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“I was drowning in a sea of chiseled abs and perfect bikini bodies.”

That is how I felt throughout my freshman year at CMC. Scratch that. That is how I feel every single day at CMC. Growing up, I struggled with my weight. As hard as I tried, I somehow always managed to need a larger pants size within months of going shopping. I did every diet you could think of. I even went to fat weight loss camp in high school. Nothing ever worked out.

I left high school afraid of what I may face in California and at CMC. The same thoughts kept flooding my brain: If I took my shirt off, would people stare? Would they laugh? Would they cringe? Walking around campus, it was clear that I lacked confidence. I was filled with fear and worry. I felt uncomfortable. I was out of place.

After my freshman year, and after undergoing the typical bout of the freshman fifteen, I decided it was time to change. I wanted to go back to campus and give everyone a different reason to stare. I came back in the fall fifty pounds lighter. I was excited—I was ready for 6:01. I was ready for the Scripps pool. I was ready to be shirtless. Then came the big moment; my shirt was slowly coming off, and I just couldn’t do it. My new body had changed nothing about the way I felt. I was still uncomfortable.

My weight loss gave me a better insight into the minds of those more physically fit. Not only were my overweight friends asking me for dieting tips, but it was also my skinniest and most typically “attractive” friends who complained to me about their weight. I was frustrated with these people. As a matter of fact, I was offended. Why were they complaining about their bodies? I would have done anything for their bodies. I would still do anything for their bodies. It became clear to me, however, that we have a problem on campus. Walking around, one quickly notices that those who are overweight tend to stand out. In turn, CMC has and continues to foster a community of students who always strive to look like someone else. This is true for most college campuses and society in general, and it’s something that we need to immediately address.

Don’t get me wrong; I still talk about how the best thing that ever happened to me at CMC was being inspired to be healthier and fitter. But, I have watched countless friends go down unhealthy routes towards reaching such goals. Some eat close to nothing. Some rush to the bathroom to get rid of any and all calories they consumed after every meal. Some spend hours on hours at the gym.

It is important to remember that there is a difference between being healthy and being skinny. Strive to feel comfortable and strive to live healthier. But, never strive to look a particular way. Do not base your confidence on your looks, because you’ll quickly realize that you’ll never be satisfied, no matter how hard you try.

Of course, this is much easier said than done. Learning to love yourself despite how you perceive your body is difficult, and each day will present its own challenges. Take them one at a time. Set some goals for yourself and try your best to meet them. There’s a lot you can do to feel good about yourself and your body. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people. Eat healthy and exercise regularly. If you have a bad day, week, or even a month in which all you do is shovel Scripps cookies down your throat and your workout consists of brisk walking from class to class, there’s no reason to become discouraged. We all binge and we all get lazy, some of us more than others. It’s all about taking it one day at a time, until eventually being healthy becomes a habit.

On an important note, you may be someone who feels uncomfortable with your body despite it being what society deems a “perfect bod.” Again, there’s no shame in that. We can often be insecure about even our best features simply because our mind is tricking us to think we are flawed. Talk to someone about your insecurities. CMC is a tight-knit community that thrives because of the effort others take to ensure that those around them are happy, and it is easy to find someone who is willing to take the time to talk.

It is also essential to look out for your friends who may be engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors. Don’t be afraid to check in with them about their behaviors or to talk to an RA, a dean, or someone you trust. It is important to respect their privacy and be respectful when it comes to tackling such sensitive issues, but at the same time, it is also important to help them address whatever issues they may have. Most importantly, don’t encourage unhealthy or dangerous behavior. When you jokingly suggest that you and your friends should go on a juice cleanse, you could be bringing up their desires to starve themselves. When you tell your friends that you’d only date a guy with v-lines or a girl with a flat stomach, you make them doubt themselves and how others perceive them. Finally, if your friends do secretly engage in unhealthy eating behaviors and you keep complimenting them on all the weight they’ve lost, you simply perpetuate such behavior.

A lot of the letters to freshmen in the past have been very peppy and positive, and that’s very indicative of the culture of CMC. We go to a great school with a supportive and inclusive community. We enjoy our time here, and CMC becomes our home away from home. To create a happy community, however, we must look at the difficult issues that no one talks about and face them head on. We must realize that everyone around us is unhappy or insecure about something. Try your best to respect that and to be there for those in the CMC community, and in turn, you’ll find others who will do the same for you. As for those of you who are unhappy with your bodies, don’t let that get in the way of all the great times you could have at CMC. Don’t let the thing you hate the most about yourself ruin what could potentially be the best time of your life.

I originally titled this article “Love your body, love yourself,” and I wish it was as easy as that. The more I think about it, it does not matter if you love your body—that shouldn’t be a determinant of how you feel about yourself. If you make a concerted and safe effort to improve yourself in the manner you best see fit, you will become much closer to happiness than chiseled abs or a perfect bikini body will ever get you.

On a final note, I’d like to leave you with the following message: Although my letter to you focuses on body image issues, my advice is applicable to most other insecurities or personal issues you may have. That is why I urge you to use these next four years to combat your insecurities and better yourself. There is no better place to strive to become the person you want to be and the person you are meant to be. It is easy to get lost in the classes, the social life, and the career ambitions; but ultimately, if you don’t focus on yourself while at CMC, it may be impossible to do so when you’re out in the real world, and it would be a true shame to miss out on all the benefits and support the CMC community has to offer.