Rethinking the “Freshman 15”: Talking About Our Bodies with Kindness

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Gigi Woodall, Helpline Intern

Last week, I had my first day of classes in Copenhagen, where I will be studying abroad for the next semester. In my applied psychotherapy course, my professor gave us a piece of advice:  treat yourself the way you want to treat others, because quite often, we are not as kind to ourselves as we should be. This is true in many aspects, especially when talking about body image.

My freshman year of college, I was excited to have a fresh start, yet I felt overwhelmed. In the first couple weeks, there was so much talk about the looming “Freshman 15.” The “Freshman 15” refers to the amount of weight one will gain their freshman year of college. The stigma surrounding it is so detrimental to our mental and physical health, because even juniors and seniors in high school are beginning to dread it. When we place a label on the possibility of weight gain, we are adhering to an unhealthy thought process that can then lead to concerning behaviors, such as disordered eating and excessive exercise.

The Body Project, NEDA’s evidence-based early intervention program for women in high school and college, discusses the phrase “fake it till ya make it,” which is rooted in cognitive dissonance, the term for having thoughts and beliefs that can help change behaviors and the way we think. “Fake it till ya make it” essentially means that we say positive things about our body out loud, even if sometimes we don’t fully believe them. Wearing a bathing suit can sometimes feel challenging, but I took that nervous energy and channeled it into something positive. I posted an unedited picture of me in a bathing suit on Instagram with the hashtag #AerieREAL, to show how we can love ourselves and promote body positivity. Even something as simple as looking in a mirror and saying, “My waist looks great in this shirt,” or “I love the way my dress looks on me” can be both empowering and help you think about your body in a kind and caring way.

When we talk about our bodies in the way we want to think about our bodies, we can begin to love ourselves for who we truly are. I encourage you to help break the stigma on the “Freshman 15” by speaking up when a friend or peer is talking about their body or weight. This way, we can help promote body positivity and practice body activism. By loving yourself, you can help others love themselves, too.

College is one of the pivotal markers of self-growth. When we are vulnerable, authentic, and fearless, we are able to grow and change and, in turn, help change the world.


Gigi Woodall is a junior studying Psychology with a minor in Human Service Studies at Elon University. She was a Helpline Intern at NEDA this past summer and is planning to continue working remotely once she is back from studying in Denmark, which she chose in part because it is the happiest country in the world. Gigi is passionate about ending the stigmas surrounding eating disorders and shifting the way we talk about our bodies. In her free time, Gigi enjoys doing yoga, reading, and going to museums.