You Can Learn to Love Yourself
People don’t really talk about what goes through their heads when they look in the mirror, but if they are anything like the 70% of teenage girls and 25% of teenage boys that reported they are unhappy with their bodies in a National Health Study, conducted in June of 2016, then, at times, their reactions are probably not positive.
This same study found that 41% of third grade girls were already unhappy with their bodies and 81% of fourth grade girls stated that they were afraid to gain weight.
Why is this the case? Why do we, as teenagers, constantly feel like our bodies are not good enough? And why, if so many of us are having these negative thoughts about our bodies, do we not talk about it more often? It could be because people do not want to show their insecurities, or because they might think they are not valid concerns, or simply because weight and body image tend to be “off limits” for discussion. For whatever the reason, it is most defnitely an issue that needs to be talked about more, especially among female athletes in high school and in college.
As a runner, I am, perhaps, more self conscious about my body than I should be. At track meets, when I watch a race, I’ll catch myself turning to a friend and saying something along the lines of “She doesn’t look like a runner,” which we know is code for “She isn’t stick thin and long-legged.” I am not proud that thoughts like this go through my head, especially because when I look around more carefully at a track I soon realize that there is no one body shape that defnes a runner. Traditionally, female runners are tall and thin, but today the majority of girls on the track do not conform to this standard. Why then, is the image of a female runner still so deeply ingrained in my mind and in the media?
Studies consistently show that female athletes, both in high school and college, disproportionately sufer from eating disorders. The pressure to fit into the image of a “perfect” body type can lead to low self esteem, which in turn can be a factor in causing eating disorders. When I think about all the times in a given week that I hear people making casual comments about weight, especially regarding women, it is easy to see why young women, whether they are athletes or not, feel an immense pressure to lose weight.
But in the world of female athletes, young women are beginning to change the way they think about eating and body image. The idea that they need to be thin to win, and that food is the enemy, is quickly becoming less and less prevalent, thanks to campaigns such as “Strong is the New Skinny” and the rise of better nutrition education. There is still a long way to go in helping all teenagers love their bodies, but this is defnitely a step in the right direction.
-Lilly Tipton ‘18