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A few weeks ago, my friends and I were hanging out in our dorm for a bonding night. We talked about everything from our classes to things that we wanted to change about our campus to pets we had growing up in our lives. But it was the conversation that we had about our bodies that stuck with me the most. Each of us had our own stories to share about the relationship we had with our bodies. And as different as our stories were they all had the same ending: a work in progress.

Growing up, my relationship with my body was either negative or apathetic. This meant that when I did not feel negatively towards my body, I could not bring myself to care about my body. This did not just mean that I did not care about how my body looked, I did not care in the slightest about what my body may have needed (e.g. more sleep, more vegetables, a walk). In that mindset, all I needed from my body was my brain. All I wanted was to thrive academically, but the way I went about doing that was not beneficial to my body in the slightest. It got to the point in high school where I chose not to eat lunch in favor of working on homework or other class assignments. But when I would get home, I would eat what I should have eaten for lunch and then after some time eat dinner as well. This cycle went on for years including my freshman year of college. I had created a habit that I had no idea how to break. Mind you, at the same time I was either apathetic towards my body or hating my body, I was telling others that there was nothing wrong with their body. I would tell my friends that they should love their body, but I could never follow my own advice. It was as if the advice that I was giving to my friends came with a footnote to it that read: Does not apply to Pempho.

So now I had two damaging habits in my life that I had cultivated from late middle school and carried with me all the way to college. Part of me hoped that these habits would somehow vanish the moment I stepped onto campus, but the reality was that moving to a new location was not going to solve anything. Freshman year in college came and went, and my habits stayed with me. But it was not until the summer after my freshman year that those habits began to die. And I wish I could say that I have some powerful story as to why those habits died but I don’t. The reasons those habits died is because I got tired of feeding them. I got tired of never taking my own advice and loving myself (which included my body) the way it was. I got tired of only liking the part of my body that no one could physically see.

The best way I can describe the tiredness is with a paper plate. Imagine holding a paper plate on the palm of your outstretched hand. First, holding it is not an issue. The plate is very light, but the longer you hold onto the paper plate the heavier it gets, not because the plate gained any weight, but because your arm is getting tired. But the entire time you are holding onto the plate, there is nothing holding you back from dropping the plate and pulling your arm back. Letting go of the apathy and the negativity I felt towards my body was simultaneously the biggest step and the smallest step on I took on my journey to appreciating my body, regardless of how I feel about it on a daily basis.

My journey of body positivity is still a work in progress. I still am learning how to unlearn the hateful thoughts and feelings that I have about my body. I’m still learning how to listen to what my body needs. I’m still learning how to love myself as much as I advocate for others to love themselves. I am still learning the value of looking in the mirror and saying “I love you,” and meaning every word.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis