The National Institute of Mental Health has reported 25 percent of all college students struggle with an eating disorder and a National Eating Disorders Association study has shown these disorders have increased on college campuses as of 2013. Unfortunately, I can see why these numbers have gone up in recent years. Our society is so image driven, it only makes sense that our age group has increased eating disorders.

This percentage is mind-boggling to me though. A fourth of all college students? And just to be clear, this is not just female students, but male as well. I think it’s so sad that this number is so large.

Our age group’s self esteem, while better than it was in high school, is still fragile. So when we are constantly surrounded by images of our society’s idea of beauty, it only makes sense that some succumb to unhealthy ways of trying to make themselves look better.

“Woman Crush Wednesday” and “Man Crush Monday” are perfect examples of this. Every week, girls and guys alike are shown these gorgeous celebrities and reminded they will never look like them. Though, honestly, those celebrities don’t even look like that. In this day and age, Photoshop is a given on all professional photos, so it is not even possible for celebrities to look like they do in these pictures.

Eating disorder habits have become normalized, which I think have helped add to the number of these disorders. I know I’ve contributed to this, like the times I’ve skipped meals before going out so I feel skinnier. Or the days I have to stay on campus all day so I don’t have a chance to get a real meal.

Guys are constantly feeling pressure to be fit just as girls are constantly feeling pressure to be skinny. I know quite a few guys who make protein powder a part of their daily diet to help them bulk up.

I just think it’s unfortunate our society puts so much pressure on us, whether it’s intentional or not. Our generation is so surrounded by social media, it’s almost a given that it will affect us.

It’s also unfortunate that mental health problems are so stigmatized. People who admit to having an issue are often judged, even if it’s not harshly. Usually, they are looked at in a different way than they were before. I think this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

We need to find a better way to deal with mental health issues. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere close to being an expert, so I really don’t have any ideas on how to make this happen. I think it would help if, as a society, we were more open about these disorders. This would reduce the stigma and hopefully allow more people to get help if they feel they need it.

We also need to emphasize the fact that image is not everything. There are so many more things that are more important. For instance, as generic and boring as the word “nice” is, I think it is better for a person to be truly and honestly nice than “hot.”

This is something we need to communicate better. We also need to focus less on the images around us. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – they all bombard us with society’s image of beauty and it is totally unrealistic. Normal people should not aspire to look like this image. It is impossible and can end in disaster.

We need to take responsibility as a whole and make sure people know early on how important other traits are. The earlier people learn, the better they will be able to handle the pressures of society.

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