Neta Bar is a business administration sophomore and opinion columnist for Mustang News. Her views reflected in this piece don’t necessarily reflect those of Mustang News.

Sometimes it’s in the subtleties of our campus environment. It can be otherwise found as a blatant characteristic in Cal Poly’s image, reputation and almost its brand. To some, an attractive pull; to others a disheartening dealbreaker: Cal Poly’s culture of extraordinary fitness, a convention that breeds an uncompromising “fit” (read: thin) population under the guise of health and well-being. 

Stepping on to Cal Poly’s campus for the first time was an experience that could be compared to accidentally stumbling into a Lululemon ad. Disproportionate amounts of people sporting head-to-toe athleisure, a Recreation Center completely packed at all hours of the day and, most notably, a consistent theme of exclusively thin bodies no matter where you look. A deviation from the national norm, to say the least.

We all see it in the day to day, but how frequently do we step back and critically consider –– why? It’s not like Cal Poly only admits people who prioritize health and fitness to the point that it’s a personality trait and yet, it appears like a prerequisite of feeling like a part of the campus community. 

Therein lies the problem –– as opposed to fitness being a genuinely healthy, restorative element of our university atmosphere, it snowballs into a culture that culminates into increased awareness at best and disruptive obsession at worst.

The troubling effects of this unspoken culture leaves many silently struggling with body image, grappling with how to exist as a Cal Poly student who might not fit the aforementioned mold. Eating healthy and exercising is undoubtedly a beneficial and vital part of general well-being, but when motives are tainted by social pressure as opposed to organic desire, this begets a typically slippery slope. Cal Poly’s culture propagates so much of this social pressure that it’s not perceived as a potential concern; rather, an expectation or norm.

This norm manifests in a multitude of ways, both profoundly conspicuous and quietly indirect. It’s moments like walking into work to a tray of freshly baked homemade muffins that not one single person would touch. Like listening to a professor as he sidetracks from the lecture slides into a tangent about how absurdly different Cal Poly’s fitness culture looks from his own college experience –– and, in his confident conjecture, from the experience of college students at most other universities across the country. 

It’s the countless conversations with friends and acquaintances who, with defeat in their voice and desperation in their eyes, admit some variation of the heartbreaking realization: “I’ve never paid so much attention to the way my body looked until I came here.” 

Cal Poly promotes staying active and prioritizing health by leveraging tangible aspects of our community, from a state of the art facility to work out in, to the multitude of opportunities to exercise in the outdoors –– a fact that, on its own, is an unequivocally positive thing for the student body.

However, the collective fitness obsession at Cal Poly, as it currently exists, corrupts the potential for this inherently good thing and instead creates an environment conducive to disordered fitness, normalizing restriction and enabling fixation. 

Let there be no delusion, Cal Poly has always been a “fit school” and that is not something that will change in the foreseeable future, nor should it. Our culture has the foundation to be one that contributes to a productive and sustainable relationship with exercise and nutrition, but the potential hits a wall as a consequence of subconscious dishonesty with ourselves and with one another. 

It’s time to take a step back and consider how these long-accepted norms may be impacting the student body, for better or for worse. With increased awareness and mindful perspectives, acknowledging the disordered behaviors we might see –– as opposed to blindly glorifying them –– we can be the catalyst for a pivot away from the slippery slope and instead towards the goal that our culture undoubtedly has the capacity to promote: honest, wholehearted health.