Like most girls who’ve read it, I felt a mix of emotions after reading the Boston Globe article. I agreed with some aspects of the article, but disagreed with others. Regardless, it left out one important detail that truly sets Deerfield girls apart from the boys.
Although I wear my school colors with pride, and although I respect the institution, the body image culture at this school has become so toxic that even ninth-graders have to face the harsh standards that girls subject themselves to on campus. These standards are part of a culture that is woven into sit-down and walk-through meals and extends into social media through photoshopped pictures; it’s a silent ideology that affects far too many girls at Deerfield.
I can say this because I’ve experienced it. I’ve been to the counseling office, spoken to eating disorder specialists, and healed enough to the point where I can openly talk about it. Every time the school sent me to the doctor, therapist, or counselor, they would all say something along the lines of, “Don’t worry, you’re not the first person who’s struggled with this issue. There are a lot of girls at Deerfield who are going through this too.”
At first, this seems like a reassuring statement—that I’m not alone and I’m going to get through this, which I’m sure is why they said it. But after hearing it so many times, I started to wonder why so many girls were going to see these people. I remember watching an older girl at my sit-down table politely decline every meal for a whole rotation; she assured her table head that she was going to eat at the Deerfield Inn instead. Two rotations later, I was doing the same thing without even realizing that I had copied her.
Some of my friends started to notice the empty plate in front of me during meals and the growing number of nights I spent at the Health Center. I guess this behavior was familiar to them because soon enough, I received kind messages, one by one, asking me if I was alright and assuring me that if I ever needed someone to speak to, they were there because they had gone through it too.
Ever since those conversations, we’ve made sure that we look after each other – we worry about each other even though it’s been weeks since our last skipped meal. Although we’ve created a strong community that cares for one another, it’s a community that’s built off of a culture that should not have a place at Deerfield.
Although we are told to love our bodies, the pressure we put on ourselves to look a certain way fuels unhealthy habits which younger students pick up on. It’s common for girls to restrict themselves from eating during sit-down and walk-through meals. It’s normal for girls to starve for days or, in some cases, weeks before a school dance, only to find themselves binging afterward to make up for all the food they’ve deprived themselves of – which only encourages the behavior. Everyone notices it, but we don’t do much to change it.
In Health class, we learn about eating disorders and body dysmorphia, and we agree that it’s not a good thing, yet this is still an issue that doesn’t get enough attention.
The body image culture at Deerfield has flown under the radar for too long. It’s not just a one-case problem. I can guarantee you every girl on campus has either experienced or knows someone who’s experienced this awful culture. The worst part, however, is that we wait until the very last minute to do anything.
We wait until the girl is at the Health Center already five pounds lighter than last week to then educate her and assure her that she’s not alone – let her know that there are others like her.
We should be taking action now. The school, teachers, and students should shine a light on this subject, talk about it and denormalize restricted eating.
Let girls know that they’re not alone, and don’t ever let them get to the point where they’re putting their health at risk.