College changed my outlook on, and perception of, my body

'I immediately started to fault my every action. Even the tiniest decision I made would account for why I was unhappy with myself'

Editor's note: Trigger warning — The following story mentions eating disorders and similar themes. For mental health services on campus, visit https://eoss.asu.edu/counseling. For immediate assistance, call 480-921-1006.

Growing up, I was pretty active. I played every sport imaginable and was gifted with a fast metabolism. I ate whatever I wanted and assumed my excess amount of exercise would combat any leftover calories. 

I never struggled with body image until college. College taught me how to love hating my body. 

I remember stepping onto the scale during my first doctor’s visit since starting at ASU, and I became sick upon seeing the number. 

It wasn’t a completely drastic gain, but I had never been that heavy. And I blamed myself. 

I wasn’t exercising and my eating habits completely changed. The only form of physical activity I partook in was taking the Cronkite stairs to class. I went from barely eating out to having a hearty Chipotle burrito bowl packed with rice, beans, meat and guacamole at least three times a week. 

I immediately started to fault my every action. Even the tiniest decision I made would account for why I was unhappy with myself. 

Being in a coed environment only exacerbated the idea that my body was not good enough. Going to an all-girls high school meant I never had to try to look appealing, and as a result, I went into college with this looming sense of over-confidence. 

Throughout my first semester, I began to compare myself to other girls who received the attention that I may not have wanted, but my mind thought I needed. 

Why was she getting more attention than me?

Why did that guy stop talking to me and start talking to her at that party? 

I would scour Instagram, only to find images of thin-waisted and small-chested women in tiny bikinis. I could never wear something like that — I would look ridiculous. 

I always came to the same conclusion thanks to all of this — I had to lose weight. 

I wasn’t pretty because I wasn’t stick thin, but I could be if I stopped being "lazy." 

What once was eating breakfast everyday turned into skipping meals until the afternoon. I started doing cardio exercises in my room because I was afraid to go to the gym where I thought people would judge my size. 

I started counting calories, making sure to keep my intake under 1,200 each day — far less than what I should have been eating — with my meals consisting of tomatoes, lettuce and carrots. 

When I went home for the summer, the weight was gone, but I still wasn’t happy. 

If only I could lose two more pounds. 

But that two became five and I would stand in front of the mirror pushing and molding my skin to see what it would look like if I were only “thinner.”

I would be happy if I lost weight — or at least, that's what I told myself. Skinny girls were the happiest. They could fit into the cutest clothes, they always got the attention of whoever they wanted, and they would smile the widest, even though some ate the least. 

I thought that the number on the scale defined me as pretty, and through my warped perception, I would only get prettier if I lost weight. Stepping onto the scale was the make-or-break moment. If the number even fluctuated a bit, that meant less dinner and more crunches. 

And when I came back this year, everyone told me I looked amazing. 

“Girl, you look gorgeous!” 

I thanked them, but it still wasn’t enough. Gorgeous wasn’t perfect — and I needed to be perfect. I needed to fit this ideal, yet sick image I created in my mind, one where I lacked any ounce of body fat, where my jawline was defined and my cheeks were sunken in. 

So, I couldn’t enjoy the foods I once loved. I lived in constant fear of gaining the weight back. I cut out bread and sweets, and basically anything but water and raw vegetables. 

It was in the middle of last semester when the number began to creep up again. The vicious cycle was about to start again, and I cried for hours. 

I looked at myself in the mirror and saw someone I didn’t recognize. My once optimistic and confident outlook was gone, replaced by a machine operating to please others.

I never thought it would happen to me. How did I spiral so hard and so fast? It was all fine until it wasn’t. The praise and compliments only made it worse. They were not making me feel good, they were fueling the self-deprecating fire.  

It wasn't until then that I truly realized how this was affecting me mentally. 

I needed to change, not for anyone else but for me. 

I just wanted to be OK. 

So, I started to try to enjoy life. I stopped counting calories and started to lift weights. I wanted to find reasons to love my body again. 

It is a process that I am growing through. I can never unlearn how many calories are in a tablespoon of peanut butter, but I can use that knowledge to remind myself how far I have come and what I have yet to accomplish. 

In no way am I automatically fixed. My mind still lapses, and there are days when I simply don't want to look at myself. It is a constant struggle and even though the so-called "light at the end of the tunnel" often does not seem within reach, I still push through. 

The visage I became so accustomed to seeing in the mirror is slowly starting to shift back to who I used to be. Happiness is not defined by a number on the scale. It is not characterized by societal approval — it comes from within. 

So, I'm trying to live life for no one but me. 

I am accepting that my body is my own and it is imperfectly perfect, which is OK. 


Reach the reporter at omunson@asu.edu and follow @munson_olivia on Twitter. 

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