How I Learned To Stay Body Positive In College

How I Learned To Stay Body Positive In College

College can be a breeding ground for body insecurity.

Young adults often come to college looking for a fresh start. We try to reinvent our personalities, our interests, our goals, and most importantly, our looks. When I first came to school in 2013, I cut off all of my hair and donned an all black wardrobe for the first few months of classes so I would stand out. However I slowly realized that standing out wasn’t exactly all it was cracked up to be.

My college is a private school in the South, it attracts wealthier, out of state students. Inexplicably, it also seems to attract an extraordinary number of hot people. At my school, the conventionally attractive seem to be the majority. Tall, thin, blonde girls cover every inch of my campus. Some are athletes, some are student leaders, and many are my friends. Whether I’m at a fraternity party or just the third floor of the library, it sometimes feels like I can’t go anywhere with staring a Victoria’s Secret model in the face. As a stout, bushy haired first year student, I definitely felt like I didn’t belong.

I’ve always struggled to love myself. I spent a lot of time throughout grade school hiding underneath baggy sweatshirts and long hair so I wouldn’t attract attention to myself. I compared myself to others constantly, and was always afraid that the people around me were doing the same thing. The brief moments where I could look in the mirror and feel okay about myself would usually be shattered the second I walked into a room of girls, each one appearing to be better looking than I was. Deep down I knew that my constant self deprecation was not only unhealthy, but unreasonable, yet I could never make it stop.

My campus occupied by super models only made it worse.

I am under no impression that the people I deem as “conventionally attractive” do not suffer from the same issues I do. I know that all of us, no matter our body shape or size, are living in a society dominated by the idea that we should always be striving for perfection. People of all body types are criticized, and even though I saw myself as the outlier at school, I know that I wasn’t the only person who felt the pressure to be beautiful. However, despite the fact that everyone deals with self image issues in some way, as a whole, we live in a society where certain body types are idealized as “normal” or “beautiful.” Being someone who lives outside that standard of beauty can be a detrimental experience because I never know what category other people are putting me in when they look at me. Am I “normal” or am I other? Am I thin enough? Am I beautiful?

I’ve participated in countless self image campaigns that encourage people to love themselves for who they are, but no one has ever specifically told me how to do that. I hear people say time after time that you shouldn’t care what other people think about you, but when you weigh more than everyone else, when you have pimples, or when your skin is darker than every “beautiful” person you see on television, what other option do you have?

For me, finding my way to a place of self love and acceptance was about rejecting the definition of “beauty” that had been fed to me. I started by looking at other people, and figuring out exactly what it was that made me think they were more beautiful than I was. I found beauty in people who were bigger than me, who had hair similar to mine, and in people who seemed to represent the exact opposite of each other. Through the process, I realized that there is no one thing that makes a person beautiful.

As I slowly accepted that beauty does not have one definition, it was easier for me to believe that I didn’t need to compare myself to other people. I started to realize that just because I didn’t look like someone else didn’t mean that only one of us could be beautiful. I focused on the things about myself that I liked, and tried to spread some of that love to the parts I didn’t like. My self love grew slowly. It’s still not done growing and it may never be. However, through the process of loving others for their differences, I came to also love my own, whether I’m surrounded by super models or not.

Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.