The damage of societal expectations

By Lauren Stohler
November 17, 2016

Creative Commons/Pexels
Creative Commons/Pexels
Creative Commons/Pexels
Creative Commons/Pexels

No matter how many days I swam during the summer, played soccer in the fall, participated in softball in the spring, and figure skated all year, I always had some baby fat during my adolescence that clung to my midsection. I was never the smallest girl in the room, and it never seemed to matter to me before I got to middle school. The relentless bullying and cyber-attacks spread like a raging wildfire, and I was in a position where I was more in tune with ‘what was wrong with me’ than ever, and left answerless as to why my body was such a problem.

Through the first half of high school, I made sure that my natural thickness was seen as curves and not fat. Not only was I exercising at an unhealthy and crazed rate along with doing two sports, I was only eating a solitary apple at lunch each day. I squeezed myself into the smallest clothing and held my breath way too often just to avoid the notion that I was taking up too much space. I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with the feelings of inadequacy and bodily fixation, but no one else was talking about it, so neither did I.

Within my junior year, I had cracked. Gaining 80 pounds at an alarmingly fast rate, I was going through one of the most challenging and heart-wrenching series of events my life had experienced, and my body couldn’t handle the stress along with my diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. In the midst of an ugly and emotionally damaging court case that centered around sexual abuse that happened to me from early adolescence to the start of my teenage years, not only was I battling against family members, but I was spending countless hours in counseling to repair the uncovered destruction from years of being molested and sexually, emotionally, and verbally attacked. Yet, bullies and relentlessly evil remarks never cease when a body’s appearance does not match society’s strict and unwavering mold, despite the personal battles that everyone is subjected to going through.

Inevitably, high school ended and I came to Cabrini, where I wasn’t subjected to body shame and physical judgment—just the personal pressure of not achieving success and constantly looking outward to see how I wasn’t meeting society and the media’s expectations of what I was supposed to look like.

The summer going into my sophomore year of college, I decided to lose the weight I had gained once and for all. Regardless of anything else, I didn’t want to feel so incredibly cast out from society and I was so fed up with feeling as though I was held back by my weight. Little did I know at the time, it was shame holding me back—not my weight. I ended up losing about 110 pounds over the course of a year and a few months, but I felt as though my body still didn’t meet the standards that society makes. Sure, good for me, I lost all of this weight but that left me with excess skin, which wasn’t seen as progress, but instead as something that needed to be flattened, to be fixed.

Olenka Hladky, a freshman psychology major, knows all too well what it is like to feel the pressures from outside sources honing in on her body image. Since second grade Hladky has been battling with anorexia, an eating disorder where one constricts themselves from the intake of food. “I would look at the girls in magazines and then I would turn back and look at my own self,” said Hladky, “and then I got sick with mononucleosis and wasn’t eating much. I lost a fair amount of weight because of the illness, and my mind put two and two together, and the amount of food I would eat slowly decreased over time to the point that I was 75 pounds at 12 years old.”

In seventh grade, Hladky was officially diagnosed with anorexia and spent some time at a hospital in Colorado. While away, she and the other girls in the program were prohibited from having cell phones, internet access, magazines, and any other products that could offset their treatment. “The media and the pictures painted by society just added fuel to the fire,” Hladky said. “We (those suffering from an eating disorder) would measure our progress and success by comparing ourselves to thin models. I would walk into a store when I was a healthy weight in recovery and would be devastated that I wouldn’t fit into a size 00. You know that picture of the thin girl in the mirror who sees herself as larger? That’s a very accurate depiction of how it was like for me, just a bit dramatized.”

Those who suffer from eating disorders toil for the remainder of their lives to work through and cope with triggers that present themselves in their everyday environments. “I go home about every two weeks to see my counselor,” said Hladky, “and I still have my off days where I have the lowest self-esteem and don’t feel like eating, but I have my little support system of friends here, so I’m doing well, but it is something I know I will always have to combat.”

Sophomore history major, Joe Berardi, had been bullied all of his life about his weight because he didn’t look like others his age. “I think it really took a toll on my life because I started hating myself,” Berardi said. “I think that’s why I became so hard on myself and so judgmental of myself, because I was so scrutinized by others and the way our society is. I felt like if others were saying it so much, it must be true. Society has those perceptions of what is right and wrong and what is good and bad, and I just don’t meet those standards.”

Berardi, who was even told by his peers as a child that he was going to die before the age of 35 from a heart attack, knows that it is imperative to overcome the obstacles and change society’s harsh perceptions that are so focused on in today’s world. “On Halloween kids would throw candy at me,” Berardi said. “Feeling as if nobody loved me because I was fat and ugly was probably the hardest thing for me, thinking that I would never truly be loved because I am this way.”

Berardi, who found a positive and nonjudgmental home within Cabrini’s community after graduating high school, believes that the media is to blame for the driving force behind the way certain body shapes are seen in daily life because of all the beautiful people shown on the television screen and in advertisements. “The media takes the thinner people and makes them the norm and says that this is what we are supposed to look like, and then there are perfectly and equally beautiful and average people being casted as plus-sized when they’re just an average person,” said Berardi. “I think that’s why our world has a problem with people who are bigger and for how they look; I get it, on television and advertisements everyone is made to look airbrushed and beautiful, but the thing they’re missing is that they don’t look bad in the first place.”

Freshman social work major, Megan Kudla, battled with accepting an aesthetic aspect of herself that is not spoken about frequently; her height.

“I was always the shortest person in the class,” said Kudla, “and in the media, height never matters.” In elementary school, Kudla faced comments saying that she should eat ‘Miracle Grow,’ and that is when she started to feel inferior because of her height. Adopted when she was only 10 months old, Kudla does not know her biological parents or their genetics. “When I started to think that my biological parents might be just shorter, I started to accept it more. I then started to think that maybe this is just how I was meant to be. You can’t control that stuff, it’s just genetics,” Kudla said. “It honestly doesn’t matter what you look like, everyone is different and it shouldn’t define us; as soon as I realized this and took it to heart, I stopped caring and stopped paying attention.”

Countless misconceptions are engrained into the minds of people by inaccurate and unachievable societal standards every day. Believe me, I was one of those affected. Resulting from these standards, adolescents are bullied, feel inferior, cast out, feel unessential pressure to change, and develop into dissatisfied and bodily unhappy people mirror these same inaccurate stigmas. For me, it took 110 pounds and countless days of undermining my inner beauty and potential to learn that we are not the ugly ones, society is. I believe that Joe Berardi said it best, “Just because it is a societal concept doesn’t make it true. Peoples’ idea of who I am or what I am should not make me who I am.”

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Lauren Stohler

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