Living among beautiful people
A story of overcoming perfectionism
One-hundred twenty polished and confident girls with shiny Pantene hair and clear smiles stare at me. I don’t recognize most of them, but they form a mass of perfection, of poise. This was my first experience walking into my sorority on Bid Day. Though I now know and love these people, I was first intimidated walking into a room full of accomplishment, surrounded by leaders of CIOs and aspiring engineers — girl after girl with both physical and inner beauty.
They walk in droves, in packs and alone sometimes, too — thin and tan and smart. I’m surrounded by a lack of pimples, a lack of frizzy hair, an absence of flaws. We boast a community of highly intelligent, beautiful people — but at what cost?
At boarding school several years ago, my roommate, Kaitlin, broke down and sobbed on our couch. She cried, “I had to — I love you but I can’t watch you do this to yourself.”
I screamed and cried as well. “You’ve ruined my life,” I said. “You’ve f***** up my college chances, they’re going to send me away. Is that what you wanted?”
My dorm mother walked in, silent in a blue-striped sweater, and said, “We’ve called your parents — you have to go to the Health Center.”
I spent six weeks during my junior year of high school in treatment for an eating disorder. Many of my closest friends at the University still don’t know about this part of my life. In this culture of perfect, I’ve decided to come out as someone who still struggles with an environment that promotes perfectionism above mental health.
Eating disorders, fat talk and the media’s unfair portrayal of “perfection” haunt many of us on a daily basis, yet the problem is self-perpetuating: girls still contribute to fat-shaming, ranking based on appearance, and derogatory comments toward peers who may be struggling. Living in a culture that judges by appearance while surrounded by examples of near-physical perfection can lead to unhealthy patterns for many girls here at the University.
How do we change our culture? Or more importantly, how do we change ourselves so that opinions of others won’t affect our feelings toward our own bodies?
I believe change starts with admitting flaws, an acceptance of one’s own imperfections. I don’t share a little bit of my story here to seek pity. Rather, I wish to open a conversation with those who struggle silently, with those who have not been able to overcome distorted views of their bodies.
Today, I still stand in front of the mirror at 9 a.m. with circles under my eyes and stare at chunks of my body I wish I could erase, slim, tone. I know I am not alone in these feelings. But I believe in my own strength as a woman, as a member of a supportive university community. Years after battling an eating disorder, and succeeding, I hope I can be a resource to those who look around at the perfect and feel alone.
Grace’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.