BY RACHEL WONG
This semester, I exposed myself – quite literally – in one of the most personal pieces that I have ever written for my student paper. The paper is circulated widely throughout each of Simon Fraser University’s three campuses, and has a massive online presence as well. In the article, I came clean about my unhealthy struggles trying to avoid putting on weight in my first year of college. As post-secondary students, we always joke around about the infamous freshman 15 – pigging out to no end and having a terrible time managing our weight due to stress eating and a lack of time to cook or do adequate exercise. Though the term is often used lightly, in my case, the freshman 15 was ultimately what pushed me to developing an eating disorder.
I was never really happy with my body at any point in my life. Looking at old photo albums would make me cringe at terrible fashion choices, chubby cheeks and a core section that I didn’t hide very well. Puberty was good to me I guess, as I had stretched out (and have since stopped at the ginormous height of 5’2″), gained some pretty reasonable sized breasts, and developed somewhat nice hips.
But I lamented day and night that I wasn’t skinny enough. This was my struggle all throughout high school – I wanted to be skinny, but I didn’t want to give up my eating habits or my relationship with the couch and the TV. My only real activity was gym class and running late to class.
Then senior year rolled around, and I reminded myself that at the end of it all, I had to be in front of all my peers in some sexy dress that made me look like a princess. So at the beginning of my senior year, I made it my goal to slim down by any means – even if it meant cutting back on some junk food, eating more healthy meals and actually taking physical activity seriously.
Throughout high school I had fluctuated between 110 and 120 pounds. By the night of my graduation, I was 105 pounds. 18 years old, 5’2″, and 105 pounds.
In anticipation for university, I read up a lot on how I could prevent the freshman 15 from happening to me. The last thing I wanted was for all of my hard work to go to waste. But with this constant stress over maintaining a slim frame, I quickly found myself in the deep end with no one to help me.
My idea of staying thin involved drastically changing my eating habits. I would get upset at my mom for putting more food in my backpack as I got ready for school. I was selective with my food choices – I would eat no more than water, a banana, and a granola bar (which would go uneaten many times) a day. I also made a conscious decision to leave my wallet at home so that I wouldn’t be tempted to buy additional food. Sometimes, if I did well, I would reward myself with yogurt.
I refused to eat alone in public because I didn’t want people to see me eat. I would politely decline trips to the food court with my friends and regularly rejected offers of bubble tea and frappuccinos. I wanted to eat as little as possible to maintain my progress and show the world that I did have self control, and that I wasn’t losing myself after all.
But at home, it was a completely different story. I ate a lot of dinner, stocking up on food until I was incredibly full, to the point where it hurt to sleep. Sometimes if I was alone at home, I would binge eat whatever was on hand. In social functions, I would hoard certain foods together and find somewhere where I could safely eat it without being judged. All the while, I would run on the treadmill on an empty stomach, in hopes of burning fat instead of just calories. And the cycle would repeat itself everyday, and the next day I would suppress my crying stomach for yet another banana and another water.
When I was younger, I read a book entitled Perfect by Natasha Friend. It follows the story of a girl who struggles with eating disorders, social popularity, and family problems. As a 13 year old, I vowed to never let myself get to that point because the book illuminated to me how dangerous eating disorders could become. When I began to develop these dangerous eating habits, I tried to psyche myself out, convincing myself that what I had was not an eating disorder. My rationale? I wasn’t forcing myself to throw up.
But binge eating, starving oneself, having a distorted body image and an overall poor relationship to food in itself is a disorder. I have never gone to seek professional help for it, nor have I told anyone that this was something that I had tortured myself with for over a year – until now.
It wasn’t until I had a conversation with my best friend about the freshman 15 that I began to really acknowledge the struggles I was facing. My best friend, who is tall and slender thanks to her years of doing sports, confided in me that she was always worried about how other people perceived her, and that in the athletic world there was a pressure for her to remain skinny. She, too, struggled with an eating disorder, a distorted view of her body and a poor relationship with food.
It was then that I took a step back and realized how much damage I was doing to my body, and that my size is not indicative of my success or who I am as a person. Even though I told my friend everyday that she was beautiful, she would always brush it off and tell me that she still had work to do. And in that moment I saw myself in her: I did the same thing to anyone who tried to tell me that I was beautiful.
Society has warped our perspective on what true beauty is and has emphasized the need to have a particular body shape. Fat shaming and skinny shaming should never have existed in the first place because there is no such thing as a perfect body. Our bodies do incredible things for us everyday without us even knowing it.
The freshman 15 is only as real as you make it out to be. Whether you are tall, short, curvy or slim, you are still beautiful. Take care of yourself first – your confidence and glow will illuminate your true beauty.
I am proud to say that I am 5’2″ and 135 pounds, having remained relatively consistent since my first semester due to better eating and exercising habits. I no longer tell myself that I have a long way to go to “achieve the perfect body.” Rather, I love my body the way it is and I am now focused on being the healthiest that I can be.
Rachel Wong is a Communications and International Studies student at Simon Fraser University. Aside from Speak Out, Rachel is also a regular contributor for the Student Life Network and SFU’s student newspaper The Peak. She loves going on foodie adventures, kicking back with friends and telling other people’s stories – all while writing her own. Her dream is to read off a teleprompter for a living one day. Rachel hopes to help change the way society looks at mental illness, one word at a time. You can find more of Rachel’s work at http://rchlcwng.blogspot.com.