In first year it was strange when I heard the label for the extra weight that I had put on – The Freshman 15. On one hand it was liberating to put a name to these mysterious extra pounds, but on the other it was a little scary how students talked about it as if it was an inevitable affliction.
I know that I gained weight from stress and eating food court food. I went swimming occasionally but focused mostly on thinking about my studies(this was a big time consumer) and doing my assignments(probably less time than the thinking stage) I also ate late night chocolate bars to stay awake in emergency situations and once I downed a 2L bottle of Coca Cola in the span of a half an hour. My friends thought that I had finally gone over the academic deep end as I proceeded to get an insane burst of energy and began speed talking which was followed by a sugar crash of despair.
Women are said to be more likely to gain weight during this time as metabolisms are shifting. I had women friends that became weight obsessed; one asked us to compare other women’s sizes to her own and another would weigh herself frequently. She would weigh herself at different times of the day and before and after going to the bathroom to see if she’d lost weight. I was aware of weight gain but not consumed by it. I vowed not to get on a weight scale because I didn’t want my self worth to be tied to the ups and downs on the scale. I didn’t want to be defined by natural variations in my size.
This strong first year perspective of my body image has been hard to maintain over the years. My idealist ideas have been chipped away gradually by conversations about weight, Oprah worrying about weight, Jessica Simpson losing extra pounds to calm a media storm. I mean I understand that being healthy is good but I sometimes think that healthy is the repackaged way to make women feel bad about themselves.
A coworker who is doing her Masters part time lamented about her Master’s weight gain which she thinks is even higher than the Freshman 15. We’ll call it the Master’s 30. She’s afraid to go home for Easter because her family notices weight gain and likes to mention it. I tried to tell her that gaining a few pounds doesn’t mean that you are unhappy or not succeeding in life. And that she should ask any of them if they were pursuing a Masters in Education. So she said ,”I’ll say I’m happy and fat.” She didn’t seem encouraged.
I’ve noticed too that North American white culture puts a lot of weight pressure on people. I’ve met a woman travelling in Sweden who had a bit of a pot belly and she talked to me about her life as a journalist and her journalist boyfriend. That was the first time I realized that I had been taught to believe that weight equals unattractiveness and social exclusion. I realized how silly this ingrained cultural teaching had been. And then I travelled with a Mexican woman who was overweight and got every man’s attention. I again realized that my fixation on my weight was constructed by my own culture.
I also watched Italians who seem to know how to embrace life who had an extra bowl of pasta or an extra piece of Garlic Bread. To them food was celebrated, but I don’t know if it is in North America anymore. Also, I sat at a counter to eat Soul Food in New York and felt a sigh of relief as many people that surrounded me had some extra cellulite but seemed to have a confidence about them.
So I realize that downing a 2L bottle of Coke at 2am to finish an essay is probably not ideal for my body. But I also don’t think that fixating on the Freshman 15 as a horrific occurrence is the best thing either. I want to be healthy but I don’t want to limit my life based on cultural weight expectations.
“The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” -Morrie Schwartz
“Western Women have been controlled by ideals and stereotypes as much as by material constraints.” – Naomi Wolf