Need a program (virtual or in-person) to empower teen girls around media messages? See our menu.

Negative body talk is alive and well among college women

As a college freshman, I’m constantly being exposed to the living habits of other women. In a dorm, you quickly learn the rituals of college life, both in the academic and social senses. Unfortunately, amidst hectic class schedules and fun-filled social lives, college students are not exempt from the impact of the negative body image messages of the media.

It’s interesting — even though college is meant to be a time for individual growth, it’s shocking how strictly young women continue to conform to standards the imposed upon us by the media and pop culture. Living in a dorm of mostly women, I can’t help but notice how much time my peers spend on makeup, clothing, dieting, and getting guys’ attention. In a college atmosphere — an atmosphere in which students are supposed to be developing their futures and careers — women students spend a disproportionate amount of time stressing over minute “flaws” in their appearances.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I definitely indulge in a good makeover once in awhile. Swooning over guys is an entertaining pastime! But I can’t help but wonder what the our daily routines would be like if the media did not instill upon us the sense that our worth is derived from our clothing, weight, and physical appearance. To put things in perspective, I spent a week listening to the conversations of the girls living on my floor. These girls do not fit any single stereotype; they are of varied physique, ethnic background, social class, and religion. Interestingly enough, negative body image was one of the few traits they all had in common. Throughout the course of a week, these were the top five quotes I found the most horrendous:

Ally: “I don’t even realize it, but half the time I’m sucking in my stomach.”
Bodies — female bodies in particular — are meant to have curves and shape. Women’s stomachs aren’t meant to be the concave, non-stomachs so often portrayed in mags and on TV. (Ahem, Victoria’s Secret, ahem.)

Tara: “All my roommate ever eats is salad. I wish I could be healthy like that!”
Um, what? Last time I checked, all-salad diets lacked vitamins and fats essential to our growth and health. In our current society, eating less is immediately correlated to being healthier — and that’s not always true.

Deirdre: “Jake spent the entire night flirting with that Gracie girl; he didn’t even give me the time of day. I knew I should have worn the low-cut top!”
There is so much atrocity in this statement. Deirdre immediately assumes she got the cold shoulder because her outfit was not “revealing enough.” Apparently in order for Jake to pay Deirdre attention, her cleavage needs to be exposed.

Selia: “I can’t believe I just ate that brownie. I need to go to the gym.”
Indulgence isn’t always a bad thing. Is physical exercise important? Absolutely. Going to the gym is a great way to stay active and be fit. However, going to the gym purely to work off a single brownie seems a bit excessive, don’t you think?

Meghan: “I just bought this pair of size 3 Angel Jeans. By the end of the semester they’re going to fit me like a glove. I’ll do whatever it takes!”
I’m a firm believer that your clothes should fit you; you shouldn’t have to fit your clothes. Young women shouldn’t feel the need to do “whatever it takes” to reach a magic number.

Disturbing, huh? Keep in mind, this is just one perspective, from one student, from one college. Do you think these quotes are typical of many college-aged women? How do these conversations compare to conversations had by girls in high school and middle school? Are these quotes indicative of negative body image, or are the students merely acting according to gender stereotypes to “fit in?”

Regardless, these quotes assert that even as young women grow into adulthood, sexist, negative portrayals of women in the media continue to infiltrate their mindsets and impact their daily lives.

And that’s not okay.

How can we break the stereotypes?


4 thoughts on “Negative body talk is alive and well among college women

Add yours

  1. Yeah, this sounds like most women and girls i’ve known and still do. I’ve been holding in my slightly ‘pouchy’ stomach since i was twelve and for years all i had to do was stand up straight and my stomach would hold itself almost without my thought. it’s sad that we can’t just BE but that’s society and that’s why we have to change it. for love of freedom, healthy weight, and inner beauty- unite and we will change the world. good article.

  2. When I was competing in a modeling contest about a year ago, a lot of the girls I was running against were slamming their bodies. I was the only one who wasn’t. I guess I am a rare female who loves her body.

  3. I think these quotes are indicative of negative body image, and I think it’s a terrible cycle that exists in dorm environments–the more girls talk about their looks/bodies the more other girls will start doing the same thing. My body-hate increased ten-fold when I reached college, partially because of the stereotypical freshman 15 and partially because I would see the actions and hear the words of other girls around me and start to include that in my mental evaluation of myself.

  4. Thanks for this article! I have noticed this a lot since I have been in college. I think the fact that Greek culture is dominant at my school has a lot to do with it.
    I had one little problem with this quote, though:
    “Bodies — female bodies in particular — are meant to have curves and shape.”
    A lot of women are not curvy, and they are beautiful and real too. I don’t think that there is one way that female bodies are ‘meant’ to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *