* Toads Talk is a new series focused on allowing students to anonymously express themselves without a name attached to the weight of their stories. If you relate to any of the stories we publish, please know that you have people to reach out to on campus.
Many of us, men and women alike, struggle with body image, health, and self-care. I’ll
start by telling my story.
I was always a fat kid – ever since around third grade, I was chubby. My whole family
has been pretty thin all my life so you can imagine what feeling like the “fat one” did to my psyche. I felt like everyone looked at me and saw nothing but an undesirable body. Even though now I know that no one else cared or even noticed nearly as much as I did, years of feeling so judged left its mark on me. I never really let go of that image of being the “fat one” amongst whatever group I was in – friend, family – you name it, I felt out of place. Eventually, I started to “track” my calories: basically grossly overestimating everything I ate, living off of lettuce and air. I worked out. I was “healthy,” right? I started to steadily lose weight. It was like a dream. All I had wanted all my life, what my family pushed into my mind – that I wasn’t good enough, that I would be better, prettier, if I just lost those couple pounds.
Obsessing over food. Getting compliments about losing weight. Seeing my abs for the first time.
This was the dream, right?
Amidst this obsession, which started to spiral out of control, I had a hefty school
workload. But I was excelling, shedding weight by the day, getting A’s – my life was perfect. Yet I was incredibly sad and discontent with myself. Despite having a group of people I knew loved and cared about me, I was unhappy.
I won’t go into the details of what ensued, but basically, a few people confronted me
about my problem – what I thought of as a success. I never considered that I was actually on the path to destroying my body. I sought help, started to improve my relationship with food, eat normally, return to the life I barely remembered.
I did not like being told to change, to rethink what my goals should be for my body. But
now, I am so so grateful for those people – because I cannot imagine how hard it was to say something, and how unreceptive I must have seemed. But I am so grateful they were brave – much braver than me – just when I needed them to be.
Now, around six months later, still I am the same person. I gained back those pounds
and I survived. I consider myself “healthier,” but I still struggle with the same issues. I
sometimes want to lose weight. I’m not always happy with my body. I sometimes obsess over food. But I’ve learned a couple valuable lessons from my journey, and that’s really why I’m writing this. So if you’re struggling, know you’re not the only one. Hopefully, this can lead you in the right direction. I’m sure you’ve heard many of these tips before – they can be cliché. But my experiences have made me truly believe them, and I hope you can believe them without having to go through it, too. Because it sucks.
1. It’s not your body, it’s your brain. Saying to yourself, “when I just lose that weight,
I’ll be happier.” “If only I were prettier, skinnier, blonder, tanner, more muscular,
whatever you want for yourself, then life would be great.” Let me tell you, you
won’t. I know. I had abs, I was so much lighter than now, yet I was so much less
happy. I felt isolated, antisocial, like I was falling and couldn’t control where I would
2. You’re not alone. Know that people are there to support you and there are too many
people to count who love you. But don’t put off helping yourself because you know
they’ll eventually save you on – if you see something wrong with yourself, something that bothers you, something that you can’t control (any mental health
issues), it is your responsibility to help you. So people will undoubtedly be there to
love and support you – and the people in my life did an incredible job. It was so
much harder to carry my burden alone, and even just talking to them helped lift it.
But, I still felt like I was burdening other people with my issues. So talk to people you
can count on, but in addition seek out help from those who know how to – therapist,
nutritionist, whatever resource you need.
3. It’s not just a girl thing. Boys struggle with the same issues, even if it doesn’t
manifest in the same way. I’ve heard countless guys talk about getting swole, getting
abs, what they can eat, what they can’t, and even if it’s through the veil of sports or
strength, an obsession is an obsession. You will be so much more content if you let
that stuff go. You don’t have to be completely satisfied with who you are; you can
look to improve whatever you want – just don’t let it take over your life.
4. Do things that make you feel good. Whether it’s for your body or mind, do
something. Hang out with your friends. Go for a run. Watch a movie. Go to the pool.
Dance Zumba. And avoid situations where you’re not “good enough.” Not ones
where there’s room for improvement, but where someone is telling you to change
who you are, to fit a mold, in order to be better. If you can’t do something, push
yourself to your limit, and strive to do better next time. But if someone tells you to
lose weight, gain weight, physically or emotionally change yourself, just to
accomplish something, tell them to mind their own damn business.
5. Comparison is the thief of happiness. (I have to tell this one to myself more than
anything else). Other people’s success doesn’t detract from your own, and we are all
so different that if you try to compare, you are asking for a life of failed expectations
and disappointment. Just like you would never tell an apple to transform into a
watermelon, don’t ask yourself to become something unrealistic.
I am not perfect. I sometimes look in the mirror and hate what I see. But I sometimes
look in the mirror and love it. And I am slowly starting to appreciate what my body does for me.
It runs, climbs, dances, walks, stands. It is scarred, it is hairy, it is curvy, it is rough. It is strong, even though I know it can be stronger. It is fast, even though I know it can be faster. Yet it is still beautiful.