The sun shines brightly upon a CHS junior as she sits in the concrete bleachers, reflecting on all that has led to the seemingly endless battle of feeling comfortable in her own skin.
“Freshmen year was when it all started…. I was told in P.E. [as a result of my Body Mass Index test] that I was overweight.” She plays with the hem of her running shorts, thinking back to that fateful day of freshmen fitness testing. “I knew I wasn’t the skinniest person at this school, but I had always thought of myself as pretty normal…and it really hurt me to hear that.”
What had seemed like just another BMI test for this CHS junior was actually the beginning of a long battle with body image and the insecurities of high school that spare few.
“All the girls at Carmel are more or less skinny,” she observes. “It’s just how it is here. Along with being told I was overweight, this kind of led me to my eating disorder and my body image issues.”
Believe it or not, Carmel is not immune to such things like eating disorders and body image issues, as they seem to have become common in those ages 14 to 21, according to Health teacher Jeff Wright.
This is also not the only case of an eating disorder at Carmel High.
During track workouts, running around in circles gets a little monotonous, and the runners strike up conversations while doing 200-meter repeats. A lot of the time, the conversation revolves around feeling confident enough to race in black spandex. Inevitably, the issues of body image and eating disorders come up and quite a few athletes say that track helps them “run off those cupcakes from the night before” or it “makes [them] feel like they deserve a substantial dinner.”
“Daily food consumption for me got down to a half-serving of oatmeal with strawberries, if I felt like I deserved them,” says the junior, watching the runners go by. “Lunch was an apple and carrots, and then dinner would be a salad or steamed vegetables.”
Body image is central to most teenagers and stems a lot from the need to fit in, according to Nurse Pierszlowski, the school nurse on campus.
“What some teenagers don’t understand is that the final product of themselves hasn’t arrived yet,” Nurse Pierszlowski says.
And with so much media drifting in and out of a teenager’s life—from television to the latest issue of Vogue—there is predictably a pressure to look a certain way.
As a result, if a student does not feel that she fulfills those aesthetic standards, she may believe that extreme measures need to be taken, notes Nurse Pierszalowski from her experience with students who struggle with eating disorders.
“I’m also a three-sport athlete, so living off of that, I dropped around 20 pounds,” says the junior, now looking self-consciously at her Nikes, examining the brightly colored shoe laces.
Body image insecurities can take over someone’s life if they do not recognize that they still have some growing to do physically…and mentally. Pierszalowski says comparing oneself to another not only damages self-esteem, but also their sense of identity.
Not only do students compare themselves to others, but as teenagers are impressionable, the pressure to look a certain way may come more from the media.
“There’s definitely a stereotype [of how people should look] and a need to fit in at Carmel,” junior Aaron Dally says.
Carmel may seem like a bubble, but that doesn’t mean kids are shielded from things as real as eating disorders and body image issues.
“Our town does have a healthy image,” sophomore Lauren Tuck says.
But digging deeper into that healthy image, some students discover that there is more behind the motivation to stay healthy than just to feel good.
To some, beauty may really be in the eye of the beholder, but according to CHS’s support counselor Kate Miller, “Beauty begins from within, and the more one understands this and embraces this type of beauty, the more confidence and healthy body image they experience.”
By MADI SALVATI