I am someone who loves to read the Carletonian. I have a ritual of picking up the newspaper from Sayles every Friday and sitting to read what looks interesting to me. And since The Distance started being published online, I have been able to share and engage with articles I likely never would have before.
But no piece has ever resonated with me more than a Viewpoint piece discussing topics of racially-charged beauty standards on campus published on May 2, 2021.
Reading this piece by an anonymous senior Carl brought out a lot of thoughts and emotions. I remember listening to the podcast episode of She’s All Fat about fat women’s experiences at Carleton in April 2020 that was referenced in the article, and thinking to myself that I related to their experiences more than I thought I would. This piece gave me the words I think I’d been missing. My experiences, and lack thereof, in the romantic and sexual relationship sphere suddenly had more causes I could now identify than just “you’re weird and broken.”
For context: I am a physically disabled, mentally ill, Black-white biracial, non-feminine woman from a low-income background. My autoimmune illness has left me with a body I am still trying to learn to love, and I often feel like I stick out like a sore thumb on campus. I am very involved on campus, but contrary to the image I have created, I do have insecurities and experiences outside of being just a student, including in the realm of sex and relationships.
What this anonymous person described about Carleton’s dating and hookup scene is something I thought was only true in my head. That surely this accepting, wonderful place would not be so shallow as to judge me harshly for being disabled, mixed race, low income, unfeminine, and looking physically different from others. But my experiences here have shown me otherwise.
I’ve never felt like more of an ‘other’ than I have when interacting with predominantly well-off and white Carls, who also often fall into the skinny/“fit” aesthetic.
The struggles I have gone through relating to my race, my body, my family’s finances, and my mental and physical health have at times made me feel like an oddity rather than just another person. And yet I constantly see many of my peers be oblivious to the world that exists around them.
I had a convo with a former friend several weeks ago, wherein they (a person who fit Carleton’s beauty standards) told me that the reason I have not had much luck with dating, and have never had nor wanted a hookup, must be because of some flaw on my part. That dating and hookups were easy if I just went to parties, and that no one really wants the emotional ties of a relationship. What stuck out to me most from what they said was how they were convinced things were easy, when I knew for certain they were not nor have been easy for me.
Reading Sexual Citizens (thanks to the SMPR office) gave me more words for why I, who does not fit the “conventionally attractive” (read: white, skinny, feminine, and well-off) mold of Carleton have faced these issues.
One central idea of the book is sexual citizenship, wherein every single person has a right to decide if, when, and how they interact sexually with others. Another, is sexual projects, which are personal focuses people have related to sex and relationships.
These concepts, to me, embody what I feel I have been denied in my experience here at Carleton. Because my body is not seen as something that could be sexual due to its “abnormality” of being non-white, low-income, not skinny or tall, nor having an hourglass figure. And I am here to say that it hurts. We, all of us, are sexual citizens. And the experiences myself, the anonymous author, and likely many more have had do not reflect that. It’s time to have a conversation about why.
I have written this out to acknowledge that what this brave anonymous Carl put out into the world is a bigger issue than I think many people know.
Is it the end of the world if I do not date someone at Carleton? Absolutely not.
But is being surrounded by a particular standard of what is “normal” that is constantly left unchallenged harmful to myself and others? Absolutely yes.
As the anonymous author said, so many people have had vastly different experiences both before and after Carleton, because this place is not the only place in the world we will inhabit. However, I argue that this fact does not excuse Carleton from needing to change. We need to continue these conversations, confront the often racialized, class-focused, fat-phobic idea of beauty that so many Carleton people leave unquestioned.
We as “unconventional” people are not some oddity, and we too are all sexual citizens, with romantic and sexual projects that we want to accomplish, with human needs for friendship and acceptance. And yet so many of us are going through Carleton unmoored, rejected, and left wondering what could possibly be wrong with us.
It is not odd or unattractive to inhabit a body that does not fit Carleton’s ideal.
I want to say that there is nothing wrong with us. And we should be unafraid to say it.
Update: May 16, 2021 — this article has been updated from the version published in our May 14 print edition upon request to further anonymize a description given of a fellow student.