By: Maria Pascucci, Founder & President, Campus Calm
I had the opportunity to spotlight body image in female college students by interviewing three young women who attend SUNY Fredonia College in New York State.
Campus Calm spoke with:
- Corri, 21, junior, music education major, New York State pageant contestant
- Rachel, 19, sophomore, public relations major
- Ashley, 20, sophomore, psychology major, minor in public health
Q: Do you find that body image anxiety in female college students tends to heighten in the Spring semester?
Rachel: Yes, definitely. When I’m at the campus gym, I see more girls running on the treadmill extra hard trying to lose weight for bikini season. My friend recently tried on a bathing suit at Walmart and said, “OK, I have to lose five more pounds and then I’ll look good in that.”
Q: What do you think makes a person beautiful?
Rachel: I have curves and I love them. I’m not overweight but I have the hips and the small waist. I think it’s awesome to see people on TV who actually look like a more natural person. I think anyone can be beautiful as long as you feel beautiful.
Corri: Being comfortable in your own skin is the highest form of beauty you can reach, and not caring what other people think. I wish I could be more like that, and I try to be more like that, but it’s hard.
Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?
Corri: I used to think I felt the most beautiful when I was all dressed up, like in my evening gown and I had all my makeup on and my outfit fit me really well. Then my boyfriend, sometimes he just looks at me and says, “You’re so beautiful.” I don’t have any makeup on and I’m wearing sweat pants. I look hideous but he says, “No you really are just beautiful and I don’t think you know how many people see that in you.” I don’t really think about “Am I pretty enough” because I know I’m with somebody who thinks I’m beautiful no matter what. That has helped me come to terms with who I am.
Q: Have you or any of your friends ever bonded through body bashing sessions?
Rachel: Who hasn’t? “I look so fat!” “You?” “Look at me!” Blah, blah, blah. We try to one up each other by how bad we think we look. It’s horrible, but we all partake in it at some point.
Ashley: Oh god yeah. We all bond through body bashing. It’s definitely not healthy but every college female has done it at some point. It’s like bringing humor to a situation: “Yeah, I’m this way, but at least we’re both this way.” When people have low self-esteem and they want to see what other people think of them, they’ll say, “Oh, I look like crap in this bathing suit, my hips are so big, my thighs.” Then the friend doesn’t want the other one to feel bad so they’ll be like, “Oh I know, my thighs too.”
Q: If a female college student has a positive body image and tells her friends that she does, would that be helpful or come across as conceited?
Ashley: I think most of the time it would come across as that girl has a really big ego and she shouldn’t be so confident because even if she is beautiful, she should be humble about it. When you look good, you have to hide that you think you look good. I know this is horrible what I’m saying, but I believe it…
Q: How do you think we can get more female college students to view nutrition and exercise as a way to be healthy and not just to look good in our jeans or swimsuits?
Rachel: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out for myself. Wow, just be healthy to be healthy … what a concept.
Corri: I think the media has such a hold on what we think is beautiful. We are all brainwashed by what we see on TV. It will be difficult to get people to see that they want to be healthy to be healthy, and not just to look good. Both of these things drive me to work out and eat nutritious foods. Since I’ve been working out everyday for the pageant, I find that I sleep better, have more energy, better relationships with people, focus better for my classes, and I look better in my jeans, but that’s just a bonus. Once people see how much better they feel maybe they’ll focus on that more and less on how they look.
Q: Have you ever let your number on a scale effect your self worth?
Rachel: I used to give up lunches and I was bulimic all throughout high school. If I had to eat because I was at a restaurant and it would look sketchy if I didn’t, I would end up throwing it up. For a while I didn’t do it because there were security guards around campus and they would hear me if I threw up. I stopped for a while, but then started back up during prom season. My friends and I were all like, “Let’s not eat for a little bit.”
Q: How old were you when this all started?
Rachel: I was sixteen years old in my junior year. On a school trip, I was wondering if I could get away with it [throwing up]. I did and it was really easy. I ended up losing weight. I felt a certain control over my body that I didn’t have when I was eating.
Q: How did you begin to deal with your eating disorder and ultimately heal?
Rachel: My friend helped me. A guy I liked stopped returning my affection, and I blamed it on my weight. I was like, “Why? Am I too fat? I’m trying so hard not to be too fat for you.” One of my male friends sat me down and talked to me that night and he really helped me. I stopped throwing up all at once. I wasn’t doing it three times a day, so it wasn’t that hard to stop.
Q: Do you feel that our popular culture plays into anxiety and body image in female college students?
Ashley: Media is the number one problem. If it wasn’t for the media, I think people would want to be healthier instead of just more beautiful and thin. When I was younger, I would see the boys at school who talk about girls. I’d hear what they’d say and watch whom they checked out. I would say to myself, “Wow, I want to be like that girl that they’re talking about.” But the guys are looking at the same things in our popular culture as we are.
Q: After lots of self-work, I’ve come to believe that self-love provides our greatest foundation to create success in life. What do you think?
Rachel: Yes, you can’t have anyone love and appreciate you if you can’t love and appreciate yourself.
Q: What advice would you give to a female college student who’s struggling with body image and self-worth?
Ashley: Besides going to the gym, everyone is uniquely different. Instead of conforming, we should be valuing our differences because we’re like a puzzle. We can do great things, but if everyone were the same, you wouldn’t get anything done. Everyone has to bring something new to the table.
Rachel: Love yourself for who you are. You can still want to change certain aspects about your body and go to the gym but love yourself first.
Corri: Find an asset that you really like and enjoy. Accentuate it. Everyone is beautiful. The hardest part is finding that and seeing that. It took me a long time to see that, even though my friends thought I was perfect. Because they thought I was perfect, I felt like I had more pressure to find that person who I thought was beautiful.
Are you a college woman or young female professional who works to promote a positive, healthy body culture on your college campus, or community? Share your story with us!