Tearing down social standards

Path to self love includes prioritizing physical and emotional health

Anna Pipinos, Lifestyle Editor

Body image has without a doubt been a problem in American society, but the pervasiveness and the severity of the issue only recently became apparent to me after a conversation with my close friend Josie Boan**. 

Recently, Boan shared with me that during her first semester of sophomore year she struggled with bulimia. After overcoming bulimia, she unfortunately began to struggle with orthorexia and anorexia.  She explained to me that her relapse was triggered primarily from social media usage. 

“Looking back, I can’t seem to recall a single day where I felt that I was able to measure up to other girls. These thoughts were always in my mind, even when I walked in the halls of my high school or as I would scroll through my Instagram feed,” Boan said.

However, her disordered eating was perpetuated due to snide commentary and jokes her fellow classmates made about her figure.

“What pushed me over the edge and fueled my relapse was when this guy, who I was crushing on at the time, and his friends made a cruel joke about my weight, poking at my love handles and laughing,” Boan said. “He later apologized, but he had said what he had said, and nothing could ever change that or take away the pain and embarrassment.” 

Boan explained to me that she had first started working out heavily in March, shortly after school had shut down. She was running four to five miles a day while consuming a normal amount of food. 

However, in mid-May, she began feeling disgusted by her body, thinking as if she was still too heavy and wasn’t dropping enough weight every week. As a result, she began heavy lifting on top of running and lowered her caloric intake from 1450 to 750 calories. 

“One time, I sat down and in front of me was a relatively small plate of salad with chicken bits spread on top. I sat there for a solid four to five minutes, contemplating whether or not I should eat it,” Boan said. “I ended up eating a fourth of it to stop my stomach from grumbling and tossed the rest away.”. 

From June to August, she slowly began to either skip or reduce the size of her meals, all while continuing to work out intensely. During these three months, as her weight dropped, Boan began to feel her confidence slowly trickle back. 

Fortunately, in mid-August, her unhealthy habits were brought to a halt after her mother and sister noticed what was happening. 

“My sister told me that she first realized I was struggling with disordered eating when she saw me consistently getting up to go on long runs, perform a workout for the second or third time in a day, or when I’d obsess over a 0.3 pound fluctuation in my weight,” Boan said. “My mom first started to piece it together because of my exhaustion and how emotionally drained I was.”

Tears streamed down Boan’s face as she told me that although she began eating normally again, she still has severe body dysmorphia. She sometimes has panic attacks after consuming specific meals or from just simply looking at a mirror.  

By the end of our talk, she could barely look me in the eyes. Her struggle with building a positive body image and self-acceptance really illuminated the absurdity and toxicity that underlies both male and female beauty standards.

Beauty standards are social constructs: socially defined, socially accepted, and shifting as society changes. Unfortunately, these standards are not viewed as ‘socially defined, unrealistic ideals,’ but instead give rise to stereotyping, prejudice, and discriminatory remarks based on deviance from what is considered ‘perfect:’ the ‘perfect’ weight, the ‘perfect’ height, the ‘perfect’ body type, etc.

 Although it took her some time to realize it, Josie saw that ‘perfection’ is unattainable, and that these imaginary standards only function to draw out people’s insecurities.  At the end of our discussion, Josie shared with me, “We need to remember that beauty is never just skin-deep, and whether we are struggling or not, it is important to lean on good friends and family that will help us appreciate how wonderful and unique each one of us really is.”