Home Health News Lincoln University, Size Discrimination And The Skinny Girl’s Dilemma

Lincoln University, Size Discrimination And The Skinny Girl’s Dilemma

by Erika Nicole Kendall

lincoln-1Before I begin, a quick run down of the situation to which I’m referring.

Lincoln University, a predominantly and historically Black institution in Pennsylvania, creates a course titled “Fitness For Life” back in 2006. Lincoln opts to make this a requirement for graduation for 2006’s incoming Freshman class… only if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is above 30 (a BMI beyond this is clinically classified as overweight. Go far enough beyond this, you are considered obese.) Lincoln’s faculty eventually votes to drop this requirement, sharing the following tidbit with the press:

The “Fitness for Life” course will now be recommended to certain students after they take a freshman-wellness course that is required for all students, James L. DeBoy, chairman of Lincoln’s department of health, physical education and recreation, said last night.

Next year, health faculty will assess freshmen students’ health on a number of criteria. They will then suggest the fitness course to those who need it most.

Firstly, I think we should get some very basic details out of the way. I think the entire idea sucks. The fact that only the clinically overweight have to take this course, the fact that the details denote that there’s very little-to-no nutritional aspects to this course, and the fact that the university was comfortable with forcing their overweight students to adhere to requirements the rest of their students did not… it all sucks.

And allow me to throw a little emphasis on that point about there being little-to-no nutrition education.

In the United States, the incidence of deaths resulting from heart disease is 30% higher for African Americans when compared to the white population. African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. Here comes a university with a majority Black population, creating a requirement for their [assumed-to-be majority Black] overweight population, and the focus isn’t on nutrition? Last time I checked, diabetes is MUCH more closely linked to poor eating habits than it is exercise. They’re putting band-aids on bullet wounds.

Now, where’s the discrimination, you ask? What does this have to do with skinny girls, you ask? Simple.

Why do we assume that only the overweight students should need this class? Because they’re fat? Because evidence of their poor health appears on their bodies? I know that might seem like a “Yes! Duh!” to some of you, but let me explain why it’s not quite that simple.

lincoln-univHave you ever been to something like a high school reunion, a Homecoming, or any event where you’re forced to have to deal with people you haven’t seen in a long time? You ever notice how many individuals have packed on the pounds since then? How many of those people were among the skinny when you knew them way back when?

Thus, the skinny girl’s dilemma. Being coddled and “praised,” for lack of a better term, for being thin. Being assumed to have all the tricks and tools to better health because she is thin. “The skinny kids don’t need to take the class… clearly they’re already healthy.” Um, not quite. Poor kids who can’t afford food grow up thin… only to indulge when they get the money to do so. Teenagers eat “like big giant pigs” because their body needs that energy to grow.. only to have found that they’ve developed habits that quickly lead them to being overweight. Kids who grow up in poor households – yet who live in middle class environments where the majority of girls are skinny – might stick their fingers down their throats to maintain the weight. Why? Because they can’t afford the healthy foods to maintain the weight naturally… they might not even know what classifies as “healthy foods.” High school and college athletes who are so active that they develop a habit of eating heartily graduate and forget everything they’ve ever learned. Need I go on?

Actually… I’ve got one more – in ALL of those instances… eating all the wrong foods – full of trans-fats, high on sodium, low on protein – can have damaging effects on our insides. You know, the things that can’t be seen or determined by BMI (and thus why the BMI is considered a poor standard of overall health.)

Making only the overweight kids take this course implies that they’re the only ones who need it. Do we take a lack of fat to mean that a person is healthy? Do we not care about health as long as the person isn’t fat? Lincoln passed up a valuable opportunity to teach their students about nutrition. They passed up the chance to teach how to make sure that students can develop healthier lifestyles and reap the benefits of such, which definitely include weight loss and proper weight maintenance. Instead, they chose to pander to societal standards of health… and societal perceptions about the thin and the overweight.

And honestly… 2/3rds of society – according to Lincoln’s logic – would need to take this course anyway… so really, is THAT the standard to use?

Not that my opinion matters any… but I’d challenge Lincoln to create a course that teaches not only how to exercise, but how to eat. How to enjoy life without “living to eat.” How to care for ourselves. How to properly gauge one’s eating habits. How to determine what’s getting in the way of them reaching their health goals. How to combat weight gain on campus. Do that, and share that information with everyone. Maybe then, they’d make the impact they originally set out to make in the lives of their students. All of them.

My sources are here, here, here, here, here and here.

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Reecie December 8, 2009 - 1:07 PM

skinny girl checking in! LOL. Seriously I ate TRASH in college 70% of the time. Running around/being involved caused it to not really stick, in addition to high metabolism. But I also used to sleep A LOT. like long 3-4 hr naps. could be because I stayed up late, could be because I stopped taking vitamins and just was sluggish cuz of all the crap I was eating. who knows. I do think teaching college aged students what is healthy and how to make good food choices is important. More important than imposing a course for only those of a high BMI. And we had a farm on my campus! (well off campus, but we are an Ag school) so maybe only the Agriculture and Health majors got that kind of info, doesn’t mean they applied it.

Erika December 8, 2009 - 1:40 PM

Reecie, so you feel me on this? Instead of making overweight students waste their tuition on glorified PE classes… teach EVERYBODY how to eat better on campus?

Shoot, I remember my dorm had nothing but Top Ramen and Easy Mac… and popcorn. Ramen has like 1800mg of sodium, Easy Mac is neither Macaroni NOR cheese, and cheap popcorn is full of trans-fat. LOL Let’s keep it real, here. LOL

I’m glad that you came out on top in the end, though. I came out with monster booty. Shoot, I’m STILL mad about that! LOL!

Reecie December 8, 2009 - 1:51 PM

I think we all would’ve be so much better off with that type of information. seriously. rumors were that they put laxatives in our cafe food. lol. I guess as long as it got you to “go” you were okay. I loved my meal plan though. ate several square meals in that piece! LOL. only after/in between hours did I indulge in ramen, chinese delivery, little debbie cakes, doritos and Good Lord the amounts of soda. smh.

Jazzy July 24, 2012 - 4:56 PM

OMG Reecie you sound like you’re describing DSU! That was the rumor going around our freshman year that our food was being “doped” up with ex-lax. LOL My freshman year was spent at DSU, and I can honestly say it was blessing to have upgraded to Towers. That kitchen was like heaven! We would actually either cook there, order from the Chinese restaurant, and on days when were too broke we would walk to MLK (our student center). It wasn’t until I transferred to Morgan, that I found out how to be a microwave chef. Steaming vegetables, making gourmet grits lol, anything to not eat in the Refact (too many stories behind the name, none of them are good).
At the topic at hand, I definitely think all students should know what they should put into their bodies. I was never a skinny chick, but I did know what was supposed to be a splurge and what I needed to eat.

THE DARK KNIGHT December 8, 2009 - 6:14 PM

Is the determination of who takes this class only upon sight? How do they make their decisions on who goes and who does not? I agree. We can be so visual sometimes that we don’t get the gist of the bigger picture. Everyday I deal with “skinny people” with “fat people” problems: hypertension, diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and so on. We all need to be reminded of the does and don’ts in nutrition. I only fear that a school may sellout to a major food chain and “leave something out.” There is alot for all of us to learn in the vast world of fitness and nutrition. We just need to turn the “know it all” in our minds off and open our eyes. I know I went somewhere else with it, but yeah. Good points man. It should be required as a whole, IMO.

Dr. G- December 8, 2009 - 7:07 PM

Erika! EXCELLENT POST!!! There are social determinants to health. If someone is overweight, one cannot just merely make them exercise to lose weight. There is an abundance of data that show differently. You’re right! They need nutrition course. They need relaxation opportunities. And they need fitness course beyond track, weights and aerobics–Even dancing. What they need is something long-lasting. A reason be maintain a healthy lifestyle. And it cannot occur by mandate. It must occur by appeal or marketing.

Rochelle Spencer December 24, 2009 - 9:51 AM

At my college, EVERYONE was required to take a health and nutrition class in order to graduate. I think this class could be a good idea, if like you said, it teaches both exercise and proper nutrition and if it eradicates the discriminatory policies…Finally, like some of the earlier posters suggested, college students’ health won’t change unless the school cafeteria offers healthy options. It’s not enough to give students information; we’ve also got to give them opportunities to apply that information.

Neek October 25, 2010 - 9:52 AM

As a LU alum, I think it’s really unfortunate when I go to Lincoln for Homecoming that I look better than half of the students that are currently in attendance and I am quite sure it has to do with poor eating habits and a relatively sedentary lifestyle. The campus is not that large so students aren’t really doing as much walking as they might at a larger school. When I was a student at Lincoln, most people did not have cars for one reason or the other. You always had to cop a plea and offer someone gas money to get a ride into town which was 4 miles away. Not that there were so many great eating choices when you got there, but it was less likely that you would engorge yourself in these bad foods because of the effort it took to get to them. Since then, there has been a lot of development of areas near campus and just about every fast food chain imaginable is within a spit’s distance of campus. More students are driving now than when I was there 15 years ago, so now the accessibility to these food chains is a lot greater! I too, would like to see the University incorporate a course that teaches healthy lifestyle and nutrition choices ESPECIALLY since I was a Clinical Health Science major at the school. Did you know that by 2050, 1/3 of all Americans will be diagnosed with Diabetes if we remain on the track that we are currently on? And there is no question in my mind that MOST of those Americans will be of African descent. Our children are so obese now that they are the first generation that may not outlive their parents. Wow! We need to teach proper nutrition at an early age because sometimes by the time they get to college it is really hard to get young people to change their habits when they have practiced them their entire lives. And I agree, there are a whole lot of “skinny fat” people walking around. Everyone can benefit from such a course. Being thin does not equate to being healthy!

Lisa October 25, 2010 - 10:50 AM

And everyone laughs at my university’s physical education requirement. In order to graduate from EMU you MUST have 2 credits of physical education, and it is not easy to get waived. I took bowling and walking. It was something, but I’m glad they did it.

Neek October 25, 2010 - 11:13 AM

Lisa, there was and still is a physical education requirement at LU. I took a class called Lifetime Sports where we had ballroom dancing, bowling and badminton. I liked it!

Nicole June 28, 2011 - 9:15 PM

This is quite ridiculous. One of the more useful things I did at my university was visit my school’s nutritionist. I knew my nutrition wasn’t tight but it was such a rude awakening to hear the professional’s review of my food diary. As a member of the “skinny fat” brigade I would never be recommended for LU’s extra education, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need it. Every time I visit a doctor I am on the borderline of underweight. Sometimes I am also on the borderline of high cholesterol. We all need complete health education, nutrition along with physical education.

Shermy August 25, 2011 - 11:47 AM


Sita July 18, 2012 - 3:50 PM

In addition to what others have posted I would say there are major privacy issues here. Are they taking everyone’s BMI? They don’t have the right to do that! What do they do with the data? How do they store it? What are the consequences of not doing this course – get kicked out of school? Financial penalty? Put in the stocks? Really ridiculous and discriminatory.

T.W. July 19, 2012 - 12:56 PM

I completely agree with this! My little sister is a skinny skinny mini (5’4, 105 lbs) because she doesn’t eat much (and that not much doesn’t consist of the most nutritious foods) and gets her skinny genes from my dad’s dad’s side of the family. I did not get those genes, but in a recent trip to the gym with me, we learned she can hardly jog half a mile, whereas I can do two comfortably and still have energy for half an hour on the treadmill. Why? I hit puberty early and had a grown woman’s body by age 11, and my mom, a former skinny mini who feared I would grow up to be obese (with some of my eating habits back in the day, it’s a blessing that the biggest I’ve been was mildly overweight), more than supported my love for soccer and insisted I go on the treadmill for at least a mile three-five days a week every summer from 4th-12th grade so that I didn’t get any bigger, which I thank her for now. My sister, on the other hand, gets some comments on her sweet tooth, but other than a few years in a low intensive gymnastics program, she’s never been active and never been forced to be active. Now that she’s well in her teenage years, we’re realizing girlfriend is just out of shape. And even if it never shows on her, we are still trying to show her it affects her overall health, quality of life, ect. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, we’ll have her in the gym running a mile and eating at least two healthy meals. Baby steps to a better life.

ab January 22, 2013 - 12:43 PM

So is there a sports program at this school?. Because I\d guarantee that that most of their runners and football athletes wil be classified as overweight or clinically obese according to their BMI.

Boxers, gymnasts, runners, really tall people, football players, all tend to fall on the overweight to obese range of BMI because they pack on muscle. would they be required to take a class?

Whilst we are at it, what about the anorexics, underweight people? are they not at risk? do they not take the class?.

THIN is not healthy or fit, FAT is not healthy or fit.

Fit is Fit, active can be fit. visual estimates are not the best indicators of fit.

Things are so crazy now, I bet people would pick skinny, chain smoking, junk eating anorexic as healthy over a 250lb linebacker

Janine February 19, 2013 - 9:33 PM

Not only exercise and nutrition should be covered in the course, but SLEEP should be too! You know how many college kids get all f-ed up because they get too little sleep? And how sleep irregularities correlate to poor metabolism, poor health, and weight gain? I KNOW this happened to me.

ella September 9, 2013 - 1:01 AM

Where do you get off with this “Teenagers eat like big giant pigs because their body needs that energy to grow.” Explain why you are you comparing people to animals in such an insensitive manner. And goodness, my fourth graders could construct a better sentence. I mean, you couldn’t say “Teens have voracious appetites due to the needs of their growing bodies”. I’m getting really sick of people writing triggering stuff like that sentence. Their are people with a litany of eating disorders due to triggering and rude comments like that.

Not to mention you refereed to bulimia as “girls sticking fingers down their throats”. Not just girls are bulimic. Give the eating disorder a title. Eating disorders aren’t just about people trying to lose weight. I know this article wasn’t highlighting eating disorders, but give them the respect they deserve. I find this really hard to drive home as a Black woman in the Black Community. I constantly see my eating disorder get over looked and labeled as ” girl sticking finger down her throat to look like Paris Hilton”. As a woman who has recovered from “sticking her finger down her throat” to lose weight and as one who was called a pig all the time by family, I am appalled at this post.

Maybe it’s time for you to get an editor.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 9, 2013 - 8:11 AM

I’m thinking that there might be snark in the blog post that isn’t identified as snark clearly enough.

I’m not calling teenagers “pigs” here – I’m aiming to mock the language that people use when talking about the eating habits of teens. There are other posts on here where MANY of us shared the kinds of things our parents said about us and how we ate as teens, and “eat like pigs” was a COMMON refrain. I’m not immune to coming off insensitive, and I apologize for not giving this the care you believe it deserves, but the very fact that “teenagers eat like pigs” and people don’t realize its normal – hence, why they denigrate growing bodies for doing what they’re supposed to be doing – is what leads us to situations where they think that overweight teenagers are this giant problem… something only further exacerbated by the fact that, if you’re a middle class Black family and you see your potentially chubby child standing next to all of these thin girls, you very well might find yourself comparing your normal, healthy child to someone who is bulimic (exercise or otherwise) or anorexic… something most prevalent in middle class communities. Upwardly mobile people entering middle classhood for the first time (and as a first in their families) don’t know that and aren’t aware of that; if your family has been middle-to-upper class for long enough, for many it becomes standard accepted practice. For many, it’s expected. It’s a complicated matter, and it’s LITERALLY dumbed down to “they’re just sticking their fingers down their throats, and they can stop at any time.”

Maybe you’re new here – there’s years of work here surrounding eating disorders, growing bodies, and how this affects us culturally. I’d caution you against making assumptions about the fullness of what I believe, simply because I’ve linked eating disorders to weight loss in a post specifically discussing “weight loss” and the fallacies people believe about bodies. I’m a certified women’s fitness specialist, now – it is a well-known and common fact that, although there are far more contributory factors when it comes to ED, that many women develop them in the quest to become – and remain – thin. Just because control plays a huge role doesn’t erase all of the others. I’m not saying you WANT to be offended, I’m just saying that you’re making a lot of massive leaps in order to come to the conclusions at which you’ve arrived.

If you don’t think this backwards weight loss logic was behind some of the decisions made at the Univ, then I’d have to ask what resources you’re reviewing or what people you’re talking to, because even though I wrote this four years ago… I’ve done MUCH more work in not only the Black community but scientifically and academically on my blog and I can tell you that this mentality is painfully prevalent.

I can appreciate the suggestion for an editor, but I think that it’s far easier to make the snark a little clearer, and make it more obvious that this was written in 2009. I realize that it’s hard to give people the benefit of the doubt on the Internet, but instead of accusatory statements, I find that asking for clarity of meaning often works a lot better… that is, if your goal is to come to an understanding and not simply lob passive-aggressive insults.

Aika March 5, 2019 - 10:06 PM

This post is on-point in every way, Erika! I’m a skinny girl and I’m considered underweight, which means I lack some nutrition to keep me healthy and fit. I totally agree with you that Lincoln must create a course that will teach students, regardless of their weight and size, how to eat good foods and keep them healthy.

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