Body Image in College
Recently, this horrifying article from Return of Kings, titled “5 Reasons to Date a Girl With An Eating Disorder,” has been floating around my Facebook newsfeed. It takes a misogynistic, ignorant standpoint on eating disorders, claiming girls with eating disorders are all easily manipulated, wealthy and good in bed (because the “crazy ones” always are, right?). Fortunately, it has received mostly negative press from my friends, family and peers, and the beliefs shared in the article don’t represent a great majority of decent human beings (for a great counterpoint, take a look at this article).
However, despite the fact that incendiary articles pop up every once in awhile and stir the pot, body image issues go relatively unseen on college campuses. It’s essentially impossible to look at someone and identify whether or not they have an eating disorder or struggle with self-esteem issues. Occasionally a person’s eating habits or the way they carry themselves can raise a red flag, but there’s no definitive way to distinguish who feels insecure about their body. Odds are we all do.
With food-related body issues specifically, there’s a wide and variable spectrum. Some of the most common varieties (courtesy of the UHS website) are:
- Anorexia nervosa: Characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss
- Binge Eating Disorder (BED): Characterized by recurrent binge-eating without any behaviors to counter the effects of overeating
- Bulimia nervosa: Characterized by binge-eating followed by some form of purging
Unbeknownst to many, eating disorders involve much more than simply not eating or purging. Behind the obsessive food behaviors lies anxiety about measuring up to social beauty standards, being labeled “ugly,” “fat” or “not good enough” and even receiving judgment for going extra lengths to look and feel like people who don’t worry about their weight or body shape.
Beyond food and weight-related issues, there are issues related to body image and self-esteem. For example, Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is an anxiety-based mental illness that causes a person to fixate on real or imaged defects in themselves.
College is a beautiful thing — it brings you to a place with thousands of other people your age to learn, get to know one another and experience individualism at its finest. While it would be nice to be able to say that everyone is able to be comfortable on a college campus just “being themselves” and wearing what they want and eating how they want, that’s not really the case. Attractiveness standards are based almost entirely on appearance, unfortunately.
Think about it: who has ever overheard “Wow, that girl seems like she’d tell really funny jokes!” or “That guy must have an awesome personality”? No one. It’s all about looks, whether we want it to be or not. Measuring up to an attractiveness standard that’s set unattainably high (I don’t care what Total Frat Move says, Michigan students are sexy) can result in self-dissatisfaction and social anxiety, which is rough on top of the rest of the college stress mountain.
Sometimes people come into college with pre-established eating and body-related disorders. Other times, they develop in college. The independence and personal responsibility that comes with living on your own is both freeing and terrifying. Unlimited food in dining halls combined with pure self-reliance, on top of co-mingling with gym-rats and people that can eat everything and not gain a pound (One word: how. Teach me.) can be breeding grounds for insecurity.
That being said, not everyone that’s self-conscious has an eating or body-related disorder and definitely should not be labeled as such. But as a student body, we need to watch out for and lift up our fellow Wolverines. Everybody deserves to feel like they look hot.
If you or anyone you know suffers from an eating or body-related disorder, there’s a huge support system for you here at U of M:
- U-M Comprehensive Eating Disorders Program — find out more here.
- For other resources, check out the UHS website.
- For more information about eating disorders and body image, you can look here and here.