February 22, 2010

Too Smart, Too Pretty

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While happily procrastinating on the web, I came across some Facebook pictures from this weekend’s parties, and I suddenly realized something: I’m fat. Like, really.

Yes, half the people I’ve told this to laughed. At 145 pounds and 5’5” tall, I’m not what you’d exactly call overweight. But I am aware of my sudden weight increase, possibly due to the exaggerated amount of time I’ve been spending awake in the last few days — and the massive amounts of candy and coffee I’ve downed to do so.

But let’s back up a little bit. At 5’5”, 145 is not that bad; if not exactly supermodel size, it’s certainly a healthy weight. As far as my opinion goes, there is no reason why a woman that is, say, six feet tall, should weigh less than that. Striving to weigh just 100 pounds is certainly unnecessary.

There are many people that explain this whole body-image thing better than myself. I do have to say, however, that the anti-anorexia movement that has taken hold in the past four or five years is worth applauding; when I was in Madrid, I very much approved of the initiative that prohibited underweight models (BMI of less than 18) from taking the runway, as well as the Italian designers who banned size zero models in their fashion shows. Then again, this was after the death of three models within six months because of eating disorders.

And, honestly, expecting women to have a BMI of 18 is still over-the-top. For a 5’5” woman to get to a BMI of 18, she would have to weigh 110 pounds. Though not impossible, why would we ever be shooting for that? It’s five pounds away from starvation.

In the media, and in some of the conceptions of beauty we are now seeing, I am glad to read that people find Beyonce’s curves more attractive than Kate Moss’s skeletal silhouette. Yay for that. However, even when we might be winning a conceptualizing war over what “thin” should mean, we might be far from what we need to be comfortable with when it comes to “fat”.

This is a much more interesting topic for me. Because, see, obesity is, by far, more prevalent than anorexia or bulimia. The World Health Organization says 35 percent of U.S. women are obese (and 33 percent of men). But while a third of the population has serious weight issues, I have had a very hard time finding people that are overweight on campus, let alone obese.

In reality, we might be a far less diverse campus than we think. Though we are surrounded by people with different interests (And let’s just say that’s the case, because there are some people around that actually don’t want to be doctors or lawyers), different backgrounds (not from the U.S. white upper-middle class, and that do not come from Long Island) and even different nationalities (and yes, we have people that are from countries other than Singapore, China and India), we are mostly relatively thin, relatively athletic and even relatively pretty people all around. Half the people on this campus could be on the cover of magazines. And I think this is something beautiful to have around, don’t get me wrong. Being in a majority is never, by any means, something to be ashamed of either. But whatever made us think we have a diverse student body, when one third of the people in this country and one tenth of the world population are missing from our representation?

This is something that has been on my mind for a couple months now. I have heard that people at Cornell, due to its interesting, anti-car and quite hilly environment, actually might help people lose weight (yeah, tell that to the bunch of people that get to the bus at Risley to get down at Goldwin Smith. Sheesh), or that, quite possibly, a good mind necessitates a good body. Admissions is geared, after all, to all-around, interesting, engaged, passionate people; this, directly or indirectly, takes for granted a highly active lifestyle. Being smart somehow wants to equate to being healthy. And, as popular thinking goes, being healthy equates to being thin. Or, not fat. Your choice.

I also heard that, considering the fact that most people who are obese come from low socio-economic backgrounds, and are oftentimes racial minorities, there’s just a smaller probability to having overweight people in our applicant pool (I jumped at this statement. But sadly, it might be correct. Go, USA!). Though a weight line is not asked for in the application (oh my go, can you imagine that?), isn’t it written between the lines that the thin and the pretty have it easier?

OK, I’m not saying there should be affirmative action for people that have a BMI of above 25. I’m not even saying there is a need of reassessing why we’re all relatively healthy on campus (after all, I think that’s actually a pretty cool asset of the place we’re in!). I’m just making a point of how these things are tied together.

In other words. We are amongst the smartest, most assertive, even some of the most beautiful (or the least “ugly”) people on the planet. And this is true even in the ridiculously demanding standards of the crazy world we live in. Now, this can go two ways. We can feel proud and happy to be amongst these people and inflate our egos by realizing that, for better or for worse, we can also somehow be included in this statistic. Or (a little more pessimistic way of looking at it) we can accept the fact that we will be really, really, really pressured to meet the aftermentioned qualities, not because we necessarily need to have any of them, but because we feel left-out being the only ones who don’t. Starting from there, whatever we can do to ensure that, as a general rule, we’re not starving or studying ourselves to death, might be something we should be focusing on.

Florencia Ulloa is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at fulloa@cornellsun.com. Innocent Bystander appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Florencia Ulloa