Postcards to Sewanee on Being Plus Sized

Elliott Robinson
Executive Staff

When I was in fourth grade, my pediatrician told me that I should stop drinking orange juice because it was making me, “a little chubby,” for my age. As a result, I didn’t drink orange juice for seven years. I had never considered myself skinny, but it only took one moment for me to consider myself fat for the rest of my life. Please note, while I may not look like your mental image of “fat,” I choose to use the word fat because it’s what I see myself as. Of all the monikers available, it’s also the term that I have always been most comfortable with. One more note, as someone who has been called all of the “nicer” names for being plus size. If I see myself as a fat girl, then why is it up for others to decide who or what I am. Sewanee needs to see my body for what it is, for what I decide it is, what it can do, where it can be. I’m an expert on the topic.

So, here are some letters to all of the places at Sewanee that have made me feel strange in my own body because I wanted to share my experiences as a plus size person on Sewanee’s campus. My experience does not speak for everyone, but I hope that it begins conversations on Sewanee’s campus about body positivity that isn’t just “Oh, well you should love yourself.”

Dear Orientation: Before starting your freshman year at Sewanee, students are given the choice to participate in two extra activities the University offers, FYP and PRE. After spending a lot of time debating between which program I was most interested in, I decided to go with FYP. Why? There were plus size people, like myself, in the photos. When looking at the PRE pictures, I couldn’t find anyone whose body looked like mine. I couldn’t find any fat people in the photos. None. Why would I want to sign up for something where no body looked like mine? PRE looked so much fun to me, and I really wanted to give it a shot, but when the photos are full of skinny people it doesn’t exactly appeal to everyone.

Dear the Outdoors at Sewanee: Since I didn’t do PRE, I’ve gone on a couple of SOP trips in my time at Sewanee. I’ve loved every trip I’ve been on! I love spelunking through Walker Springs, and recently I did a 13.7 mile canoeing trip! But, why is it that I am always the token fat person for each outing? And, when I do attend an outing, why am I always questioned on my ability to participate? I get it, you don’t see a lot of fat people biking, spelunking, canoeing, or even just hiking in the outdoors, but it’s not like my size is hurting anyone on the trip. Everytime I think about signing up for a trip, I think about how I’m going to have to prove to everyone else that I can do this and that I belong there. When you’re skinny, no one questions your ability to participate. I’m sorry if you’ve never seen a fat person who likes doing outdoorsy things, but I’m here so please stop staring at me like you’ve never seen a fat person before. I want to explore and have a good time, but, when the decision of if I can do something is given to others outside of my body, I can’t.

Dear Fellow People Who Eat: When I go to McClurg dining hall, I see the looks I get. I see when the staff members look at me asking for more mashed potatoes, an extra piece of meat, or even just for more vegetables. I see the looks I get from my fellow peers when I’m walking back to my table with a bowl of ice cream instead of something else. I see your looks. I like to pretend they don’t bother me, but honestly, it really really hurts. Can you imagine having a really bad day, just wanting some chocolate ice cream only to be judged the whole time because of your size? I can tell when people are looking at what I’m eating. When I came into college in the fall of 2019, I quickly realized that I was developing a disordered eating habit because I was so concerned about my body size and shape. I know that my body isn’t in the best of shapes, but last time I checked an oval is still a shape. I know that I don’t match the typical typical idea of a skinny white granola girl, but I don’t need to be told this constantly with every action I make. 

Dear Costume and Themed Parties: I used to really, really like Halloween. I loved creating my own costumes and being as creative as I possibly could. Here at Sewanee, I’ve had to learn that fat people have one option for Halloween costumes: something funny. Fat people are not supposed to go in a scandalous, hot costume, and god forbid I wear a tight shirt that shows off my curves and rolls. No. Here at Sewanee, fat people are limited to costumes that allow others to laugh at them. This year, I found a Bud Light bottle costume and wore it because I knew it would get me laughs and no one would be able to see my “fat.” 

Dear Sewanee party culture: Fat people like to go out too. We do! I love going out on the weekends and being with my friends. I love being on an elevated surface jumping up and down to ABBA or “Doses and Mimosas.” But it’s really hard to enjoy my life when I’m asked to “get off the table” because you aren’t sure that “the table can support my size.” Oh my bad, I guess I didn’t realize that my body on a table might be a dangerous threat that needs immediate attention. I’m sorry that I don’t fit your typical beauty standards and you don’t want me to make your organization look bad. Yeah, I can hop off the table and thanks for the joke about the ground shaking when I jump down! I’m sorry that my size is interfering with everyone else’s fun, so I’ll try to stay out of the way next time and make room for the skinny people.

And lastly, I’d like to thank the kid in my orientation group who called me the fat orientation leader. I haven’t forgotten it, and I hope life is treating you well.