I visited BC as a high school senior on Admitted Eagles’ Day. I distinctly recall my mother asking a girl for directions. After she walked away, my mother and I exchanged a look. Obviously I had no knowledge of her situation, but I would’ve bet anything she had an eating disorder. Her legs resembled toothpicks and her face was hollow. She looked like she was starving.
I tend to look at that moment as my entrance into the perverse world of health and body image at BC. Of course, this escalated come move-in day, when I actually entered the tainted atmosphere I was to live in. While I was trying to find time in my busy schedule to call home, I found that my classmates were making daily trips to the plex. The feelings of inadequacy crept in. At breakfast, I quickly discovered that I had veered away from the traditional breakfast of fruit and yogurt by instead opting for pastries and sugary cereals. Was I doing something wrong?
A healthy lifestyle is incredibly important, and I do not mean to discount that in any way. But there’s a fine line between a healthy lifestyle and toxic habits, and I think that it’s been blurred a bit at BC. What I mean to say is that there’s a difference between eating healthy and not eating enough to allow your body to function properly. And negative views regarding body image have a way of infecting the environment. The truth is, a slender girl is not by definition healthy and the antithesis to a heavier girl. In many ways these girls represent the spectrum of issues resulting from various societal pressures, be it compulsive over-eating, addiction to exercise, or binging and purging. One’s weight is not a reflection of his or her health. Furthermore, weight is not a reflection of a person’s substance. Working out is great, but I’d take the call with my family any day. I’d take a person with intelligence and humor over someone with washboard abs every time. That’s the stuff that makes people great, and that’s the stuff that will still be there when you’re old.
I think BC’s warped perception on body image is directly related to the prevalence of perfectionism among students. One’s size is yet another item on the laundry list of things we can control, things we have to have perfect. I tend to think of the quote from Courtney Martin’s book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, “We are the daughters of the feminists who said, ‘You can be anything,’ and we heard, ‘You have to be everything.’” There are so many talented individuals at BC who excel in a multitude of areas, and somewhere along the way, many girls and guys decided that they had to have a perfect body as well. This need for perfection can be deadly, and it never leads to happiness, because nothing’s ever good enough. Trying to make oneself “worthy” of the attention of others by obsessing over appearance never works; it only serves to undermine self worth.
We need to stop joking about the freshman fifteen. Our bodies are still changing and that’s okay. We need to stop asking people if they know how many calories are in that F’real. We need to stop shaming people for not going to the plex. We need to stop forming opinions about people based on their physical appearance. I have the utmost respect for the Women’s Center’s Love Your Body Week initiative, but ultimately it’s on us to change the culture at BC. And most importantly, please do not be afraid to speak candidly to your friend if you think he or she might be struggling with an eating disorder. You have no idea how much that person needs you.