For a very long time, I thought men were only attracted to thin women (unfortunately, there are still times that I think this even though I know better). We women are constantly bombarded with images of thin and fit women on magazine covers and television (so of course, I thought “thin = beautiful.” It doesn’t). Sure, some publishers and TV shows have listened to the public outcry and added a female character with a few extra pounds but she is often the secondary character, the best friend. You would think, as a society, that we’d know better. On campus, I see girls going in and out of the campus rec center, complaining about the pinch of skin around their waist. Growing up, I always thought I was fat because I didn’t compare to my more slender girl friends and sisters. When I was in middle school, my stepmom questioned why I’d brought home half-eaten sandwiches. That began my regiment of dieting and binging which only got worse when I came to college. I was that college girl at the gym who thought she looked like a whale even though I looked fine.
This week is National Eating Disorder Week. Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S. 40% of female college students have eating disorders. Out of this 40%, a little more than half of these women don’t realize that they have an eating or body image disorder and they will not to get help. Let’s talk about the other side of the spectrum. As I watch women walk out of the campus gym, complaining, I see an equal amount of guys doing the same thing, The rate of eating disorders among college men ranges from 4-10%. A recent study found that the female-to-male ratio of positive screens for eating disorder symptoms was 3-to-1. That study concluded that male body image concerns have dramatically increased over the past three decades from 15% to 43% of men being dissatisfied with their bodies, wanting an unobtainable physique. Women do feel like the pressure to look a certain way but men do, as well (if you haven’t listened to it, check out Silverchair’s song “Ana’s Song.” The band’s lead singer, Daniel Johns, wrote the song about his battle with anorexia. It’s incredible).
What can we do to end eating disorders? Well, there is the first step of recognizing what you’re going through and getting help. But as a friend or a significant other of one who might be feeling the pressure to look a certain way, remind that person that they are beautiful the way they are. Sure, working out to maintain health and wellness is one thing but one doesn’t shouldn’t spend all day at the gym, dieting and denying themselves just to attract someone’s eye (and if you’re with someone who doesn’t accept your body and the way it looks, drop them). Lately, I’ve been telling myself this line that Julia Robert’s character uses to comfort a friend in the movie, “Eat Pray Love:” “I have no desire to be obese. I’m just through with the guilt.” And I am so, with the guilt with all the calorie counting I used to do; with the way I beat myself for not going to the gym every day or for not going an insane 15-mile jog on an empty stomach. It’s okay if you want to treat yourself to a sugary iced coffee or a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup. We’re only human and those things taste delicious.
Yesterday, I went on a run through the park after work. I felt some parts of my body jiggle as I sprinted along the dirt path. My stomach. My glutes. But for some reason, that jiggle didn’t bother me. My legs felt strong. My body was in motion. I was grateful that I could run- who knows how long I can do that? I run because for the rush of endorphins, which make me happy. It’s my stress relief. I maybe be overweight or “curvy” or whatever adjective (seriously, though, these labels need to be banned). I know I don’t look perfect with my cellulite, stretch marks, “fat rolls” and all. But I have this one body and I respect it and its purpose- I have arms for hugging and lifting; hands for high-fiving and typing. My torso will someday carry a baby. My legs help me pedal a bike, my most favorite activity in the world. I hope you respect your body, dear reader, and appreciate all that it does for you.