I was first told I needed to lose weight when I was about 10 years old, and have been scrutinized over what I ate and how much I worked out or didn’t work out since I was about 12. I was pressured to go on diets by the age of 13 because I was constantly told if I lost weight and was skinnier I would be so much happier with my life, and when you are hearing this so often, you start to believe it. By the time I was in high school, I was extremely self conscious and found myself constantly comparing myself to others and began to hear comments about how my jeans looked like they were a little too tight or should I really be wearing something so tight? This constantly reinforced to me that my body wasn’t good enough and I needed to change how I looked. The worst part about this was that these comments were coming from important people in my life that I trusted.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore year was arguably one of the hardest times in my life. My body image issues hit a peak and I felt extremely disconnected from Cal Poly. I was working two jobs and living at home and one of the only people I spoke to most of the summer from Cal Poly was someone who didn’t have my best interest at heart. Throughout the summer I felt we were in a constant competition of who could be the thinnest and this brought me to one of my lowest points. I had begun to regulate myself with food and worked out an obsessive amount. I would shame myself and feel extremely guilty if I ate something that was too many calories or if I didn’t work out as much as I thought I should have. I remember being in tears almost everyday because I wasn’t able to lose the weight I wanted to and I never thought I was thin enough or pretty enough. At first I didn’t see a problem because people were noticing how thin I became and the attention felt good, but I still never felt good enough. I would find imperfections in myself constantly and still compared myself to others that I believed looked better because they were skinnier than me. As the summer went on I truly saw what I was doing to myself, and I began to experience anxiety attacks almost daily, when this used to be a rare occurrence for me.
At one point my family questioned if coming back to Cal Poly was what was best for me, but I fought to come back. The friend I mentioned earlier was my Co for WOW and one of my roommates my sophomore year, and this made the next few months exceedingly hard. I had worked so hard to overcome as much of my obsession over my weight and image as I could, but being back with this person made all the feelings of a competition come back. After WOW, I again experienced extreme anxiety and my family again wanted me to go home, but I wouldn’t. So as I battled these mental issues, I was able to normalize my life as much as I could. I found my best friends and I finally had people I was comfortable opening up to because this wasn’t something I talked to my family about, while they knew I suffered from anxiety, I only have recently even begun to explain to them the mental pain I have felt most of my life. By talking to my friends I was slowly starting to see the value of myself, but I still didn’t always believe it. As the year went on I cannot express how happy I am that I decided to stay at Cal Poly because of the people I was lucky enough to surround myself with and call my best friends.
As the year went on, I did gain some of the weight back I had lost the previous summer, but it was not as detrimental to me as it used to be. I still found imperfections with myself, but I began to realize these are things only I saw. As I did gain the weight back, the comments from some people I trusted continued about my jeans being too tight or did I really need to eat that because it wasn’t healthy? and was I really working out enough? But even as these comments came I knew I had my friends to fall back on.
This is something that has not only impacted my self-image, but it has affected my relationships, whether with my family, friends, or dating relationships. As I said before, this is something I have only recently talked to my family about and it is still something that they don’t completely grasp and makes it hard for me to talk about with them. With my friends, not just now but in high school as well, I have constantly felt like I am less in some way but I cannot express how grateful I am that they have constantly stood by my side to help me realize my worth and that I should never have to feel like I am alone in this. When dating, I always feel like I am not worthy in some way or if something goes wrong it is because of something I did or because I don’t look the way I should. By me being able to focus on myself more, I have realized that it isn’t that I am not good enough, but that’s what I have reinforced my entire life. I have felt like I needed to change for so long and that I wasn’t good enough, that it really changed the way I viewed every aspect of my life.
There have been many times I have tried to open up to people and they have either left my life or belittled my feelings. Because these were my interactions in person with many people, whether friends, family, or in dating, this was not something I was comfortable sharing over social media. My social media was a place that allowed me to portray what I wanted people to see, which was that I was confident, even though inside I was terrified every time I shared something that there would be negativity towards the way I look. I felt that if people were doing these things to my face when I opened up about what I was going through, there was no telling what they would do behind a screen. As I have found people who support me, I have realized that the people who left or belittled my mental health were not people I was meant to have in my life. As I think about sharing my story at this point, I realize that it will only help strengthen my bonds with the people who do support me and are meant to be in my life. I truly believe that by sharing my story there can be a positive effect, even if just for one person. Body image issues are something many people deal with and they are unsure of how to reach out, I definitely was, but it can be so helpful to talk about so people know they are never alone.
Last year I learned that about 50% of college women experience some symptoms of eating disorders whether it is by dieting or obsessively working out. This was one of the most shocking things for me because I realized I wasn’t the only one that dealt with these feelings. It is still something I deal with everyday and have to find ways to silence the negative self talk, but I have found a way to move forward. To anyone dealing with these issues, please know you are not alone and reaching out can be one of the most empowering feelings, because you suddenly have people holding you up when you feel like so many things are knocking you down.