Over the summer, I spent nine days in an intensive program at CU Boulder. At the camp, we learned to work with video cameras, write stories, code and design on a deadline, visited news stations, went to a Rockies game and made great connections with mentors and new friends. You can find photos and some of the work I did below.
The ideal body image has been a part of social discussion for decades, leaving one to wonder how it still affects daily lives of people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.
The University of Colorado Boulder most famously depicts an image of health and fitness within a mountain town for prospective students, but Boulder’s reputation also places a heavy weight on students to when trying to balance education and the wellness ideals.
“I think a lot of people [have unhealthy habits] because there is such a stigma of a healthy lifestyle that there can be a pressure [to conform] but it can lead into something a lot deeper than one might think,” sophomore Cheyenne Smith said.
With the flatirons at your fingertips, CU Boulder possesses multiple positive attributes that separate it from other universities, but it is the culture of body shaming that is becoming more prevalent among students in Boulder. This portrayal can be misleading as the university currently has the most recorded eating disorders out of any college in the U.S. according to BBC News.
“I’ve seen [the pressure] in people around because there’s so many people around you it makes people think they need to fit into that and someone that they’re not,” Smith said. “I think at the end of the day it’s just a matter of not focusing on it.”
The “ideal Boulder body” is a prominent thought among Boulder residents as well as students, which quite literally weighs down on locals. Those participating in this community – which stresses the importance of being active and enjoying the outdoors – are feeling the pressure to conform.
“I definitely had a health shock coming into Boulder,” Smith said. “If anything I think it inspired me to live a [more] healthy lifestyle.”
Making the conscious and unconscious decisions to sacrifice something out of your lifestyle leads to an unhealthy cycle, especially for those who come to Boulder from different parts of the country. Oregonian Katherine Bode, a graduate student studying Speech, Language and Pathology, explains how Boulder is a fast-paced city and the transition wasn’t as easy as one might think.
“The level of athleticism was really extreme,” Bode said. “I felt a lot of pressure and it was hard to fight the feeling that people around me are much more intense.”
Bode took notice of the differences between Colorado and Oregon, noting that Boulder has a faster-paced lifestyle than she is used to.
“I think a lot of people think that Oregon is going to be similar to Colorado, which is true, a lot of the same values [like] emphasis on environmental sustainability and health. But the level of athleticism, it was really extreme in a way that I didn't see people do at home,” Bode said. “It was kind of startling that people were racing to the top of a mountain instead of taking it slow and enjoying it. It was hard to fight that feeling that people around me are much faster and intense about what they were doing.”
Not only do students struggle with finding time for physical activity, they also struggle with regularly eating a nutritious diet.This balancing act between physical activity and nutrition is what many people believe leads to “the freshman 15” for many first-year students.
“My daughter had her pluses and minuses with [eating on campus]. She liked eating the chicken or the salad, but she got in the habit of eating that almost all the time because a lot of the other food she didn't like, so I would say that was a struggle,” dietitian Susan Howk said.
Smith’s views changed throughout the year, creating awareness around self confidence and image acceptance.
“Everyone thought about the freshman 15 [before] freshman year and [then] you live freshman year out not really thinking about it,” Smith said. “I dont think it’s a bad thing to gain it though. Everyone’s growing.”
An even more increasingly touchy subject around nutrition is the idea that not everyone in Boulder can afford to eat healthy.
“It felt like I didn't have the time or the money to buy all of my ingredients from Sprouts [or] Alfalfas. I think that was a lot of the pressure was feeling like I couldn't do as much as I wanted about how nice but expensive everything was,” Bode said.
In addition to the financial pressures that can be onset by body shaming, many students are facing an even harsher reality. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates that 10 to 20 percent of women and 4 to 10 percent of men in college suffer from an eating disorder, and rates are on the rise.
“I would encourage someone who is concerned that they have characteristics [of an] eating disorder to look more into it. It is a serious thing. It can be life-threatening, so people want to catch it early before it becomes a large problem,” Howk said. “Just to increase awareness [about] things like skipping meals just because they're busy is one thing. But [if] they're worried about body image, I think they should get more information and make sure it doesn't become a problem.”
No matter what form body shaming takes on CU’s campus, it is important to remember that there are repercussions. More than anything, it is vital to share resources offering help. There are several outlets on campus for students struggling with personal shame against their bodies. CU Counselling and Psychiatric Services, CU Health and Wellness Services, CU Rec Center FitWell Office and CU Sports Medicine and Performance Center offer service, classes and resources so students are not left to deal with these environmental and behavioral changes on their own.
“It’s okay to enjoy this place. Don't forget, when you're out there in all that beauty, to take those moments and look around. Be in awe of the landscape and don't feel like you have to somehow be good enough to be on the trail,” Bode said.