TO THE EDITOR:
As a young woman born and raised in North Carolina, attending UNC had always been a dream of mine. In the fall of 2011, my chance came to be a student there. I transferred in as a junior and tried to do all the things a new Tar Heel is supposed to do, including rushing a sorority.
However, my Greek life experience became less than idyllic. During the spring of 2012, I was a victim of weight-based discrimination in my sorority.
Even though I had always had issues with my weight, I had always done what I wanted to do, regardless of what my body looked like.
My sorority put this to the test. The sisters in charge of the coordinated outfits we wore during rush had decided on pieces that did not come in my size.
When this was discovered, instead of finding a solution to make me happy (like letting me be involved during the other rounds), they chose to put me in a “kitchen job” where I wouldn’t be seen by the potential new members as they went through the house.
Even though they technically included me by giving me something to do, I felt betrayed by the group I had tried to give my best to; they were hiding me because I didn’t fit the perfect image of a woman they were trying to project.
Instead of anger, I first felt shame that I could, literally, never embody an image that was up to their standards. The anger came later, when my guilt and frustration was met by sisters who acted as if I should suck it up, be happy they gave me anything to do, consider myself lucky to be part of such an exclusive group in the first place.
By the time I returned in the fall, I was angry and bitter but had never formally complained.
I didn’t want to start a confrontation, and I didn’t want to lose contact with the few good friends I had made. Because I felt judged at the house, I quit going, and I lost a support system that I had come to depend on.
Although it was my senior year, I felt lost and alone on a huge campus. The negative effects only grew as I, stressed and anxious, lost the friends that I had tried to keep in the first place. My health suffered, as stress turned illnesses into battles and made me irritated and fatigued.
Instead of losing weight, I gained more. Friends tried to help, but, angry and emotional, I made being my friend impossible. I was spiraling.
Demeaning comments and suggestions about my weight that masqueraded as advice only made me feel worse and continue to perform poorly.
I scraped by and graduated, not even attending the ceremony because I was so disgusted with everything — my sorority, my former friends, even my dream university had become reminders of all the ways I could never measure up.
Being out of college has given me time to reflect. One thing becomes clear: what happened to me was not OK.
As a woman, it is particularly alarming, because it seems that groups formed for the specific purpose of encouraging university women sometimes have the opposite effect.
I blame not the organizations, but the individuals who spread the outdated and cruel message that a woman must meet a certain standard to be important.
This kind of discouragement and judgment has a destructive power that is almost unimaginable and feeds on one’s self-esteem.
It wasn’t until I left Chapel Hill that I saw how the expectations placed on the female body is not something I needed to kill myself to achieve.
It is completely unrealistic and is propagated as much by women as by men. It wasn’t until I left that I realized that my body and my health are my business only.
I’ve come to peace with my sorority and the women involved, but the fact remains that my issues with my body fed into every part of my life as a student. It doesn’t have to be this way.
UNC students, especially women, should make wellness and health priorities, not thinness.
Sororities should encourage women, both members and non-members alike.
I’m calling on my fellow Tar Heels. No one should have to feel like I felt, but with some work, an attitude of respect and understanding can be fostered.
Catherine Mitchell ’13
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