A Whale of a Topic

by Mary Shipp Bartlett

I’m writing this from the land of humpback whales and plus-sized people in Vava’u, part of the Kingdom of Tonga, in the South Pacific, on a snorkeling expedition I had dreamed of for years. Concerned since puberty about my weight, which fluctuates 20 lbs. or so on a 5’9″ frame (depending on what diet I’m on and whether or not a school reunion beckons), I am humbled by the natural acceptance of body type and physical traits of the men and women I am meeting here. They are all sizes—with the majority larger than average Americans—friendly, cheerful, and, for the most part, healthy.

In the tiny village above the beach area where I am staying, the people greet me with “Malo e lelei” as I pass their houses in the early morning. I try each day to walk off the extra calories from a Tongan diet that often offers two or three starches per meal along with plenty of fresh fruit and fish,much of which I happily accept.At 6:30 a.m., many Tongans are actively working on mat weaving or feeding their numerous pigs and chicken, as the children get ready for school in their colorful uniforms. Several women invite me inside their homes to see, and perhaps purchase, their baskets, trays, and mats.

As I get to know the people here, I forget about my own size and shape, and about theirs. It seems irrelevant. I have also been in the water swimming with 25-ton mammals (a carefully controlled and safe operation, for both whales and humans, organized by a marine biologist).This trip has adjusted my self-perspective; it’s all relative.

Body image is on my mind because it is our focus in this issue: especially the implications for women’s mental, emotional, and physical health. I’m not alone in thinking about this—already, we have had more alumnæ interest and response to this subject than any we have presented in the last 10 years. More than 400 alumnæ responded to an informal online questionnaire sent by Nicole Walsh ’99 last July. We also have a record number of submissions to Alumnæ Speak on this subject in this issue.Written by alumnæ whose ages span six decades, they are thoughtful, poignant, and sometimes humorous accounts of how women deal with body image in a weight-, sex-, and youth-obsessed society.

Please continue to share your own stories, as Scripps moves forward to build an athletic and recreational center to celebrate the mind-body connection (read about this on p. 10).

You may notice a new look to the magazine, both in design and content. The campus news section has now become the “Browsing Room,” a reference we hope all those who have lived in or visited a Scripps residence hall will appreciate.We also continue faculty and student “Perspectives.” In this issue, you can find Professor David Roselli’s account of teaching classics at Scripps in his freshman year, and senior Allison Ryan’s report on her year studying abroad in Germany. We plan to make “Perspectives” an ongoing feature, with first-person stories from faculty, staff, and students.

A special thanks to all of you who have supported the magazine in a year of changes and improvements.Your names, as editorial associates, are listed on the inside back cover.While we greatly appreciate your financial contributions, we encourage all of you to write or e-mail suggestions and comments for what you’d like to read about or see more (or less) of in the magazine to help us serve you better. Many of you have already done so, and we have taken your words to heart. The results are on the following pages.