December 13, 2013

Big Red Ambition: #107 Gain the Freshman 15, Pay $300 for a Gym Membership and Don’t Go

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With the semester coming to a close, it’s likely that some people will return home to questions like, “Have you been going to the gym?” “What have you been eating?” — or the dreaded, “Did you gain weight?” Even more likely, these comments will come before questions like, “Are you having fun?” or “What have you learned this semester?”

I’m writing about #107 — not because I am proud to tell you the story of how I checked it off the list, and not because I don’t believe it’s important to stay healthy — but because our culture has dictated that completing this item is shameful or humiliating. And it’s not!

I am not arguing that it is healthy that many students gain weight when they start becoming responsible for their own nutrition or exercise habits — it’s not. But our culture’s attitude towards the “freshman 15” isn’t healthy either, and our very own 161 list isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Besides the fact that recent studies have proved that the “freshman 15” is mostly a myth, this attitude needs to change. Our culture tells us that gaining weight when you get to college is wrong, that there are certain ways our body should look, and that we lose value from gaining weight.

When you see the freshman 15 brought up in the media, think about the articles that you see. “Fighting the Freshman 15,” “Beating the Freshman 15,” etc. These word choices tell us that it isn’t acceptable to gain weight in college — that if you do gain the Freshman 15, you lose.

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve spoken to people about friends from home and the topic turns into whether or not they gained weight. Did we talk about whether they are learning, or making friends or having fun? No, because whether or not they gained the freshman 15 is so much more interesting. It makes us feel good to talk about people who have gained more weight than we have.

I gained fourteen pounds during my freshman year of college. I let it consume me and mean more than my intelligence and my self-worth. It affected my grades, my happiness and my relationships with others. I’m no expert on self-esteem or health, but I do know that if I read something like this back then, maybe things have turned out differently. If you’re struggling with your body image, or if you are nervous about going home, let me tell you this, because no one ever told me:

“Fat” isn’t the opposite of beautiful or happy or intelligent. If you checked #107 off your list, or even if you’re just not happy with your appearance right now, that does not mean you are any less deserving of happiness, friends, good grades or high self-esteem.

My queen and role model, J.K. Rowling (obviously) has said, “I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny — a thousand things, before ‘thin.’”

I’ll throw in another disclaimer: if you work to lose weight or start being healthier, that’s great! I’m not saying that personal accomplishments aren’t amazing or impressive; I love working out and making healthy meals. But when gaining a few pounds becomes more important than everything else that is wonderful about someone, that’s when I have a problem.

So I’ll say what everyone has heard a million times, but no one really listens to: stop telling us what our bodies are supposed to look like. Stop believing it. Stop telling us that “beating” the freshman 15 is our one path to success. Stop laughing or making fun when someone does gain weight in college. As Cornell students, we are passionate, intelligent and fascinating because of how we think and act — and that matters so much more than our weight.