Lately, I’ve been reframing the unique features of my body as gifts from generations before me. I imagine my smile as belonging to my ancestors who found reasons to smile despite great adversities. I wonder if my back that allows me to stand tall belonged to men who refused to cower in fear. Did my hips belong to women who found rhythm in the crashing waves of the Caribbean Sea?
I wonder when I started to hate these gifts, when I started to pick them apart full of resentment. Maybe it was in my preteen years, when I was bombarded with ideal images of women with thigh gaps. Or maybe when I tried my first fad diets. I am not exactly sure where it started, but it has left me with a complicated understanding of food and weight that has followed me to this campus. However, my understanding of my body has changed after I recently ended a phase of dieting.
As I have built a new relationship with my body, I have started to notice difficult trends in the way we might speak about our bodies and perpetuate fatphobia and diet culture on this campus.
The most difficult part of diet culture that I have confronted is food. Last semester, my favorite dining hall was Hewitt. I loved the variety of food and staff; however, more cynically, I also loved that every dish had a calorie label attached to it. This helped feed my obsessive need to calculate every calorie I ate, which is a toxic part of diet culture.
We clearly delineate between the “good” and “bad” food on this campus. JJ’s with its burgers, pancakes, and sweet treats is where the “bad” foods live. Ferris salad lines and John Jay’s grain bowls and smoothies are where I can pat myself on the back for choosing a “good” food. However, this notion of “good” and “bad” is complicated by the fact that the first time I had access to three actual meals a day is when I attended Columbia.
Growing up, the expectation was to eat what was available, which was mostly school lunches and snacks from the corner store, so I never really learned about a balanced diet. Since coming to college, I have had the freedom to develop my own personal eating habits for the first time in my life. In the beginning, I latched onto notions of “good” and “bad” food, thinking that my prior diet was all bad. It has taken me a while to recognize “good” and “bad” food as just food. I am allowing myself to go to JJ’s and not feel guilty for indulging in fries, ice cream, and chicken wings, while also enjoying peaches and broccoli.
Growing up in the food deserts of North Miami, my diet rarely included nutritious and balanced meals. As I adapted to the differences in eating culture on college campuses, I also had to confront my own understanding of diet culture. As I balanced my classes and new experiences with the plentiful access to food, I naturally gained weight. With little understanding of what a balanced diet should look like, I easily fell into the cycle of binge eating and guilt followed by sometimes extreme eating restrictions in an attempt to lose weight.
Sometimes it would work and sometimes it wouldn’t, but either way, I was in an endless cycle of dieting. It felt like the number on the scale reflected my self-worth as I grappled with the changes in my body. However, as I began to explore my body, especially with the help of amazing digital communities like @theunplugcollective, I started to re-evaluate these concepts of diet culture. I realized that as I was growing and changing, so was my body, and sometimes that meant tighter jeans or looser fitting shirts. And that was okay.
As spring break approaches and people swarm to Dodge Fitness Center for last minute workouts, conversations about body image may arise. I hope we remember that we are more than the five pounds we lose, and the slice of cake we indulge in after a tough midterm. As Ketogenic, Paleolithic, and fasting diets bombard our social media feed, I hope we remember that fad diets will not make up for our unbalanced understanding of our bodies. It is your body that allows you to share a smile and laugh with your friends, that helps you navigate through the difficult city of New York, and enjoy the warmth of the sun. The dimples, love-handles, cellulite, and freckles once belonged to someone before you, and I hope you cherish those family heirlooms.
When Kwolanne isn’t balancing the sophomore year workload, student council, research, and sleep she loves engaging with new people. Don’t be shy, for questions, concerns, or just a cup of coffee you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot her a DM on Instagram @Kwolanne. You can take a sip of Intersectionali-Tea on alternate Tuesdays.
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