As I was flipping through some old pictures in my mom’s phone, I was inclined to write a blog post about my journey through the last three years. One of the things most girls fear when going to college is the weight gain. With unlimited access to food through the all-you-can-eat buffet and late night snacks, it is not surprising that a majority of college freshmen gain weight during their first year. It’s almost considered a natural phenomenon. Well, for me, it was the opposite. I guess when that anxiety goes overboard the scale can shift the opposite direction. When I first left home for my first year in college, I was determined to live the way I have always wanted to live. I confined myself to a very strict schedule of exercising every morning, never eating until I was full, and, of course, never eating after 7pm. I wanted to be thin. Whenever there was food involved, I often made an excuse that I had a stomach ache. I was constantly worried about my appearance; whether I’ve gained a pound, whether certain clothes made me look fat, how people see me. It is completely normal to feel self-conscious when moving to a new environment, trying to make a good impression and finding your place in the new world. But once you get so tied down by it, it can consume your life and keep you from seeing what lies beyond just the physical.
Things started going as I had planned, as people complimented on my “disciplined way of living,” asking me for health advice. For once in my life, I felt confident about my appearance. I felt accepted and so I was able to accept myself. As I started shedding pounds, compliments continued, and so did my lifestyle. I noticed that I had less energy than before, but that was okay with me. Anything was better than going back to my old self. I was terrified of gaining back the weight.
Down it went. One…two…five…ten…fifteen. It was never enough. I was never done – never satisfied. But I started seeing changes in my body. Most significantly, I stopped having menstruation. That should have taught me a lesson that what I was doing wasn’t healthy – that my body couldn’t handle it anymore. But I denied that my weight had anything to do with it. Upon my mom’s urge, I went to see a gynecologist, who advised me to cut down on exercising, eat healthy, and relax a little. I thought that was ridiculous, and it to me sounded basically like she was telling me to get lazy and fat. The doctor herself was a tall, skinny lady, and coming from her, it all sounded too hypocritical. It was unfair. I tried to convince her that I have a hormonal imbalance, and I convinced her to prescribe me Premarin, which contains conjugated estrogens. I was certain that I knew my body best than anyone else and I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to take care of it. I was just starting to feel comfortable with my body and in control over my weight, and I wasn’t ready to give that up. Not now.
A year went by. The problem remained. My anxiety aggravated and it soon consumed my thoughts. I started researching about different diseases that can lead to amenorrhea. Can it be cancer? Premature menopause? Will I ever be able to have a child? What’s wrong with me?
Is it really because of my weight? Why? There are so many other people who are much thinner than I am and they are doing fine. Why me? I am trying so hard here, but why can’t I be like them?
My fear of never getting my menstruation back eventually prevailed, and I finally gave into my parents nag about looking like a twig, “like a malnourished kid from Africa.” While I spent the summer at home, I gained back some of the weight, which was terrifying and stressful for me. But I accepted the fact that the sudden weight loss may have contributed to my condition.
This is me before and after my first year.
And this is me a few weeks ago.
Two years have gone by and I am almost back to my normal weight. But the problem still remains. Looking through my mom’s phone, I thought, why was this so important to me anyway? What triggered this? Why did I let it paralyze me and kill me inside?
There are hundreds of thousands of blog posts out there about people who struggle with their weight, and they have a common factor. They commonly share an experience being teased or judged by their weight during their childhood/teenage years. And I don’t think that is a coincidence. Words can cut like knifes and looks can pierce like spears. Another factor is the effect of social media. One can’t deny the growing influence social media has had on body image and self-confidence. It is sad to say that for too many people, both men and women, the quality of life is affected by how others view their outer appearance.
Deep inside, we are all insecure, sensitive beings who long for love and acceptance. No matter how much we try to deny it, we are deeply affected by the society and our peers, especially during early years when our self-identity has not year solidified.
Every year, thousands of teenage girls are sent to the emergency room due to an eating disorder, and millions of people end up with health conditions that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Where is our society leading us? What can we do to stop this from happening?
In the recent years, growing number of campaigns, such as Love Your Body by National Organization for Women and Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, have advocated for positive body image all over the world, and many individuals, like Jae West and Erin Treloar, have stepped up to share their painful experiences and to encourage others to live healthy. Before this movement, eating disorders were to be ashamed of and something to be hidden; hidden away from family and friends; hidden underneath smiling faces; hidden behind closed doors. I think it is crucial that this topic be brought to surface – for those who have and are suffering from it and to empower individuals to live their lives with confidence and self-esteem.