Is the “freshman fifteen” really that scary?

Over the past few years, the body positive movement has taken hold of social media, which has slowly but surely diversified online spaces and given exposure to bodies that aren’t just the hyper sexualized fantasies and below average sizes that the media likes to promote.

Clothing companies like Aerie and Savage X Fenty have marketed their products with a variety of models and the push for more promotional campaigns that embrace inclusivity is rising.

Despite the progress that’s slowly being made with body acceptance, however, there is still a ridiculous amount of focus placed on the dreaded “freshman 15” for students who are entering college and university — and it’s no secret that Western society is obsessed with weight and body image.

The pressure to avoid gaining this generalized number of pounds during your first year of school  still seems to be prevalent, even in 2019.

If you look at any list of tips on the internet targeted towards new students, there will inevitably be some point about how to steer clear of unhealthy habits and the various ways you can side step seeing any sort of increase on a scale.

The idea that freshman allegedly gain this weight is pushed onto nervous students like a preemptive scare tactic and warning, and it’s treated like one of the worst things that can happen to a person entering post-secondary education.

And, it just so happens, the freshman 15 is a myth.

After a quick Google search, it’s relatively easy — but surprising, given what general knowledge there tends to be about the subject — to discover that Seventeen magazine made up this supposed phenomenon back in the 1980s.

Its catchy name and the easy-to-write material that can be generated from this topic into magazine articles aimed at young women and teenage girls is likely why it still dominates college culture today.

The freshman 15 has persistently stuck around since its conception, and each year women will continue actively seeking out ways to avoid its occurrence, even if it isn’t that likely to happen to them.

There are studies that have debunked it entirely, claiming that the average amount of weight gain for a new college student is only one pound.

And if it was true — so what?

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be emphasis placed on having a healthy lifestyle, especially during university when students are stressed, going out partying and likely not focussing as heavily on their diet and exercise habits.

But weight gain, especially some arbitrary amount like 15 pounds, is not, by any means, the end of the world.

As someone who has consistently struggled with body image and dealt with a binge eating disorder in high school, it has taken me years to break away from the detrimental idea that weight is the be-all and end-all to happiness and self satisfaction.

Getting a balanced outlook towards my health and my routines has been exceptionally difficult, and my relationship with food still isn’t an entirely positive one.

But I have managed to slowly discover what works for me, what habits have made me feel healthy and fulfilled — and, at the end of the day, that no list of generic tips is going to be the scapegoat that helps prevent me from hating the way my body looks.

Rather than focalizing on the freshman 15, why not remove it from the dialogue and conversation surrounding student wellness entirely?

Instead, place emphasis on mental health and physical wellbeing that has nothing to do with a scale and everything to do with how you feel.

When you graduate, think about what really matters — how you looked, or how happy you actually were.

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