Breaking distorted mirrors as Fat Talk Free Week comes to a close
Fat Talk Free Week is almost over. My question: What happens next week? Will the students who pledged to abandon “fat talk” for seven days return to their old ways, criticizing their inevitably imperfect bodies and finding flaws in every pound and tight fit? I can’t help but think that the pressures of our college lifestyles will force “fat talk” back into daily dialogue. The student group Reflections, which introduced Fat Talk Free Week to Washington University, is a positive force on campus. However, as a visible resource at Wash. U. working to raise eating disorder awareness, the group is alone.
Wash. U., like many universities, is a breeding ground for eating disorders, as students are surrounded not only by the typical media influences that encourage unhealthy lifestyles but also by skinny, young, driven, Type A personalities with high standards and low tolerance for failure. This kind of environment, composed of deceivingly flawless fronts, has strong implications for what we see when we look in the mirror. It is difficult to ignore the distorted reflection this mirror creates. The drive and intensity of students at Wash. U. contributes to widespread success, but such extremes have fallbacks that emerge in the form of the underweight, unhappy girls who are far too common on our campus.
I do not intend to place the blame for the prevalence of eating disorders solely on the reality of living in a college campus bubble. An eating disorder is a disease with a complicated source, triggered by the environment along with the nature and psychological health of the affected individual. It is a disease that ranges in severity. It is a disease that is both emotionally draining and physically handicapping. It is a disease in which recovery translates into a lifelong battle. It is a disease that is both potentially fatal and preventable. It is a disease.
This is a touchy subject, especially at a university where the community is undoubtedly comprised of many who have a personal connection to someone who has suffered from an eating disorder. The delicate nature of eating disorders, however, should not discourage conversation, but rather, should emphasize the importance of open communication as far too many girls fight for their control by starving themselves or by engaging in purging behaviors.
I suspect that many people shy away from recognizing symptoms in themselves and their friends because they feel isolated and are not sure where to turn for help. This is an aspect of eating disorders that doesn’t seem to have been fully examined in our college setting. What is the role of any university in shaping a campus that encourages a positive body image amidst a less stressful environment?
The blue lights surrounding campus serve as a constant reminder that, if our physical safety is threatened, we are not alone. Countless widespread Student Health Services posters warn us of flu symptoms and instruct the steps we should take to stay healthy. S.A.R.A.H provides a hotline for victims of sexual assault, recognizing that awareness is not sufficient. Where does a student who is stuck in the detrimental cycle of an eating disorder turn? There very well may be options on campus for this student and her friends, but those options are not visible enough.
Am I asking for flashing lights and big arrows? Well, maybe I am. Otherwise the mirror that causes girls to compare themselves to some perfect image of their empowered, well-rounded, put-together peers will remain untouched. This mirror is powerful in its ability to distort images, lower self-esteem and diminish any remaining sense of control. Keeping ancient superstitions in mind, with the risk of seven years of bad luck, it is time to break the mirror.