Letter to the Editor: (Blank)phobia — fatphobia rooted in The Mizzou Store

The fatphobia blatantly controlling The Mizzou Store is just one of the ways (Blank)phobia runs rampant throughout campus. These are the ways the MU administration serves everyone except for its students.

(Blank)phobia is nothing new, but rather something that has existed at MU for years. From serving only wealthy white men for its first three decades, to the complete and intentional exclusion of Black students on campus for 111 years, it's clear MU consistently picks and chooses which communities to serve.

Still wondering what the (Blank) is? Don’t worry; feel free to fill in the blank anyway you choose, and it will still make sense. For this piece, the (Blank), and MU, are filled with fatphobia.

Today, they once again decided to fuel the fire that is (Blank)phobia through the fatphobia streaming from The Mizzou Store.

Imagine this: You are a newly admitted freshman and it’s your first week on campus. You’re eager to finally be a Tiger and join a diverse community. Filled with excitement, you and some friends decide to visit The Mizzou Store in the Student Center, determined to fill your closet with as much MU gear as possible.

After quite a while shopping, you and your friends reconvene and they ask, “Hey, are you not getting any shirts?”

Out of embarrassment you simply say, “I couldn’t decide,” but in reality there was nothing your size.

You, of course, don’t want to admit that. After separating from your friend group to save some embarrassment, you dig through piles and piles of clothing to realize that there is nothing there for you, that you're not their “target demographic” or their “average consumer” and that you don’t belong in this store. Imagine putting your heart and soul into a community you love so much, yet not even getting to represent the M-I-Z.

This is what I go through.

As a plus-size student, I can confidently say I have never felt more alienated by a community so adamant about making their students feel welcomed than when I step into The Mizzou Store. The university boasts its “explicit” goals for diversity and inclusion, yet they always seem to forget one specific factor: size.

The Mizzou Store is a perfect microcosm for fatphobia on college campuses in America — a microcosm where, if you don’t wear an XS to XXL, you aren’t welcome. Everyone knows the iconic “Mizzou” t-shirts as a staple for every MU student’s closet. They can’t be a staple in mine.

The store’s website describes the shirts as this:

“Nothing beats a classic! This simple Mizzou tee is the perfect base for any outfit. It's sure to please all Tigers - past, present, and future.”

It’s sure to please all Tigers? Well, they must not be talking about me.

If you’re not aware of what this t-shirt looks like, I’ll describe it. For $12.99, you can purchase this one-color shirt with the word “Mizzou” on the front. No picture. Nothing on the back. Just “Mizzou” in white letters.

If you’re unable to find one that’s in your size on the main page (well, if it’s even in stock), make sure to check the “Extended Sizes” page, which screams: “Don’t worry! You can get it in white or grey in the ‘extended size’ of a 3XL!”

For an institution that boasts one of its core values of excellence, the alienation and disregard of plus-size people is not excellence, but a joke.

For all of those people who say, ‘Well, why don’t you ask them about it?’ — I don’t need to because I’ve been told the answer to that question my entire life. They’ll say it’s not in demand. They’ll say it costs too much to manufacture. They’ll say the vendor they order from doesn’t offer extended sizes of a 3XL to a 5XL.

None of these excuses are logical. For a university with a steady enrollment of over 30,000 students, their family members and the over 330,000 alumni of the institution, you cannot tell me there is no demand. With an estimated systemwide budget of $3.2 billion, you can’t tell me providing plus size options for $10-20 t-shirts isn’t financially feasible.

Fatphobia at MU doesn’t stop at The Mizzou Store's checkout line: it invades every aspect of this campus. From the irrefutable systemic expulsion of plus-size people in Greek Life we all know exists, to the tiny lecture hall seats or the awkwardness caused by desks even the smallest of students have experienced, fatphobia is running rampant. Let’s not forget the university-published signs encouraging students to avoid using the elevators as a COVID-19 precaution, because that’s fatphobia too. It's being the only one in the friend groups to ride the elevator when MU places caps on riders and passive-aggressively encourages you to “use the stairs.”

As an MU student involved in everything from student government to political organizations, I even feel alienated by my own organizations that push for inclusion on campus. The embarrassment I feel when filling out a t-shirt order form and realizing it’s not fill-in-the-blank or doesn’t have an “other” option is crippling. It’s disappointing that I have to select a size knowing it won’t fit because I am too afraid and embarrassed to ask if they can order a size not included in the checkboxes.

Simply put, MU’s goals for diversity and inclusion are not diverse or inclusive at all. They’re performative. This speaks to systemic issues so much bigger than the size of a t-shirt, but rather the intentional alienation experienced by countless students on campus.

How can MU truly want every Tiger to feel like a member of a family of 30,000 if they can’t even wear the same style of clothing?

MU must finally start putting out the fires the administration constantly fuels. These are the kinds of conversations the administration must be having with students, and these conversations are so much bigger than expanding t-shirt sizes.

It’s the tearing down of women’s history on our campus; it’s the faux feelings of inclusion ushered towards Black students; it’s the “unintentional” complete exclusion of Asian American students within the MU Diversity Awards; it’s the efforts that are performative because the MU administration isn’t here to serve their students.

Rather than promoting diversity and inclusion, they are sustaining exclusion and oppression.

This is not a “friendly reminder” to the administration to do something about underrepresented communities on campus. It’s a demand. The administration must be having these conversations with students. The administration must end the performative goals for diversity, equity and inclusion. The administration must systematically change the toxic atmosphere of alienation it has sustained for far too long, because I think — no, I know I speak for all students when I say: We are fed up.

When it comes down to it, it seems like academia is always in the pursuit of being what I call (Blank)phobic because when I consider it, I can’t think of any community MU and its administration actually serve other than cisgendered, heterosexual, white and athletic men.

Sincerely tired of the act, Dylan Britton

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com, Cayli Yanagida | cyanagida@themaneater.com and Sarah Rubinstein | srubinstein@themaneater.com

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