Since age 12, I’ve been reading hundreds of articles on body image, eating issues and disorders, and ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I’ve also had my fair share of body issues. There were days when I would look in the mirror and think of ways to change everything about myself.
Over the fall, I gained enough weight to feel uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt pretty low about myself and during the spring semester, I decided it was finally time to do something about it.
My then-suitemate and I started going to the gym daily, working out really hard, talking about what we were eating and keeping ourselves — and each other —accountable for what we were putting into our bodies and knowing how to work it off. My workouts had me walking out of the gym sweaty, beaten and swollen, but nonetheless, proud.
As the weeks went on, I saw the difference in the mirror for the first time. My ironically named love handles started to shrink, my tummy started to flatten and I really felt like I had accomplished something.
I decided that I needed to work harder, since I was starting to notice the results and I wanted to continue to look and feel better.
I would never miss a day at the gym. I would workout harder and longer, and I would compare notes with my suitemate every night before going into my room, lifting up my shirt and wishing I had done more.
My life started to revolve around what I was eating, how much I was working out and talking to my suitemate about her progress. I stopped treating myself to chocolate on a bad day and instead ate almonds and dried mangos, trying to convince myself they were just as tasty.
If I didn’t go to the gym for a day or ate a cookie that I felt I shouldn't have consumed, I would feel awful and guilty. My workouts became more intense and I felt a point of pride when I would come off of a machine achy and exhausted.
One day, a few weeks after the beginning of our decision to become healthier, my suitemate approached me mid-workout on the dreaded Stairmaster.
She looked at me and said, “I’m starting to get worried. I used to have a great body image, but since we started cracking down on ourselves, I can’t look in the mirror without picking out new flaws. I thought this would help me feel better about myself, not worse.”
She was right; I felt the same way. In the past weeks, I had started receiving compliments on my appearance and acknowledgements that I had clearly lost weight.
I felt more attractive, yes, but I also felt worse about my body. I would stare at myself in the mirror when I was changing, nitpicking at each thing that I could focus on and work on at the gym. The more I worked out, the worse I felt about my body.
Why? I was equating my sense of self-worth with how I felt about my body and how I felt I was being perceived. However, I never recognized what was happening.
Instead of being careful to not let myself focus on my weight and on my self-perception, I slipped into no longer being confident in my own skin.
I realized that the language my friends and I used to describe our bodies shifted away from the easily identifiable red flags for having a negative body image. Instead of saying that I felt fat, it was socially acceptable to say that I felt “bloated,” and instead of saying I wanted to go to the gym to lose weight, I said I wanted to get “toned.”
While the words themselves were supposed to be healthier, the meanings behind them weren’t. Some women drink juice rather than eat balanced meals and take pills to reduce the last bit of bloating before going out at night. Well, it’s not healthy just because it’s socially acceptable.
I had fallen into the “Mean Girls” trap when Cady didn't know she was supposed to feel bad about how she looked until the other girls looked to her to contribute to their body-bashing sessions.
It’s easier to say that we feel bloated than fat because we shame each other for having a bad body images. But at the same time, those who do have a positive body image are pressured into finding problems that may not exist out of fear that someone else might find it for them.
I felt confident when people were complimenting me and telling me that I looked “better,” but that very affirmation left me feeling like there was something wrong with the way I looked before. Our sense of confidence is so intertwined with how we look because we can’t be confident without feeling good about our outer appearance.
Women, myself included, complain about how men objectify women and judge us for how we appear rather than who we truly are. But, men aren’t solely to blame.
We objectify each other and ourselves, which makes it seemingly universally acceptable to objectify the female body. If we don't let our bodies dictate how we feel about ourselves, and we stop judging each other for how we look, it will send the signal that women are more than the mere bodies we occupy.
It is easy for us to tear ourselves down, but it’s not easy to recognize just how damaging it can be for ourselves and for other women.
It’s time that we stop shifting the language and start stopping the language. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our bodies because we are literally wrapped in them all of the time.
We must stop letting ourselves bash our figures and instead, find ways to celebrate them. If every girl identified something she liked about herself rather than something she wanted to change, we could start to change the way we perceive ourselves.
We shouldn’t sit around discussing our bodies, judging each other and ourselves. Our bodies are among the most private things we have. We must stop talking about them like they’re public entities for others to judge.
When you look in the mirror in your friend’s room before you go out, don’t say you look bloated. Say you look great, as does everyone in the room. It might not be the easiest thing to do, but it’s the first step to reclaiming our bodies from ourselves, for ourselves.
Photo via We Heart It