It started out okay. I’m lucky enough to go to a segregated middle school, where all my classmates were girls. I didn’t have to worry about body image and I didn’t have to keep a “calm and collected” persona. We learned to take care of everything (changing the water gallon and cleaning up the class and everything in between) ourselves. Sure there were girls who grew up faster than others and were already in complex and drama-filled relationships then, but at the end of the day we still walked around the school barefooted and came home with ruined clothes.
But middle school turned into high school, and this was where things turned sour.
Wanting a new experience for high school, my parents enrolled me in a typical co-ed private high school. This, I later learned, meant I would be surrounded by boys and girls who groomed themselves on a regular basis, and who looked good in any type of outfit, under any light, and in all weathers. On my first day of orientation, I was blown away by how gorgeous they looked, so mature and wholesome even on their first day as freshmen. To say that I was insecure was an understatement.
As the day progressed, I found myself getting sucked deeper into the body-negativity and self-hatred. For a math class about statistics, our teacher required us to report our weight so she could use it to teach us about data processing. I was so mortified about my weight and had to literally excuse myself to the bathroom and cried. I was angry with myself for being a fat person with no self-control, angry with the perfect girls who didn’t have to do anything but still look flawless anyway, angry with the system that required girls to be skinny in order to be attractive.
Realizing that the only person who could change me is myself, I begin to look for ways to lose weight. I exercised vigorously and reduced my dietary intake (which was a battle in itself because my mother, a pediatrician, noticed my abnormal eating habits right away and made a point for me to eat regularly at every meal). I started adopting the principles of people with eating disorder. I would go to anorexia online forums to look for motivation and tips on how to starve myself, and on how to have the motivation to continue. Sometimes, I would find myself shaking and trying to tame my hunger by eating a single apple slice – sometimes two. I’d probably throw a glass of water or two on that, and I would measure my waist every day to look for improvements.
It was not the proudest moment of my life, and I’m glad I snapped out of that phase before it progressed into something worse. I realized that I still wanted to excel in academics, and I was getting tired of having to conform to society’s beauty ideals, tired of skipping meals in order to lose that couple of pounds, tired of hating my own body every time I looked into the mirror.
Although I didn’t have the support I needed – my “friends” made a point of reminding me of my weight every five minutes and my nickname in high school was Bubble Butt – I desperately tried to have a shred of body positivity. I’m enough, I’m enough, I do not need to lose another kilogram, I’d forcefully tell myself when my mind began to calculate how many calories I had consumed for the day. I began to exercise for the sake of my mental health and for the kick of endorphins. I’m enough, I told myself when I had to look for clothes that are a size bigger because the ones I tried out are too tight around the stomach. I am enough, I remind myself when seeing pictures on social media with their perfect outfits and their thin thighs.
Now in college, things are slowly getting better. My friends come in different shapes and sizes and give less attention to how other people look. I get to choose what kind of clothes suits me best, and to eat and celebrate life with people I like best. Surrounded by all the positive energy (except for that one time when a friend forcefully changed my backpack into something more sleek before going to the mall), getting skinny is no longer a priority. I still made a point to eat as healthy as I can, which has proven to be beneficial when exam week rolls around and I can still function normally. I still try to exercise regularly to fight the anxiety and mood swings, but it’s no longer about my weight.
Granted, my obsession with weight is not completely gone. Sometimes I find myself checking the calorie information on the back of a food case, or trying to exercise more than necessary to lose those few pounds. But then again, it’s a constant battle isn’t it? Mood changes, confidence fluctuates, and we have to remind ourselves from time to time that we are more than our dress sizes, more than how many skinny dresses we can fit into.
When I returned home for the holidays, the first thing my friends commented on was my weight.
“When did you gain so much weight?” They’d say. “What happened to trying to get skinny in college?”
I shrugged, and remembered all the fun meals and adventures I’ve experienced in the six months I’ve been at college. All the midnight snacks when studying, the congratulatory meal, the food I’ve sold for fundraisings. The things I’ve cherished when I stopped obsessing over my weight.
“Well, I’m happier now, so.” I said, “That’s that, I guess.”
Riri Ediewijaya is a freshman of University of Indonesia’s Faculty of Medicine. She likes to consider herself a pseudo-intellect with bad jokes and worse decisions and a generic taste in music. Her teenage angst-y posts can be found at medium dot com under the username @aureverie
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