“I can’t even.” “Honestly, why am I like this?” “I’m gonna die.” Do these phrases sound familiar? Perhaps it’s because they are among the several expressions that seemingly every teenager finds him or herself using at some point in this day and age.
It’s no secret how when a person hits a certain age, their perception of themselves and the world around them is altered severely. They begin focusing a lot more energy in personal appearance – what sort of image they want to convey, how everyone else around them might receive that image. What I find ironic is the amount of negativity that continues to spread through the attitudes, media, and dialogue of today’s youth in a society where embracing self and social acceptance has become the fashion.
Far too many people neglect the drastic effects that outlooks like this may have. While it is often the case that putting a handle on this natural need for approval is an effortless feat for some individuals, for others it can become an obsession.
Forever trying to live up to our own ideas and expectations of what perfection looks like, we are subjected to losing our sense of reason.
I am one such individual who has had her own share of self-doubt/contempt, and I’d like to share with you my story in the hopes of helping you better understand what it is I’m talking about.
I have always been a health-nut. I have no taste for fried foods, or many popular artificial snacks. It’s not how I was raised. My grandmother has spent my life teaching me that food is fuel. You must be mindful of what you’re choosing to power yourself with from day to day. In the summer before my junior year, I took that advice too far.
I decided that I wanted to become a vegetarian, for mixed reasons, but did not go about the transition as I should have. Without much discussion on the matter with my family, I went ahead and dropped meat from my breakfast and lunch diets (dinner, I was still required to eat some meat, although I started taking some very small portions). I was feeling pretty good about it.
I have also had issues with body shaming. In an effort to make myself more “toned” or slim, I started exercising more. I went for jogs; I built up my own 20-minute exercise routine to do every evening. I started losing weight. I heard somewhere that too many fats are bad for your health, so I started cutting out cheese and butter from my diet. I switched from real dairy milk to soy milk.
Then, I started to think that I was consuming too much sugar (considering that I grew up with a big sweet tooth). So, I limited myself to one dessert a day, and if that was only a piece or two of Hershey’s chocolate, then so be it. This fear of taking in any excess grew.
I became haunted by what I was going to eat, planning how much of it I would consume, what exercises I would have to be sure to do to make up for it/work it off. It took over my life. But the scariest part is, I didn’t see or feel that anything was wrong. As far as I knew, I had it under control. And I lost more weight.
Without my knowing, this quest for what I thought was to be beautiful and healthy, had turned into an undiagnosed eating disorder. By the fall of my junior year, I was under the average healthy bar line for someone my size by approximately 15 pounds.
My period stopped as a result of the loss of fat, and I went two years without it. My hair started thinning, and my coloring turned gray. That was the realization point. I was terrified at the damage I had done.
Fortunately, I am lucky enough to have an extraordinary support system at home. My mother, sister, and grandmother noticed right away that I had fallen off the deep end and set to work helping me through it. They closely monitored and raised my portion sizes, made it a rule that I had to drink a whole protein shake everyday when I got home from school, and constantly reminded me of what we were striving to fix whenever I fought them on the matter (which I did).
Words cannot fully express how grateful I am to say that I am finally restoring back to where I once was.
I no longer find myself dwelling so much on calorie counts. My physical state has regained its natural cycles, my hair has since thickened, and the pink tints have returned to my face.
It’s surreal to think that it was partly a parasite concern for appearance that provoked this entire incident. I chose to share it, because there has been this ever-present feeling in the back of my mind, since then, telling me that maybe there will be someone out there who is enduring a similar situation. Or perhaps my experience will serve as a red flag and prevent the same thing from happening to another unsuspecting individual.
One of the side effects to being a teenager is to dwell on whatever’s negative, whether that be about yourself, about the world, about relationships, or whatever’s stressing you out at the time. Does that somehow make us more relatable?
In this, my final year of high school, I have met some pretty amazing people, who neglect to realize just how capable they are. They are the types that are constantly weaving empty phrases into conversation. How I choose to respond is this: I’ve made it a habit to greet my peers with “hey beautiful”, or “hey handsome”. I like to think that if I just keep doing that, then maybe they’ll remember being told that fact by somebody. You never quite know who might be in need of a boost.
A note to end on: Learn to embrace the strong suits, in yourself or in others around you. Perhaps you are an aspiring actor, chef, athlete, or author. Perhaps you find joy in volunteering, or sharing fan art, or jewelry (if you’re like me).
Maybe you’re the one friend everyone counts on to brighten their day, or you’re the “mother” of the group, the comedian, the wallflower, the leader. Your appearance is only a small portion of who you are, which is a lesson that I myself am continuing to figure out. Your mistakes are what make you human.
“The things that make you strange, are the things that make you powerful.” – Ben Platt
Also published on Medium.