The “Freshman 15” is a phrase I am sure most of us are familiar with. For anyone lucky enough to have never come across the “Freshman 15”, let me provide an explanation.
The “Freshman 15” is a widely held notion that freshmen gain 15 pounds once they come to campus due to getting less exercise, excessively drinking, and having unlimited access to campus food.
It is widely known and talked about, but most often used as an anecdote or joke. The first time I heard the phrase was during a campus tour when I was in high school. A representative for that University’s Admissions Department said something along the line of “We offer a large variety of options in our dining halls, and yes some are healthy options, so you can avoid gaining the Freshman 15.” Once I was in college I again heard jokes and comments being made about gaining weight. Staff and students both would make comments about hitting the gym to fight the “Freshman 15.” As a young person struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food and my body, my biggest fear was gaining the “Freshman 15” when I came to college. The use of the term and its negative effect on students is not limited solely to my experience. This phrase is used across the nation and research shows us that it negatively affects students on campuses all across the country.
Despite the innocuous nature of the phrase and the comments it was and is used in, the term is based on weight shame and fatphobia. It is rooted in the false notion that gaining weight is shameful and the discriminatory belief that a thin body is a better body. These negative messages, no matter how small, have the power to do real harm to students' mental health.
I am a graduating Senior in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, for my Senior Project I chose to create a podcast that zeroed in on the “Freshman 15” and illuminated the harms it can have to student health. I am passionate about showing students, their families, and university faculty and staff that this phrase has the power to do real harm.
The podcast is 3 episodes long, each with a different main focus. The first episode covers what “The Freshman 15” is, the history of its origins, and if it really even exists. It also covers why this term affects freshmen specifically and the unique stressors of the transition from high school to college. The second episode covers the stigma around weight and food in the US. I delve into the fatphobia embedded in our society and media and the harm it causes. The last episode covers the weight shame of the COVID-19 pandemic and how fatphobia harms us all. I also talk about the role of families and peers in body image and what we can all do to take care of each other and fight back against weight stigma. You can stream the podcast on Spotify, Check it out here!
We all have the power to fight fatphobia and weight shaming, not just for freshmen, but for everyone affected. This podcast is a tool for learning more about how the “Freshman 15” does harm and what we can do to spread body positivity/neutrality (read more on body neutrality in Camryn’s blog post here!) here on campus and also on social media, in our families, in our friend groups, and throughout our lives.
I hope you check out the podcast and learn that there is a lot more to that simple phrase “the Freshman 15” than you likely ever knew.
By: Eva VanWyck, WIT Peer Educator
Posted by Katie Jourdan on Permanent link for The Freshman 15: The Who, What, and How it Harms Us on April 26, 2023.