As a young girl, I knew what the Freshman 15 was before I was even 15 years old. Even then I was reading in CosmoGirl and Seventeen and they taught how to avoid the inevitable. As college grew closer, I began to see the transition not as a threat, but as an opportunity. I was going to LOSE WEIGHT in college! Nothing drastic, but I had ideas for little adjustments that would make me slimmer. With my own schedule, I would eat perfect portions that weren’t dictated by my parents when they made dinner or restaurants when I went out. I was going to eat at 5 PM every night, because that’s what some skinny girls I knew did. I was going to become my Best Self: my thinnest self.
In college, I (obviously) didn’t stick to my plans. My body and how I thought about it stayed pretty much the same. As always, I had stretches of days or weeks where I was cool with how I looked in the mirror and then stretches when I longed for how thin I must have been just the week before. I didn’t weigh myself too often, but I did buy a scale. Logic told me the difference between my two bodies was so slight that no one could tell, or maybe there was no difference at all, but I still felt it. In the bad stretches, my mind would wander from my homework to the way my legs looked in the pants I was wearing. It took up a lot of time, worrying about what I figured no one could see. I couldn’t track how my body was actually changing, or if it was changing.
By the time I went home for Thanksgiving, I didn’t really know if my weight had changed since the summer, but I had a feeling my family would tell me. My mom told me many times that she had gained weight her freshman year and her sisters let her know.
That week at home, I bet my mom said I look great, as she has my whole life, or maybe in passing that I had dodged the fearsome “15.” Of course these are the things I don’t remember: the things I wanted to hear.
I remember vividly something my grandmother said to me. The absurdity of it now makes it funny instead of the calamity it was then. It was at the Thanksgiving dinner table, right after dessert. The table was thinning out as people headed to the sitting room. I stood up and my grandmother called my name and got the attention of the rest of the table. She said, “It’s very easy to gain weight in college, you know.”
In the other room, I was flushed and flustered. Her words were blurring in my head, but every version meant the same thing: I had gained weight. I knew I would cry if I kept thinking about it, but I kept thinking until I was crying in the bathroom. The reality of my fear of a changing body was undeniable.
Even this year, my third Thanksgiving home, I can’t help but think of my body. I linger in front of my mirror here, realizing just how flattering the one in my dorm room must be. And I’m eating at restaurants more than usual, and then the Thanksgiving meal itself… It’s hard to avoid the feeling of weighing in.
At the Thanksgiving table, I don’t think I’ll get any surprises like the one two years ago. If I did, I can’t help but wonder if I would respond in the same way. I still have those stretches of time, the good and bad ones, but I realize now more than my freshman year how ambiguous my perception is. I’m realizing that my relationship with my body will keep evolving for the rest of my life. It will be complicated, but I want it to be loving even in the dissatisfaction. And I want to remember in a bad stretch that I will be satisfied with my body again, probably soon. Instead of teaching young girls to fear the body’s changes, we should emphasize that change is ambiguous and relative and often happens slowly, and further, that change necessitates any growth. Even in a revolution of body positivity, rhetoric encouraging weight loss or maintenance is unavoidable. Instead of associating bodily change with calamity, we should teach that bodies are perceived and defined subjectively, even and especially when they’re measured in pounds. No one should be taught to associate “15” with fear.