The need for our Center
I used to thrust my fingers down my throat, and I refuse to be silent about it. I am not ashamed of my past—it has made me stronger, and I am choosing to come out in this opinion piece to fight the stigma and dangerous silence linked to eating and body image disorders on this campus and in popular culture. Colby, I am coming out to you as a recovered bulimic. You may think I am being dramatic, and believe me, I wish I was, but what I share with you today are not just my truths, but the truths of so many others at Colby, and the truth of a dangerous thing we can no longer cowardly avoid. Warning: It is impossible to fit everything I want to say in one op-ed, so this just to get your toes wet.
I used to binge and purge: eating Dana cookies and pizza until my stomach couldn’t expand further, then rushing to the shower (which covered the noise) or toilet to thrust two fingers down my throat until nothing but bile spewed from my cracked lips. My constantly sore throat, red knuckles and strained, puffy red eyes were minor parts of the disease. I exercised compulsively: running more than I should, sneaking in squats and cross training in my free time. Of course I lost hours of my days (vomiting until I could physically no longer do so, or chewing and spitting family sized packets of cookies), of course my running talent suffered (I am now, almost two years later, finally getting back to where I was athletically before my bulimia), but most importantly I was silenced as a person. I wasn’t Berol Dewdney. I was Berol Dead Dewdney.
I came into my sophomore year fully recovered after multiple relapses and endless hours of hard work devoted to getting healthy. Does that mean I don’t still have body image issues or at times a less-than-healthy relationship with food? Of course not. Most people don’t, and that is my point. I’m not alone. Every minute I worry about my thighs—and every minute you feel “fat”—is a minute taken away from a beautiful life dedicated to bettering the world.
Today, I am sick of seeing ghosts walking around campus. I am sick of seeing the pain on people’s faces in the dining hall. I am sick of seeing women (and men) exit bathrooms with puffy red cheeks and bloodshot eyes. I am sick of seeing the remnants of someone’s dinner in the toilet, reminding me of the pain and bringing back the disgusting taste and smell of vomit stuck in my teeth and lining my fingers. Just think of how much more powerful our generation could be if we weren’t so consumed by self-hate. If so many people can’t truly and fully live in their bodies, then how on earth can we get to their heads and hearts?
I was lucky enough to have a coach who was able to get me help, and I am forever grateful to those whose helped my recovery here at Colby, but to be frank: Colby did not and does not have the proper and full resources needed to deal with these things. We need a Gender and Sexual Diversity Resource Center so that we can climb this mountain. We need a specific counselor to focus on addressing eating and body image issues. We need support groups. We are students, and the college is taking advantage of us by putting us in the position of professionals. If the administration and the Board of Trustees does not act swiftly to get Colby the resource center it needs, the student body will continue to run itself into the ground to help each other survive. And what will we sacrifice? Our academics. Our happiness. Our potential.
As a student Resource Officer, I have sacrificed my academics, happiness and potential in order to bring needed resources to this community. I know that many other students have as well. Maybe it’s our fault for not being selfish enough to ignore the suffering around us. I think not. I know we are learning from this social work, but we are being put in an impossible situation. We need more help. Some student at Bowdoin is getting an equal education within social activism, but is being provided the resources he or she is entitled to, thus getting the academic experience and grades needed for school and life beyond college. The sad truth? Likely, they will get into grad school before us, not because they are smarter or more deserving, but because Bowdoin has provided them with a challenging, yet just and supportive academic experience in which they can more obviously and truly thrive.
It is not simply unjust or unfair that Colby does not provide this to the community, but it is a full and violent act of aggression against the community to deny us the support we need. It is sexism—as Naomi Wolf, author of the well-acclaimed academic treatise, “The Beauty Myth,” writes about the promotion of ideals of beauty and thinness which lead to eating and body image disorders as tools of oppression used by a patriarchal system and how these tools subjugate women (and men). Could a resource center fix this? Not right away, but it would begin to address the basics. To the trustees and beyond, I’m not asking—I’m beseeching you. I implore you with the deepest sadness, frustration and ever-fading hope: step up to your responsibilities; fulfill your goal of making Colby the place you claim it to be. If the students are doing their part, why aren’t you?