Growing up as a high school student in New York, I have never known anything other than pressure and to strive for perfection. I remember life as a little child, all through elementary school everything was carefree, my grades were stellar-I had the highest marks possible in every course, and my mental health was untouched. Then, I entered middle school. During the course of sixth grade, my grades dropped, I lost work ethic, and just wanted to hang out with friends. The fear of never wanting to miss out on friends replaced the worry of studying for any quiz or test. My new middle school surrounded me with toxic people fighting for each other’s attention. One of my friends had even lied about having a brain tumor so that people would show her more care and desire. I left that school after the first year, as my mother had noticed how bad it was for me. Time came for seventh grade when I started at the Baccalaureate School for Global Education. Up until this point, I was never really focused on my weight or looks. But the minute I gained this perspective on myself, my grades plummeted.
I was always a chubby child, but never fat. My mother had always wanted me to lose that baby fat that I was holding onto, and she would pester me about it every chance she could. Towards the end of December of that school year, my body image finally started to affect me and I began to see all of the flaws of my body. On New Year's Eve, I made myself a resolution, the first one I had ever made, and everything began to fall from there. I lost a scary amount of weight in a month and purposefully deprived myself of food. All focus on school had been lost and it had been geared towards making myself look perfect, no matter how terrible I felt. I would skip lunch and have a meager breakfast (if I ate one) and a slightly larger dinner. I was scared to eat food after two months. After some time, not eating just came naturally to me, and this soon became out of my control. My attendance went from perfect, to barely there. I was too weak to function on my daily activities and had to be picked up from school at least 4 times a month with my usual “stomach” problems, or light-headedness. I could go a full day without food, and then eat a slice of pizza and that would be it. Not only did I not eat, but I also trained intensely for tennis, which had my energy levels decline as well. I simply could not retain any information, I could not focus in class, I could barely walk, let alone commute back and forth from school. After school, when I would go with my friends for food, I simply just skipped out on eating because I felt that I “ate too much” that day, even if I only had 3 pieces of goldfish for lunch. I remembered the calories in every food I ate, my mind was like a notebook keeping track of my intake. But, in my mind I was still fat. My mind was in this constant gutter of my weight, my food, my stomach, When I went to the doctor, he seemed alarmingly concerned by the amount of weight that I had lost. I carried this on for a year and a half. By eight-grade, my body was naturally starving itself and my mind was in auto-pilot. Throughout the entire year I maintained the same weight, and even dropped another five pounds at one point. Towards the end of eighth grade, I recall shedding tears on a daily basis for weeks, all because I had gained two pounds. My friends would tell me to eat, my parents would try and force me to eat, but at this point I could not get my mind to do it. My stomach had shrank to the point where I would be full after a miniscule meal. As I graduated middle school, I had come to terms with the norm. My body had gotten used to eating so little, and I had gotten used to my low energy. But then, that summer I went to camp and restored my sense of happiness and self-worth.
As I went to camp that summer, all my constant thoughts went away. I was at an all-girls camp and did not have the worry of boys seeing me, or how I looked. I didn’t have my phone either which contributed to me letting loose and not viewing myself in the mirror or camera or comparing myself on social media every chance I got. On the drive home from camp this summer, I recall stopping in a Dairy Queen somewhere in the middle of Massachusetts with my parents. I was able to eat ice cream without mentally punishing myself or breaking down for the next few days. For the first time in over a year, I was able to simply enjoy life. I’m not quite sure what happened that summer that completely altered my mental health and perspective on myself, but I know that it was for the best. That summer I regained my health. The following September when I started high school, I had the energy to focus in class and do my homework. I was able to study at home and stay focused. Most importantly, I was much happier, I shed less tears these past few months over myself than I ever have since the seventh grade. Yes, I still have moments where I am ashamed to be myself, but they are nothing but temporary. I have learned to always pick myself back up, and I am building a healthier relationship with myself as time goes on. Many girls my age share the same experiences. Sadly, for many it is a common part of growing up. But what we need to realize in today’s society is that everyone is perfect in their own way. Everyone is beautiful. You may not realize it now, it might take some time, but the moment you do, the moment you begin to appreciate yourself, the world immediately becomes a better place, and I promise that you won’t ever regret it.