My heart sank as I overheard the conversation between three Ole Miss sorority sisters Friday afternoon at lunch. Listening to this all-too-common conversation reminded me of how prevalent disordered eating is in our world. Their lunchtime gossip stung on a very personal level because I was ‘that girl’ who went through phases of painful isolation and spring break diets, ultimately missing out on so much throughout my college years at Ole Miss.
An hour before overhearing that heartbreaking discussion, I was at the Kappa Delta sorority house talking on that very topic: the spring break diet. A group of women gathered with me in the KD chapter room as we discussed the dreaded spring break diet and other extreme and unhealthy weight-loss behaviors. We examined ways to lead by example at their lunch tables by not going to unhealthy measures for the sake of Spring Break or any other event for that matter. These women really seemed to understand the struggle, but moreover wanted to change the conversation. I felt motivated and rejuvenated as I left the KD house, but then felt deflated and defeated after eavesdropping at lunch. It is truly painful to hear of young women sacrificing the best years of their life for the sake of skinny.
For me, that Spring Break diet came with a huge price tag. Despite the scary measures I took to achieve that bikini-ready body, my eating disorder behaviors were seen and accepted as another girl on the Spring Break diet. I would skip meals, classes and even parties to do what I had to in preparation for Spring Break. Before I even set out on getting Spring Break Skinny, I was a failure. In the disordered land of black and white thinking, life is either all good or all bad. I was either skinny or fat, there was no room to be anything else. There was no room for me. Today, I no longer live and die by rigid thinking of success/fail. I am thankful to be living life ‘in the gray,’ a topic I often speak on.
As we left lunch, I checked my email and discovered a message from a young woman who was at the KD talk just hours before:I wanted to let you know that your comment about “living in the gray” really resonated with me. I have struggled with body image issues since high school. Between concerns with being the right weight as well as struggling to feel like I fit in socially, I’ve never really thought I was good enough. On and off, I have been trying to shed extra 15-20 lbs because I decided [xxx] was the magic number of lbs. I would try to work out every day and eat healthy, counting calories with an app. It would work for a few days, maybe even a week but as soon as I stepped on the scale and I had only lost a pound or 2 it was instant disappointment. I don’t think I have an eating disorder but I do not treat my body with the care it deserves. When you talked about “living in the gray” it was a moment of clarity for me. I don’t have to be at one extreme or the other. If I appreciate the food, that should be the most important part. Finding a balance between crazy regimented and completely slacking is one of my biggest challenges with food, exercise and even school work. I was also about to order a scale for my dorm room to make sure I am on track for spring break but after your talk, I am choosing to let that go. While I may not be the skinniest girl on the beach, I know I will be happy enjoying myself with my friends.
As I read the last line of her email, my eyes filled with tears. Yes, there is still (and will always be) more work to be done AND there is so much progress happening right now. Scale by scale, SMASH by SMASH, we are making changes. The conversation might not change at every lunch table, but I know plenty of brave women who are leading the change at their lunch tables right now. You have the power to change the conversation or even walk away from it. Prepare for spring break by going to get a mani/pedi or by buying a new beach hat. Ditch the Spring Break Skinny and spend that energy on learning to love yourself right now – not a certain weight from now or a bikini body from now. Enjoy these moments because before you know it, you will be in your 30s typing a blog about how you wished you had not spent your college years killing yourself to prepare for Spring Break. Because here is the real skinny on spring break: it is not about what bathing suit you wear or how much you weigh. Spring Break is a vacation in the sun with friends (and possibly beer pong if you’re into that – I don’t judge). Why would you starve yourself from fun? If you want to wear a bikini, wear it. If you love rocking a one-piece, rock it. If you want to go eat with friends, go eat. Live in the present and love yourself in the now.