking about these things, but we want to remind folks that it’s how all of those words and those conversations and your actions are impacting your students in ways that you don’t even realize. That’s what we’re trying to highlight for anyone who’s listening, who’s like, “I feel like they’re coming for me and my beanless existence.” And we’re not, I promise, it’s just these are things that we just want to make sure that you are aware of.
Kacie Otto: I’ve spent years reading about this stuff. So it’s something that I recognize that my access to that education material is a privilege. And it’s a privilege to be able to talk about this on a podcast and if people haven’t had access to that information before, it doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. That’s how I think about it. Another thing that I don’t do anymore is compliment people on weight loss. Cause 95 to 98% of people on diets or weight loss fails, like people get it back. And you don’t know why someone’s lost weight. It could be health related. Like maybe they’re very sick or if they are trying to intentionally lose weight and they hear about how great they look now. Well, what does that say about how they looked before? And if they gain it back — which they’re likely to, yes — I don’t want them to feel like I didn’t think they looked great before. I think they look great at every point.
Meg Sunga: Absolutely. I had a friend who I worked with back at VCU and they were a card-carrying member of Crossfit and then they did meal prepping and you know, they’re like, “this is the happiest I’ve been, it’s the best shape I’ve been in.” And then “I look great, I feel great,” all of that. And um, you know, we’re super happy for them. But on social media I’ve noticed, you know, they’ve actually gained more weight and are probably at the same size or maybe a little bit bigger than whenever they were in that Crossfit phase. But if you were to talk to that person, they would tell you that they are the happiest they’ve ever been mentally, emotionally, physically. So it’s, it’s a nice reminder being like, listen, like just your physical journey is one aspect of your journey and for our students it’s definitely, you know, one aspect of the way that we feel the way that, you know, we physically in our body is just, it’s just one piece. Um, so to not lump happiness in with all of that is important to remember.
Kacie Otto: It’s important for like people who are on that wellness or meal prepping journey – I think that’s fine, people can do that. What I would say is I think it’s important for people to sort of examine why they feel the need to do that. Like to be that intense. And that could be deeply uncomfortable because it might lead to confronting fatphobia, if that makes sense. And I want people to know that if they are on that journey and they find that they cannot sustain that journey, that is not because they are weak or lazy or not healthy anymore. It is because it is not possible to sustain that for 98% of people. So I just want people to know that there is science behind that and that bodies are meant to change over time and it’s not their fault if they gain weight back.
Meg Sunga: I appreciate that. Kacie, for any student affairs pro listening to this who wants to try and be more inclusive to their fat students on campus, or their students of size, what should they do first?
Kacie Otto: I think the first thing to do is to learn more. So I would recommend starting by following body-positive or fat- positive accounts on social media. Some ones I love are @YrFatFriend, or @ComfyFatTravels, or @FatGirlFlow. I could come up with a better list for you later, Meg. Following accounts like that on social media is a good place to start because that’s where you can look to learn more about fatphobia and the harms it perpetuates on society and also start to see a wider lens of what is beautiful. We’ve been sold a pretty narrow package in our culture about what is beautiful and what’s allowed to be seen as beautiful. And I would also suggest just reading and learning. Some good places to start are the Fat Studies Reader, which is an academic document, but it’s pretty fun and interesting to read. I’ve even had some light bulb moments reading that lately. I also like a book – I don’t know if I can say this on the podcast – but it’s called The F*** It Diet by Caroline Dooner. It’s an amazing book that just basically talks about the science behind why diets don’t work and what you can do instead to live a happier, healthy life. And also anything by Lindy West. She’s really where I learned about fatphobia in the first place. If you know Shrill, she wrote the book Shrill, which is an amazing show now with Aidy Bryant starring in that. So I would start with consuming books and consuming media about the topic to really learn more. And I think through that you can determine what active steps to take in your journey to accepting more people. Which if you have read the blog, there’s a ton of tips in there for what student affairs professionals — no matter their level in the institutional hierarchy – can do to support students and colleagues of size. So things like making sure your chairs don’t have arms in your office, making sure you order t-shirts, making a no diet talk rule in your office is something that has been amazing for me as a student, or teaching students that you have about this info. So for example, our wellness and prevention peer position attracts a lot of health sciences students, we have lots of future nurses, dentists, doctors, PAs, all those kinds of things. I feel like I’m in a privileged position to give them this information so they’ll become practitioners who won’t fat shame their patients, which is exciting to me.
Meg Sunga: Yes, yes. Making better, better professionals in the process. I love it. Kacie before we go, is there anything else you think people should know about this topic?
Kacie Otto: Yeah, I think that it’s probably an uncomfortable topic for a lot of people and that’s okay. And so as you start to learn more, be gentle with yourself because what we’ve been sold in the media through this topic has been, you know, we just all believe these certain myths about this area, so it’s okay to be gentle with yourself as you learn more. Even if you don’t join me on the train of understanding that fatphobia is harmful, like you can still be nice to fat people. It doesn’t cost anything and everybody’s happier.
Meg Sunga: Kacie, thank you so much for joining us on the show today. It has been awesome to talk to you about this great a topic and of course, Lizzo, always.
Kacie Otto: Oh of course. I’m 100%… so.
Meg Sunga: Thank you so much.
Kacie Otto: Thanks, Meg!
Meg Sunga: You’ve been listening to Will There Be Food? with me, Meg Sunga. My guest this week was Kacie Otto, Violence Prevention Specialists and Victim Advocate at Marquette University. You can connect with Kacie on LinkedIn. You can follow Will There Be Food? @HelloPresence on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. For our episode transcript, show notes, and to learn more about the resources Kacie mentioned, head to Presence.io/Podcast. Don’t forget to rate us, subscribe, and share the podcast with all your friends and let us know what topics you want us to cover next. Will There Be Food? is a production of Presence. It’s hosted by me, Meg Sunga and the show is directed, edited, and mixed by our producer, Luke Burton. Our executive producer is Cassandra Corrado. Catch us next week when we’ll be talking about trauma and burn-out in higher ed.
“Weight Bias and the Training of Health Professionals to Better Manage Obesity: What Do We Know and What Should We Do?” (Current Obesity Reports, 2013)
The Fat Studies Reader (NYU, 2009)
“Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong” (HuffPost, 2018)
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (Lindy West, 2016)
Hunger (Roxane Gay, 2017)