by Shavon L. McKinstry
It’s that time of year: young students all around the world are looking forward to starting their secondary education. It’s a big step in life, and for some, it’s not just advancement in their schooling, but a time of important social lessons as well. Many college-age students have the opportunity to live amongst their peers, and maybe find themselves surrounded by them 24/7. With these new living situations comes new pressures, and they’re not all fun and partying. One of the biggest pressures new college students face is the so-called freshman fifteen.
Open any teen-orientated magazine around the fall season. Whether it’s on the cover or quietly tucked away in the table of contents or “health” section, it’s there. The threat? “Dear vulnerable young women, you will go to college, and you will get fat.”
But that’s not fair for a number of reasons. For one, the freshman fifteen is frequently disputed among the people who are paid to actually research these things. So disputed, in fact, that a study conducted by Ohio University from just last fall announced that the freshman fifteen didn’t even exist, and that “a quarter of freshmen [in the study] reported actually losing weight during their first year.”
For students concerned with their waistlines, that may help you breathe easier. But it raises another, more sinister issue: if the so-called freshman fifteen isn’t real, why do magazines so faithfully report on it every year without fail?
The reason is simple. Making students worry sells. Just as magazines and media will quickly sell you the idea of a perfect, unreachable goal for the human body, they will tell you to always be watching your back because how you look now could easily go downhill, putting you even farther away from that objective.
Magazines are not just telling us what to eat if we want to stay healthy or how to work out if we feel like improving our appearance. Media, such as magazines, tell us to feel bad and to never step out of our houses, apartments, and dorms without thinking about how we look, and whether or not we measure up.
I, myself, readers, just completed my first year of college a few months ago and am on my way to my second. From those two semesters of seminars, late-night essays, friends, parties, and dining hall food, I can tell you something. It’s not the immediate act of reading those magazines or seeing a character on TV fret about weight gain that is disturbing; It’s seeing how subliminal it’s become among your peers and even total strangers. It’s hearing your friend debate over finishing an essay that’s a quarter of her grade or going to the gym for a power-workout. It’s walking through the dining hall during dinner time, and watching a group of girls walk by with salads, just salads, seeing those girls every night, listening to them try to figure out what salad dressings have the least calories.
It’s not harmful to want to change your lifestyle if you feel like you need to, but being healthy and being obsessed are two very different things. There is nothing wrong with eating salad and working out. But there is nothing wrong with not doing those things, either, as long as you feel good about yourself. There should be no pressure involved in feeling comfortable and secure.
What students, regardless of gender, need to understand is that when they begin their secondary schooling, they shouldn’t be faced with the pressure of fighting some invisible, imaginary foe called “the freshman fifteen.” Students have more important things to worry about. Midterms, sports, finding a job, studying: these are all more important than trying to beat a myth to the point of addiction.