The Latin Girl Lunch

Latin students don’t like to be psychoanalyzed. We prickle when Latin teachers hand us surveys with trick questions we can see through, and we know many of the “morals” behind lectures before they begin. Frankly, we know the self-esteem speeches and we know we shouldn’t smoke, we know college isn’t something to spend senior year stressing about and we understand that we should be tolerant individuals regardless of race or sexuality or religion.
We’ve consumed our global curriculum and have emerged knowledgeable individuals, savvy about the world and the media and ourselves. But what about our thighs?
I sat down at a cafeteria table last week, my tray laden with the school’s hot meal: steak with mango salsa and a bright looking slaw on the side. “Wow,” a classmate seated in the booth responded. “You’re really eating today.” I had found it interesting how, that day—the day my lunch had deviated from what I saw mirrored across the rows of cafeteria tables (a Greek yogurt, a Luna bar, and vitamin water)—was the day my food choice was questioned.
Flash back to spring of 2011, when for a week, the mirrors of the girl’s bathroom were tattooed in inspirational messages and I left my eyelashes unlined. We knew it was more than truth and beauty: we knew the media skewed our perceptions of ourselves, and we knew that ultimately, our job was to love our bodies and our own skins. Yet, we also knew that we attend a school where many of the students adhere to a particular aesthetic, and the “Latin Girl Lunch” is a reality.
So I ask my questions with this in mind, the idea that Latin students know how we should see ourselves, but despite what we know and why, there are unwritten rules. Even if we know we should see our bodies positively and that teenagers are impossibly susceptible to the influence of the media, can we really change how we see ourselves? Does a Latin education really contribute to changed attitudes or behaviors? In the end, what does education really teach us?
Not much, apparently, about how to see our own bodies positively. When asked in an online survey if there were a few things about their bodies they wished they could change, 52 out of 59 Latin students responded with a “yes.” So even though we’ve been bombarded with positive messages about accepting ourselves, we don’t take much of it to heart. This isn’t only a Latin problem—if self-confidence were that easily won, it wouldn’t matter.
However, when asked if Latin students felt there was a predominant aesthetic that the community finds attractive, one student in the anonymous survey responded that “[s/he] sometimes feels that if [s/he] went to a public school [s/he] wouldn’t feel that [his/her] completely healthy weight was fat.”
I couldn’t figure out if Latin’s insular quality was completely to blame for this perception, but upon reading more of the survey results, it made more sense.  If we perceive there is a certain way to act but are silent about these perceptions, they can influence us more. For example, if students perceive that girls should order salads at lunch and guys should order as much protein as can fit on a tray, students believe they should be doing that too.
When asked to make a generalization about a typical Latin guy’s lunch and girl’s lunch, 49 out of 54 students wrote the word “salad” for girls and not for guys. If students believe that a Latin girl’s lunch should be “never more than a single thing (ex: one container of yogurt, one bagel, one tiny salad container, one Luna bar, but not a combination of any of those things),” or “a small salad with minimal dressing and a judgmental look to my pasta” whereas a Latin guy’s lunch can be “carbs, carbs, more carbs,” the perception will linger until it won’t just have been one guy who has “heard about the Greek yogurt lunches for girls,” but will be more ingrained than it already is.
(If it seems like there is a strange emphasis on judgment from the girls’ perspective, it’s because there is. Although a good portion of the female population at Latin identify as feminist or are involved in the women’s alliance that perpetuates positive body image… and even though body image is obviously not a girl’s issue, 49 out of 59 students found that the female population was more judgmental on the issue of body image, with just one person out of the total believing the student body to be impartial and accepting).
Even though we know we shouldn’t feel the way we do about ourselves and our bodies, and even though we could probably rattle off plenty of information on the dangers of anorexia nervosa and the detriments of critiquing ourselves, over 70% of those surveyed would be happy if they found out they lost weight this month. Stranger still, more students know someone with a calorie-counter app than those who don’t.
Cut forward to the year 2045, when all of us now in high school have found ourselves advancing in our jobs, in our lives, or nearing 50. A panel of alumni from the class of 2013 has come to visit the current high school class, with a presentation prepared about self-confidence and body image.
Not much has changed about their personal opinions on the matter—they still believe everyone should love their bodies, and even though they themselves can’t look in a mirror without pinching the soft skin gathered in a subtle paunch below their abdominals, they believe that everyone else should be able to. Our children will see themselves the same way we do now; there will still be unwritten rules, at least in their cafeterias.
Unless we can be honest with ourselves and each other—that, even though we know we should know better, we still perpetuate a culture that’s killing us—we won’t make it past our own hypocrisy. When we can start to admit that, despite our best efforts, Latin students are just as susceptible to a society that favors models with thigh gaps on girls and muscled masculinity on guys, we can start to heal. When we’re talking about our bodies, what we know already isn’t enough.