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Liana Riley is a political science sophomore and Mustang News columnist. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinion or editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Once dubbed the happiest city in America, San Luis Obispo is home to breathtaking sunsets, picturesque landscapes and what can be considered a conventionally attractive student body.
When I first arrived at Cal Poly in Fall 2013, I had trouble assimilating to the athletic and fitness-oriented culture the school boasts.
Everyone seemed to have an inclination for fitness and a common desire to hit the Recreation Center at least three times a week. Meanwhile, I forget my Recreation Center code at least once a quarter and still don’t know how to use the squat rack.
I felt an overwhelming pressure digging into my psyche, demanding I complete a minimum of four days per week at the gym. It was a nagging and fruitless effort, a pressure I had yet to experience in my life. When you factor in the excessively greasy dining options at VG Cafe and the lack of food with any basic sustenance on campus, it became increasingly harder to feel like my body was a temple.
When food science sophomore Alexandra Christie started her first quarter at Cal Poly, she too experienced a fitness culture shock.
“My theory on why Poly is so fit is that since students are so motivated academically, chances are they’re motivated to be fit as well,” she said.
Our student body is supposed to emulate the “Happiest City” title that Oprah bestowed upon us, embodying it in the way we interact with one another and increasing the aesthetic appeal of the college. This breeds unrealistic expectations and high ideals for the average young adult, who is still attempting to grasp life as an autonomous being who has to clean their own sheets.
And with anxiety and depression becoming such crippling afflictions for college students, it’s no surprise that so many seek solace in trips to the Recreation Center between classes.
The implicit and yet dominant force motivating our workouts is the issue at hand, not the act of physical activity itself.
It is valuable to find a balance between enduring self love and a desire to continuously grow as a person. Part of me wants to refrain from criticizing our culture because it is the driving force behind so many expeditions to Bishop Peak, hikes to the Serenity Swing and intramural sports. The common culture is to enjoy hiking, running and lifting. Anything to the contrary seems a bit out of place at Cal Poly.
We must remember the golden rule: everything in moderation, fitness being no exception.
Excessive exercise can lead to obsession, which fosters a preoccupation with body image. We see it on every college campus. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are becoming widespread phenomena for our age demographic.
Body image is so pervasive because:
A. The influential status of media on societal norms.
B. We’re at an age in which every inch of our bodies can be picked apart, hyper-sexualized and objectified.
Body image is based on the social constructions of the feminine and masculine beauty ideals and the skinny versus fat standards of western beauty. And that’s just it — they are called standards for a reason, since everyone feels the pressure to meet them.
We should strive to dismantle the fat and skinny dichotomy; doing so is the best way to remedy our narrow perception of the “normal” college student.
Could this dissolve some of the aforementioned body image, anxiety and everyday pressures we face on campus?
Positive or negative body image is learned, so where we encourage instead of judge is progress toward defeating an impossible standard.
I envy anyone who has reached Oprah-style self-actualization and does not have to strive for this ideal at least somewhat. For almost everyone else, we are attempting to adhere to unattainable criteria.
And, inevitably, when we can’t fit the mold, we will internalize it as failure.