Opinion: How diet culture impacts college students
From a young age, people are exposed to the diet culture that constantly infiltrates the media.
TRIGGER WARNING: BODY IMAGE AND EATING DISORDERS
Magazines, TV, social media: no matter where you look, you probably feel bombarded by people who society tells you are the beauty standard. It can feel overwhelming at times to constantly be shown images of people who use Photoshop and angles to warp their appearance. Especially with social media being such a prevalent aspect of society, the pressure to look a certain way affects our everyday lives.
Entering college is a huge transition for most people. Your daily routine is very relaxed compared to the one you had in high school. You are now independent and have a new set of responsibilities and expectations you set for yourself. It is understandable that you will change during this transition, both physically and mentally. You aren’t supposed to look like your high school self forever. It’s okay for your appearance to naturally change as you grow up and create a new lifestyle. This isn’t something that should be frowned upon or obsessed over.
For as long as I can remember, the “freshman 15” has been a notorious term thrown around when talking about college. I think I knew more about the freshman 15 in high school than I did about what college I wanted to attend. I remember being shown pictures of people older than me and hearing “she gained the freshman 15” or “I hope that doesn’t happen to me.”
This type of rhetoric is extremely damaging. To the college student this is being said about, as well as the high school student hearing it. There is no reason why during a new chapter in your life, most of the emphasis should be placed on how much weight you gain. College should be a time of discovery and new experiences. You shouldn’t hold back out of fear of gaining 15 pounds just because society tells you that’s the worst thing that can happen. Students shouldn’t feel the added stress of having to maintain a certain weight along with their new academics and new responsibilities. Even if college comes easy to some, society’s unrealistic obsession with being thin shouldn’t taint this exciting time in their lives.
This type of conversation has unfortunately become normalized. I’ve seen stories online of students coming home to visit and being told that they gained the infamous freshman 15, or that they “look too different.” This dialogue is so prevalent that some parents don’t even view it as problematic and don’t recognize the toll this can take on one’s mental health. The pressure to maintain the same weight you were at 17 years old for the rest of your college experience can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and eating disorders later down the line.
Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness. This is one of the reasons why the conversation about it and raising awareness should be prioritized. Especially when you are in college, being independent and deviating from what was once a rigid schedule. Unhealthy behavior and habits can sneak up on you in times of stress or when you’re feeling pressure not to gain any weight. Some students will restrict what they eat because they feel that’s the easiest way to not gain weight. But realistically, it’s perfectly normal to gain weight throughout your life. Don’t let the diet culture that’s encouraged in the media dictate your life.
Social media has become a place where people with large followings will promote things like diet pills, gummies, detox tea and juice cleanses all as a way to “look like them,” which is what we have been programmed to think is perfect. Meanwhile, most of these people are wealthy enough to have personal trainers, nutritionists and chefs to help maintain their appearance. They also use things like Photoshop to alter their bodies and overall appearance in pictures. The use of Photoshop and the promotion of diet culture creates an unrealistic beauty standard that can be harmful to attempt. Our lives differ from those we see on social media from celebrities and influencers who don’t have the same day to day routine as us and we can’t hold ourselves to the same standard. Everybody is different.
Today’s society places too much emphasis on weight. From a young age, people are exposed to the diet culture that constantly infiltrates the media. This causes people to fear gaining weight and to have unrealistic standards as to what they should look like. As college students, we should always try and maintain a healthy lifestyle but not at the expense of our mental health.
Lily Williams is a staff reporter for The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review’s editorial staff. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.