Thursday, September 26, 2013

Weight Stigma on College Campuses

As some of you know, I took part in BEDA's National Weight Stigma Awareness Week this week. If you missed any of the content submitted by the featured contributors, myself included, you can get a full recap here. Yesterday my post about weight stigma on a college campus was published and I'm re-posting it here. Read the original here. 

Weight Stigma on College Campuses

It’s nearly impossible to spend a day on a college campus without experiencing some form of weight loss talk. As I am writing this, I am sitting in my university library eavesdropping on the table of girls next to me chatting about their goals to drop inches this semester. For someone trying to recover from an eating disorder or anyone with weight insecurities, a college campus can be an overwhelmingly triggering place to be.

As we make the transition from high school to college, for many of us there is a fear and stigma around gaining the Freshman 15. Somewhere over the course of our young adult years, we are taught to believe we need to maintain our 16 year old bodies forever.

As a high school senior, I can remember getting brochures regarding the massive changes ahead of us after graduation. The most important topic on these brochures was always related to the Freshman 15 and ways to avoid the weight gain. These messages against weight gain were ingrained in me before I even stepped foot on a college campus. I began to think if, heaven forbid, I did gain a few pounds, I was somehow doing something wrong. What would my old high school friends think of me if I returned over the holidays a size bigger?

The first time I attempted college, about five years ago, within the first two weeks of my first class, my eating disorder behaviors increased dramatically out of fear of the dreaded Freshman 15. Every time I went to the student gym, I became more aware of the seemingly perfect bodies around me. Before I knew it, I developed a belief that in order to fit in and be noticed I needed to be bikini ready at all times.

As a result of my internalized weight stigma I developed a strict routine and many of my friends began asking me for tips or would compete with me on the treadmill. Rather than focusing on my schoolwork, I became engulfed in this world of weight loss. Maybe I was hanging out with the wrong crowd because sadly, this way of living became the norm and the girls who did embrace their changing bodies weren’t given the time of day. Looking back now, I can see those girls were not heavy at all – they were healthy and we were biased.

After three semesters of college, unfortunately, I failed out because I became so caught up in this eating disorder world. My need to fit in and avoid the bodily changes that take place after high school was much more important than my need to chase my dreams.

Five years, a six month stay in treatment, and a much healthier mind set later, I can proudly say I am back in school and doing my best to separate myself from the stigma surrounding the Freshman 15 on a college campus. Our college years should be about self-discovery and chasing dreams rather than counting calories in order to feel accepted.

The beautiful thing about my college experience the second time around is, I now have the ability to embrace my body and love it for what it is – body acceptance. I can now recognize the many different shapes and sizes around me as equally beautiful. Sadly, there will always be a group of people on campus who will attempt to make us believe the Freshman 15 is the end of the world; but the truth is, it’s the exact opposite.

By finally allowing my body to make the natural changes it has needed to during my early twenties, I have allowed myself to see the world much more clearly. By letting my body figure out what weight it naturally wants to settle at, I can focus on my education, making friends, and enjoying the experience instead of trying to fit someone else’s weight ideals.

This time around I have chosen love, silliness, laughter, and self-acceptance over fear of the Freshman 15 regardless of the endless weight gain stigma on a college campus. What will you choose?

Yay - Progress! 

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