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The Daily Tar Heel

Everything in moderation: Have a better outlook this swimsuit season

This column is part of a summer series that will focus on college-aged men and women’s perceptions of beauty and body image issues.

With two weeks separating us from the start of June, summer is beginning in earnest. Which means — bathing suit season.

It’s a daunting phrase. Shedding our winter layers gives way to a flood of self-consciousness. Warm weather wardrobe reintroduces us to body parts that were kept bundled up all winter. We become painfully aware of what we consider to be our flaws. We fixate on these imperfections until we are tempted to pull those turtleneck sweaters back out — even if it is 80 degrees outside.

For me, the annual period of self-loathing begins in a Target dressing room. I go in hopeful that one of the swimsuits I’ve selected will prove to be purchase worthy. After five minutes of standing under fluorescent lights staring into a warped mirror, I’m prepared to sell my soul to a plastic surgeon.

Lately I’ve been disturbed by how frequently my conversations with other women focus on weight. I have a friend who pasted a picture of herself in high school onto the fridge, aiming to reach that weight again. She looked at it every time she opened the door, hoping it would motivate her to lose two pant sizes.

In a survey conducted by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 91 percent of college-age women said they attempted to control their weight through dieting, and 25 percent use bingeing and purging as a weight management technique.
Needless to say, this is a widespread issue that most girls around us are also dealing with — even if we feel like we’re the only ones. We shame ourselves for having eaten ice cream or gorging on Nutella the night before. We verbally dissect ourselves. Even if we have not actually gained any weight, we insist that we are heavier and less desirable than we were last summer, or even last week.

We often react with desperation. Calories become the basis of a cruel bartering system. We lay out a plan for diet-and-exercise boot camp. Fast forward two weeks: we have found our frenzied attempts to be unsustainable and are more discouraged than before.
This can have some serious consequences, ones that have a detrimental effect on how a college girl lives her life.

Once you drop a certain amount of weight, your sex drive takes a dive. You’re constantly tired, and your body reverts back to pre-pubescence. That makes studying — and partying — a lot more difficult.

I don’t mean to say that we should not be conscious of what we put into our bodies, nor do I mean that we should ignore signs that we are unhappy with ourselves. If something about your body makes you uncomfortable, by all means, change it up. There are perfectly healthy ways of doing exactly that. Integrate a salad into your nightly meal at Lenoir, or bike to campus instead of taking the bus.

Often we spend so much time chastising our cravings that we forget to listen to our bodies. The distorted picture we saw in the dressing room plasters itself on the walls of our minds. In trying to erase it, we punish or deprive ourselves. What we have to remember is that picture is mostly a trick of light and mirrors.

As the temperature climbs and bathing suits become more prominent in daily wear, I urge you to be kind to yourself. Indulge. Make a trip to YoPo. Drink in the Carolina blue sky. Read the book that’s been sitting on your shelf all year.

And if you really do find yourself unhappy with your body, summer’s a perfect time to start up a routine. Swim some laps at the pool. Take a Zumba class. But make moderation your motto — in exercising as well as indulging. And if you need help, don’t hesitate to call Counseling and Wellness at (919) 966-2281 to schedule an appointment.

Remove yourself from the fluorescent lights for a while. Step outside. Feel the sun on your skin. It does a body good.

Rachel Shope is a columnist from The Daily Tar Heel. She is a senior English major from Marshall, N.C. Contact her at shop@live.unc.edu.

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