By Kendra Lee
I used to go to the gym to take my mind off of daily anxieties, until another gym patron unthinkingly and unexpectedly threw my anxieties right back in my face.
For the most part, the boys at Jacobs Fitness Center are perfectly pleasant, though their height and muscles and the fact that they’re usually in packs is pretty intimidating. Still, no one has ever gone out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. Or, no one had, before tonight.
Tonight there was a pack of “bros” all wearing their frat T-shirts, as per usual. As I was resting between sets of decline flyes, I spotted a shirt that said, on the front, “Please don’t feed the sorority girls.” And on the back, “Campus Beautification” and the Greek letters Phi Sigma Kappa. My empty stomach dropped. I unconsciously glanced at myself in the mirror and I fought the urge to cry.
I am a second-year law student here, and I am recovering from an eating disorder. It’s called EDNOS, which stands for “eating disorder not otherwise specified.” My behaviors and thoughts are consistent with anorexia, but I never lost enough weight, even at my worst, to “qualify” for the anorexia diagnosis. When the disorder at its worst, I would meticulously log each calorie – 5 calories balsamic vinegar, 17 calories egg white, 9 calories spinach – and then I would throw away half of the meal, so I was only eating half of the small number I was logging.
I avoided social functions, extracurricular activities, even class sometimes if I thought there would be food there. I didn’t work out because it made me so hungry I couldn’t control the urge to eat afterwards. What’s the point of burning 300 calories on the treadmill if I’m just going to go home and eat 400 because I’m starving? I might as well just stay at home and fast, again.
I’m recovering now. I still count my calories and eat less than I technically should. Every single day I struggle; I still feel like I don’t deserve to eat, like I should just control myself and stop. Every single day I have to tell myself that it’s OK to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. I work hard to resist the urge to throw out all my food and lock myself in my apartment until I wither away. Weightlifting is something I look forward to, something to help me get out of bed and remind me to put some fuel in my body and make me feel OK about myself.
But now I don’t feel safe or wanted in the fitness center. I chose to go to AU because of its culture of public service and activism; a large student organization advocating the most lethal mental illness to girls for the sake of “campus beautification” is objectifying, misogynistic, even violent. It’s not as if it was just one random guy in a gross shirt; someone in his fraternity came up with the shirt, and enough “bros” wanted it that the frat ordered it and stamped its letters on it and its members wear it to the gym. It’s indicative of an unsafe culture, where sorority sisters are worth little more than the cute donkeys and elephants dotting the campus. We’re just here for aesthetics, but only as long as we’re starving.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask that students try not to trigger their classmates’ eating disorders, especially at the fitness center. A dress code at the gym that includes a ban on offensive and potentially triggering items would be a great step. Other universities, including Harvard, Queens College, St. John’s College and Kalamazoo College, have designated a few hours each week where the gym is women-only, and that would be even better.
But for now, I only ask that my classmates be sensitive to the ways they present themselves, and how they make others feel. They may be driving more women away from the gym, which seems to be the opposite of their tasteless, insulting point.
Kendra Lee is a second-year student at the Washington College of Law.