Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

Confronting the ridiculous but real pressures of swimsuit season

By KATHERINE GILLIS | March 14, 2019


Spring is here (at least in my mind). It’s that time of jazz quartets and daffodils, iced lattes, and new romances. Do I sound like Gossip Girl? GOOD. Carrie Bradshaw? EVEN BETTER. I want to sound like her, she was super talented. Rest in peace, Carrie. (I like to think she was trampled by a camel after the second Sex and the City movie ended.) 

Spring is probably my favorite season because it’s the only time of year when I can physically feel my brain chemistry shifting. When I step outside and the wind finally isn’t hurting me, the serotonin in my brain sets off little fireworks. As someone who spends winter wrapped in the same stinky blanket eating goldfish for three months, I appreciate the change in mood. 

This time of year is also a hard time for me, the beginning of a cycle of dieting and exercising that doesn’t end until mid-November, when I’m too depressed to keep going. It’s a time of putting pressure on myself to eat less and run more and fit into clothes I wore my sophomore year of high school. It’s a desperate dash to shed the weight I gained hibernating all winter, followed by the months-long paranoia that I might gain it all back — which I almost always eventually do. 

Like most girls, I’ve struggled with food since puberty. Isn’t that a weird thing to say — I’ve “struggled with food?” It’s food. You need to eat it to survive. It shouldn’t be a “struggle.” 

But most people’s feelings about food are better explained through the lexicon of combat — we fight against our cravings; we win back inches off of our waists; we complete a weight loss “journey” that, while it may be extremely unhealthy, at least ends with us looking good.

I grew up skinny, and even at seven years old I could tell that having to wear “slim” jeans was a good thing. When I was a kid, my mom was always on a diet. When I, a healthy adult woman, lose 20 pounds in two months, people praise my strength and willpower. 

That kind of messaging is so ubiquitous in our culture that it’s near impossible to have a “healthy” relationship to food, especially if you’re a young woman who watches TV or looks at billboards or fucking goes outside.

It’s getting warmer now, and I can already feel it starting: The voice that tells me to just eat carrots for lunch, to run another mile even though my ankle is killing me, to replace a bowl of oatmeal with an iced coffee. And I don’t know what to do about it, because for me the alternative has always been not exercising, eating junk food and slipping into a depressive haze. 

I’m trying to be more conscious of what I do to my body and how it makes me feel, to make decisions based off of those feelings, but it’s really hard. And I know others feel the same way. I’ve talked to friends about this stuff, a lot of whom, like me, gained weight during puberty (it’s natural, it’s supposed to happen, it happens to everyone!) and never recovered from the unhealthy habits that arose out of that shame. 

It’s hard for me to talk about this stuff, even to close friends, even in therapy, because as a feminist it’s difficult to admit that I’ve bought into so much of the sexist cultural programming that surrounds women’s perceptions of their own bodies. But we need to talk about it because it’s everywhere and it affects us every day. 

I am a woman; I am currently at a healthy weight in accordance with my height; and I worry about the way I look and the things I eat every single day. There are much better ways for me to spend my time, and I know that, and yet the worry still pervades my life every day. 

It’s time to talk about it. Because a woman’s worst fear shouldn’t be gaining five pounds. If anything, it should probably be getting trampled by a camel while on a girls’ trip to Abu Dhabi.

The National Eating Disorders Helpline can be reached at (800)-931-2237. 

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