Negative Body Talk Is Alive and Well Among College Women

By Hailey--As a college freshman, I’m constantly being exposed to the living habits of other women. In a dorm, you quickly learn the rituals of college life, both in the academic and social senses.

Unfortunately, amidst hectic class schedules and fun-filled social lives, college students are not exempt from the impact of the negative body image messages of the media.

It’s interesting — even though college is meant to be a time for individual growth, it’s shocking how strictly young women continue to conform to standards the imposed upon us by the media and pop culture. Living in a dorm of mostly women, I can’t help but notice how much time my peers spend on makeup, clothing, dieting, and getting guys’ attention. In a college atmosphere — an atmosphere in which students are supposed to be developing their futures and careers — women students spend a disproportionate amount of time stressing over minute “flaws” in their appearances.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I definitely indulge in a good makeover once in awhile. Swooning over guys is an entertaining pastime! But I can’t help but wonder what the our daily routines would be like if the media did not instill upon us the sense that our worth is derived from our clothing, weight, and physical appearance. To put things in perspective, I spent a week listening to the conversations of the girls living on my floor. These girls do not fit any single stereotype; they are of varied physique, ethnic background, social class, and religion. Interestingly enough, negative body image was one of the few traits they all had in common. Throughout the course of a week, these were the top five quotes I found the most horrendous:

Ally: “I don’t even realize it, but half the time I’m sucking in my stomach.”

Bodies — female bodies in particular — are meant to have curves and shape. Women’s stomachs aren’t meant to be the concave, non-stomachs so often portrayed in mags and on TV. (Ahem, Victoria’s Secret, ahem.)

Tara: “All my roommate ever eats is salad. I wish I could be healthy like that!”

Um, what? Last time I checked, all-salad diets lacked vitamins and fats essential to our growth and health. In our current society, eating less is immediately correlated to being healthier – and that’s not always true.

Deirdre: “Jake spent the entire night flirting with that Gracie girl; he didn’t even give me the time of day. I knew I should have worn the low-cut top!”

There is so much atrocity in this statement. Deirdre immediately assumes she got the cold shoulder because her outfit was not “revealing enough.” Apparently in order for Jake to pay Deirdre attention, her cleavage needs to be exposed.

Selia: “I can’t believe I just ate that brownie. I need to go to the gym.”

Indulgence isn’t always a bad thing. Is physical exercise important? Absolutely. Going to the gym is a great way to stay active and be fit. However, going to the gym purely to work off a single brownie seems a bit excessive, don’t you think?

Meghan: “I just bought this pair of size 3 Angel Jeans. By the end of the semester they’re going to fit me like a glove. I’ll do whatever it takes!”

I’m a firm believer that your clothes should fit you; you shouldn’t have to fit your clothes. Young women shouldn’t feel the need to do “whatever it takes” to reach a magic number.

Disturbing, huh? Keep in mind, this is just one perspective, from one student, from one college. Do you think these quotes are typical of many college-aged women? How do these conversations compare to conversations had by girls in high school and middle school? Are these quotes indicative of negative body image, or are the students merely acting according to gender stereotypes to “fit in?”

Regardless, these quotes assert that even as young women grow into adulthood, sexist, negative portrayals of women in the media continue to infiltrate their mindsets and impact their daily lives.

And that’s not okay.

How can we break the stereotypes?
- Hailey

This post was originally published on About Face.

cmysko's picture


misslbooker's picture

Hi Hailey! I"m Lauren, a moderator on Yes, this is typical. College can be a place where EDs began or thrive do to the competitivenss of the environmemnt. that's why i chose college females as my population for my thesis on Standards of Beauty, Body Dissatisfactions,Eating Disordered Behaviors amongst college women. The study showed signs of eating disordered thinking but also self love that can overrride the power of the media
sharon77's picture

Very interesting read...sadly this is too true. I was just at my cousin's for the weekend (she's a 22 year old nursing student) and all she talked about nonstop was her weight and how much she exercises, etc etc. Many people think the negative body image "craze" and obsession with looks is an adolescent thing, and while it definitely reaches a peak during teenage years, college women are not immune to societal pressures one bit. What can we do to help? I tried reassuring my cousin she looks beautiful (which she does!) and not to get obsessive, especially since she's studying for a career in healthcare and needs to learn to take care of her own body and be physically AND mentally healthy in order to properly care for others.
misslbooker's picture

@sharon77 Hello, I am Lauren one of the moderators. Yes, disordered eating is alive and well in college students.My graduate thesis was on the standards of beauty , and disordered eating in college women. What you're doing by reassuring your cousin is wonderful, one of the biggest protector factors of disordered eating found in my study was family support and postive talk from family (telling them how beautiful they are). Actually, college can be a dangerous period given the independence and lack of family support of the students and the adjustment period during the college years. I commend you for encouraging her and I would just continue to do that and be an example of health and wise choices
marty789's picture

That's true! Every students envy any one who have a perfect body. It's not important to have a sexy body or not. Just be yourself and you will be more beautiful in the eyes of other. - YORHealth


How many times per week do you see ads for "bikini bodies"?

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