Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions of sexual misconduct, abuse, and assault. This article also contains mention of suicide. If these are triggering topics for you, please skip this article or refer to the end for resources.
There is power in testimony. To share an experience and to return to the site of trauma can, in many cases, bring a sense of agency to the abused. In testimony, the silenced regains a voice. And those that are listening witness a glimpse into the pain.
Unfortunately, we are all a witness to the pain felt by so many gymnasts affected by the USA Gymnastics sex abuse scandal. It is one of the largest scandals in sports history, and it continues to unfold.
As a former gymnast, this story hits close to home. I competed in club gymnastics for 10 years, and for a number of years, I attended Olympic coach Marvin Sharp’s gymnastics camp in Indianapolis, IN. In 2015, he was charged with counts of child molestation and sexual misconduct with minors and ended up committing suicide in prison. This began the investigation by The Indianapolis Star that revealed how so many high-level coaches and USAG staff contributed to the abuse of hundreds of female gymnasts.
In 2016, more than 265 women accused USAG and Michigan State University team doctor Larry Nassar of sexually assaulting them. During his week-long hearing, more than 150 testimonies were given by the accomplished women that were abused and forced by USAG to remain silent. Nassar was sentenced to more than 175 years. Last year, the Netflix documentary Athlete Adetailed the history of abuse, the silenced reports, and the Indy Star’s work to uncover this scandal.
This past winter, the scandal continued to unfurl. On February 26th, 2021, NPR released that the 2012 Olympic team coach, John Geddart, was charged with sexual assault, abuse of minors, and human trafficking. Human trafficking refers to the forced labor by minors in extreme conditions, which, unfortunately, in gymnastics, is no surprise. These minors were forced into excessive training to the point of injury with no power to speak up for themselves. The same day of NPR’s release, Geddart took his own life. The women affected by Geddart’s abuse did not have the chance to testify and begin their healing process. And, similar to Sharp, Geddart did not serve his life sentence or even face the charges.
The history of abuse in gymnastics does not stop with big-name coaches and staff members. There are so many instances of college and club coaches, gym owners, and staff members in the gymnastics world that unfortunately contribute to this story. And it goes without saying that the perpetuated abuse culture stems from a poorly run administration that covers up cases rather than calls attention to them.
Gymnasts are at their peak when they’re young. Most gymnasts’ dreams will end at the age of 16, where they’ve either missed their opportunity at an Olympic run, or they’ve started puberty and are becoming “too old” to compete. Gymnasts will spend upwards of 20-25 hours in the gym per week, focusing solely on their pursuit of perfection. At a young age, they’re told that their coaches will lead them to success. Whether that’s restricting their eating, forcing them to train through injury, or making them see doctors that perform osteopathic manipulative medicine (otherwise known as sexual penetration of these athletes), the young girls are forced to submit to whatever it takes to win the medal. And many gymnasts will experience lasting negative effects of gymnastics years after they hang up their grips.
National Sexual Assault Hotline (24 hours): 1-800-656-4673
If you’re a current or former USA Gymnastics member seeking confidential, professional counseling treatment through the Athlete Assistance Fund, fill out to form to be contacted by a care team member to be connected with professional healthcare providers: https://www.phpaafund.org/#!/
Disclaimer: This article often mentions women and female bodies alongside each other. However, we completely understand that not all women have female bodies, and not all of those with female bodies identify as women.
A recent CDC study has reported that after the first month of vaccination against COVID-19, over 79% of reported side effects were reported by women. In addition to various accounts of women themselves describing the severity of their side effects, this study has been raising concerns in many women about whether or not to receive a COVID vaccine.
Personally, when I first heard about this, I thought it was just a coincidence that women were reporting more side effects. However, upon looking into this issue, I’ve realized that there are actually several reasons for why this may be occurring.
One reason could simply be that more women than men are mentioning side effects after getting the COVID vaccine. Women tend to be more likely to address their medical symptoms than men are, so it’s possible that one reason women seem to have more side effects is because more women are actually talking about their side effects.
Still, there could be other reasons that have more to do with the biological differences between male and female bodies. Though not all women have female bodies, those who do tend to have stronger immune systems than people with male bodies. As a result, “XX females” tend to have a greater immune response to viral infections, which results in greater antibody production in females receiving vaccines, not just the COVID vaccine. Even influenza vaccines produce a greater antibody response in people with female bodies, so females facing greater side effects from vaccination is not just unique to the COVID vaccine.
As mentioned previously, though an increased risk for side effects does appear in women and others with female bodies, the chances of a severe reaction to the COVID vaccine are still fairly low. The CDC reminds us that getting vaccinated against COVID still has many benefits, so again, if you are able to receive the COVID vaccine, the thought of potential side effects should not deter you from doing so.
The term FUPA became popularized back in 2018 when Beyoncé’s fourth Vogue cover spread and story were published. The interview focused on her recent pregnancy from 2017 after she gave birth to her third child. In her interview, she begins to discuss her body postpartum. She said: “To this day my arms, shoulders, breasts, and thighs are fuller. I have a little mommy pouch, and I’m in no rush to get rid of it. I think it’s real. Whenever I’m ready to get a six-pack, I will go into beast zone and work my ass off until I have it. But right now, my little FUPA and I feel like we are meant to be.” Beyoncé is no stranger to empowerment; this sentiment of coming to terms with your own body is not new. But what this interview does not elaborate on is what exactly is a FUPA.
FUPA, ie. fat upper pussy (or pubic) area is pretty self-explanatory: it refers to the layer of fat right above a woman’s pubic area. It is medically known as a panniculus. Fat in this area is very common for women, especially women who have had children. The fat serves as a protective layer and is often inevitable after having given birth or gaining weight in general.
Beyoncé, in this one sentence, draws attention to an occurrence that even celebrities are incapable of avoiding: pregnancy changes your body. And this isn’t something to be ashamed of, as she states in her interview. And even if your FUPA is not a result of pregnancy (which is also incredibly common), it’s normal.
The FUPA has been discussed on social media as well. While this Tweet (below) has since been debunked for its inaccuracy regarding anatomy and where the uterus is actually positioned in the body (it’s tucked behind the pelvis, not in front), the sentiment it contains is correct in pointing out that there is a general lack of information regarding female reproductive organs and how the body naturally stores fat. Further, it highlights that the problem is not just misinformation, but also beauty standards that require a flat abdomen, and often exclude postpartum bodies in their definition of beautiful. The person who wrote this Tweet mentions that she “almost killed” herself trying to obtain this standard of a flat, toned stomach. Body standards, social media, and diet culture have created a society that privileges skinny women: women without FUPAs.
Further, the coining of the term FUPA itself is gendered and reflects how the media treats women’s bodies—especially versus men’s. For example, women are expected to and praised for losing their pregnancy weight, and frequently complimented for getting their figure back. Yet when men gain weight due to aging, as well as becoming a parent, they are not considered less physically attractive. For example, in 2019 when photos of Nick Jonas showed that he had gained some weight, media outlets praised him for achieving an attractive “dad bod.” Buzzfeed writer Ryan Schocket’s article was even titled “Nick Jonas Is Currently Thicc And He Is Now My Father.”
Male bodies also come with beauty standards, but these standards pale in comparison to the physical and emotional labor that women are expected to put into their appearance and especially into managing their weight postpartum. The female body is constantly a spectacle, even after something as intimate as childbirth.
It’s about time we eliminate the stigma of postpartum bodies and having a FUPA. And this can only happen if we take the time to learn about our bodies and challenge how fat is weaponized in the media.
Trigger Warning: Anxiety, depression, and mention of suicidal thoughts
I recently overheard a student having a conversation with a member of Cornell Health’s staff. The student expressed how he thought Cornell Health services should be advertised better, as he felt that a lot of students do not take advantage of the CAPS program (Counseling & Psychological Services). The administrator responded that she wasn’t sure why more students don’t go to Cornell health, because there are “all these doctors” waiting around to help people. This statement made me pause. Why was this administrator implying that Cornell Health is somehow overstaffed? Is the building lacking in patients? Are doctors and mental health professionals simply waiting around to treat people? This hasn’t been my experience. The last time I was in a Cornell Health waiting room (pre-COVID), there were so many seats filled that I overheard a doctor gasp and express concern about how many students there were. I also know that many of my friends, acquaintances, and their friends struggle to get appointments with therapists—they’ve been asked to wait weeks to see someone, even after emphasizing how badly they needed an appointment.
Although Cornell Health has done an immense amount of work to make Cornell as safe as possible for us during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are too many instances where they have fallen short. Included are all the testimonies submitted to an anonymous survey responding to the question: “What is an experience (or experiences) you’ve had at Cornell Health?”
Some punctuation marks have been added or removed for grammatical correctness and clarity. Some phrases have been added in brackets for clarity.
I had to wait 5 weeks for an appointment with a Cornell Psychiatrist for a prescription. It was apparently considered non-urgent. Even after these 5 weeks, I did not even end up getting the prescription at the appointment. The doctor said they would write the prescription, but when I went to the pharmacy, I found that it was never even filled out. When I called Cornell Health, I found that they had never filled out the details in their notes such as dosage or instructions, let alone put the prescription into the system. I’m on week 7 now and still don’t have it.
I went to Cornell Health for a speculated STI appointment and had PreP (an HIV preventive drug) pushed aggressively. The nurse I saw tried to peer pressure me into it [by] saying that all the other gay men at Cornell are on it. Later in the same appointment, she tried to shame me into it and [warned] me about stealthing (when a top removed the condom secretly) and [said] that it was common “in the gay community.” I ended up just having a UTI but felt embarrassed throughout my entire appointment and very targeted. The nurse later sent me emails with information on PreP as well.
I started going to counseling at Cornell Health at the end of my fall semester sophomore year. I was also seeing my designated Cornell doctor who started prescribing me medication for my anxiety and depression, but none of the medication he prescribed helped. My mental health started to get concerningly [bad] in December and continued to decline through February. We were sent home in March 2019 for COVID [when] I decided to see a psychiatrist, who helped me get on medication that really helped my depression. But [the medication] drastically increased my anxiety and had some debilitating side effects. I got back to Cornell in the fall of my junior year and had to go back to Cornell Health, as my doctor out of state could not continue my care while I was out of state. I wanted to change my medication because the side effects were interfering with my school work. I waited two weeks to see my assigned doctor who told me he could [no longer] help me due to the nature of my new prescription and would have to refer me to the psychiatrist. To see the psychiatrist I had to make [my] schedule fit a one hour time slot 5 weeks out or wait even longer to get help. The psychiatrist started me on an excruciatingly long weaning off process.
Fast forward to November 2020 and I still am not off the medication, and routinely have to wait 5 weeks in between psychiatry appointments. After waiting 5 weeks, I get a call 30 minutes before my appointment saying the psychiatrist cannot see me and [I] would have to reschedule for another 4 weeks out. I have had several anxiety attacks in the weeks leading up and could not wait this long, so naturally, I panicked. The receptionist on the phone was very stern and not at all comforting. The only way she said she could help me was by letting me see a therapist who I had never spoken to [before]. So, I spoke to the therapist, and she said she would look into finding me an appointment because they (theoretically) save appointment spaces for these kinds of emergencies. I heard nothing from her in the time frame in which she said I would. I had uncontrollable crying spells for the next few days because I felt so alone and helpless. My own therapist later told me she would work on it, and I heard nothing. About a week later, the psychiatrist called me on a random school night at about 5pm to talk about my medication, but I had already decided that it would be within my best interest to go home for the remainder of the semester and seek care that could be more hands on and available.
The fact that Cornell health offers you 25 minute sessions every other week is a joke. Every therapist outside of Cornell Health who I have talked to about this has literally laughed out loud. It is just enough time to say, “yeah I feel awful, depressed, and have regular panic attacks. Ok, see you next week.” I was talking to my therapist once about a past relationship I was in and then in the last 2 minutes she said, “well that sounds like emotional abuse.” She never brought up the relationship again nor did she ask me if that was something I wanted to discuss, as if that wasn’t a traumatic experience that greatly contributed to my mental health.
It’s been pretty garbage. Gendered diagnoses that stigmatize men’s mental health issues. For example, men on my [athletic] team were deemed as medically malnourished during sports clearance, but were allowed to compete that season (even as incoming freshmen). Women on my team would never be allowed to compete if considered underweight and would have to undergo many other examinations and nutrition appointments.
I went to Cornell Health on Tuesday and they diagnosed me with mono by Thursday. I would say this was a pretty quick turnaround [compared to] my friend who had mono at the same time as me, but was told she did not have mono. She ended up having to go home because she was so sick and then was diagnosed at home. Cornell Health was proactive about getting me the medication I needed, speaking with my parents on the phone, and emailing my teachers.
I made an appointment at Cornell Health, and in my session, I told my counselor that I was having thoughts of ending my life (I’m okay now but clearly wasn’t at the time). In my later sessions, I was still having those thoughts, but he never asked about them again or made sure I was okay in that regard, and I found that really confusing.
I told my therapist about some abusive relationships I’ve been in, and when I finished explaining, my therapist said, “have you ever heard of gaslighting?” I told her that I had and we discussed further. In my next session three weeks later, we were discussing those same relationships, and she said “have you ever heard of gaslighting?” She [had clearly] forgotten about our previous session and didn’t remember much about my situation. There have been multiple instances like this one that indicated she was never truly paying attention to me. I feel that Cornell Health needs to give us longer sessions (I could only get in for twenty minutes every few weeks) and needs to hire more doctors.
Cornell Health ALWAYS tells me what I have must be mono EXCEPT for the time when it ACTUALLY was mono, when they said it couldn’t be that.
I write this not to discourage anyone from using Cornell Health’s services—if you need any sort of help or support, you should absolutely seek it (resources are listed below). However, I believe that Cornell Health can do much better. We are college students that study at an intense school where the prevalence of anxiety and depression is higher than it should be. On top of that, we are currently in a pandemic, which has shown to act as a risk factor for the onset of disorders such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders or to exacerbate pre-existing conditions. If there’s a time to take action, it’s now. Cornell Health, do better.
For urgent services, you may reach the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the 24/7 National Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741, the 24/7 National Lifeline Crisis Chat service here, or call 911.
Refer to the CDC’s Mental Health Tools and Resources page here for education on topics related to mental health.
For support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one relating to disordered eating or an eating disorder, you may contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline. You may call (800) 931-2237, text (800) 931-2237 from the hours of 3-6pm Monday through Thursday, or you can access the chat feature here. For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
If you are a member of Cornell University, Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is available to all students at Cornell University. If you feel you are in need of psychological services, you may call to set up an appointment with CAPS at 607-255-5155 or visit their website here. For urgent services, you may reach the Cornell Health 24/7 phone consultation line at 607-255-5155 and press 2.
I want to start this piece by saying that this is supposed to be fun.
The truth is that I have no idea how to do this. I don’t really have any secrets to dealing with all of the big and terrible things that have come with a global pandemic. I’m not sure that anyone really does at this point. I can’t offer support to students who are struggling to pay for their classes, who are worried about having a safe place to live, who are stuck in jobs that endanger them, who are worried about getting sick or about sick friends and family members. I wish I could. The best I can do is to say that college is stressful. I don’t think anyone imagined this level of fear for our mental, emotional, and bodily safety going into it. But here are a few things I’ve learned after more than a year of doing this.
Get outside every day if you can
This is a big one. I don’t always honor this one myself, but that’s sort of how I know it’s a good one–because I definitely notice it when I don’t get outside during the day, and especially if I don’t for a couple of days. Ideally, I like to go for a run, talk a long walk or bike ride, or spend an afternoon in the sun with friends. However, I don’t always have the time or energy, so I sometimes make do with just literally stepping outside. Whatever the weather, I try to take myself outside, even if that just means being a few feet from my front door. It helps me feel more grounded.
Be kind to yourself
Treating yourself well is a good rule of thumb in general. But especially during a global health crisis, it’s helpful to try to remember that you are living through a global health crisis. If you procrastinate, or sleep in, or eat two boxes of mac and cheese in a row (not from personal experience), don’t judge yourself too harshly. Things are harder than usual, and therefore, you should be kinder to yourself. This thing isn’t over, and the longer it goes on, the greater the toll it takes, at least for me. Don’t forget to take care of yourself in the best way you can right now.
Make a schedule of your deadlines
Logistical tips can be sort of annoying, but this is one that I find to be super helpful. Whether it’s hard just getting by in your classes, or you’re thriving, it’s never a bad idea to make sure you know when your crunch weeks are well in advance. Especially now, I’m really grateful I have this protocol to follow. I’ve been having a hard time not procrastinating and staying on top of everything, but sticking to the bare minimum of getting my assignments done on time works well for me. I remind myself that things won’t be this hard forever, and I try to just hang in there.
Take advantage of Zoom University
Zoom U sucks. Pretty much everyone agrees. But just because it’s not ideal doesn’t mean there aren’t things about it that are kind of nice. I try to make myself a nice breakfast most mornings–and sometimes I do it while I’m in class (please don’t tell my professors). I can go for impromptu runs in the middle of the day with my housemates because I don’t have class, and it’s easy to just change into workout gear when you’re already at home. I’m taking classes with earlier start times than I normally would because on a bad day, I can take them from my bed. Yeah, this whole COVID thing is pretty awful, and it’s exhausting and scary and just really draining. But there are some silver linings if you’re a student right now, so try to take advantage of those while you can.
Listen to your body
The idea of listening to yourself may not seem very controversial, but I actually think it sort of is. University students, especially Cornell students like myself, are taught to push ourselves, to always give 110% to our assignments, to not procrastinate, and to manage our time well. We’re told that if we do all of these things, we’ll be successful. Honestly, in general, I haven’t found that to be untrue. I do strive to do all of those things. However, this semester in particular, I’m also learning to give myself a break. Saturday afternoons have become my time where I just get cozy, drink tea, and watch a movie. There are days where I stay in my pajamas all day. I’m not saying you should procrastinate, or shouldn’t work on your time management, because I do think those practices can be very helpful for dealing with stress and improving your mental health, but don’t let them work against you by beating yourself up when you “waste” a few hours watching Netflix in bed.
Put on an outfit
This one is short. Get dressed. It doesn’t have to be every day, but for some reason, showering, getting ready like I’m leaving the house, and putting fresh clothes on makes a huge difference. I highly recommend giving this a try if you’re having a tough day, week, or year.
Curate your space
Another simple suggestion. As college students, dorm rooms are supposed to be these temporary spaces where we sleep. They’re usually not really built for hanging out in. Everyone always says don’t study where you sleep–but, obviously, that’s all changed now. I started out my academic year in a room the size of a closet. I don’t live in a dorm, but most students aren’t living in the most luxurious of accommodations in general. Still, it’s helpful to recognize that you spend a lot of time at home, or in your room. Find ways to make the space work for you–putting up a new poster, buying some ambient lighting, picking wildflowers, getting essential oils, a humidifier, or whatever makes your space more appealing to you.
Talk to friends and family
You’re not alone out there. Everyone else in the world is going through this, even if our experiences are different. Keep in touch with people that bring you comfort so you can support each other. If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to old friends you haven’t talked to in a while, or people you want to get closer to.
Don’t compare yourself to others
We’re all in this together, but we’re not all going through the same thing. Don’t imagine your circumstances are identical to everyone else who seems to be thriving. They may be struggling in ways you can’t see, or maybe they’re doing great. But that doesn’t mean you need to be doing great, too. COVID impacts people in different ways depending on circumstances, background, resources. If you’re scrolling through social media, don’t feel bad that you haven’t learned a new language or found a new best friend in the past year. Just try to be okay with where you are without making a comparison.
Lastly, put on a mask. We all just want this to be over, and being careful now means that we can start thinking about a time when we don’t all have to be wearing masks all the time; they may be annoying, but the annoyance is a small price to pay to protect the health and safety of our communities.
Reserved. Quiet. A pleasure to have in class. Needs to participate more.
These were all used to describe me throughout my primary and secondary school experiences. They are, however, not the words that one would expect to describe a child with ADHD. Nonetheless, I was recently diagnosed with Combined Presentation ADHD.
Contrary to popular belief, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by much more than hyperactivity or trouble focusing in class. Under the surface, people with ADHD struggle with executive dysfunction, fatigue, impulsivity, emotional regulation, working memory, and more.
Those with ADHD are considered neurodivergent. This is a label that also includes other neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, OCD, Dyslexia, Tourette’s, etcetera. Mental illnesses such as Depression, Anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder are considered “neuroatypical,” while those without either are considered “neurotypical.”
In the past, ADHD was solely characterized by hyperactivity. If you were inattentive but not hyperactive, you had ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). With the publication of the DSM-5, the diagnostic condition changed to identify three subtypes of ADHD. This altogether eliminated the diagnosis of ADD by characterizing the three presentations of ADHD as Inattentive, Hyperactive/Impulsive, and Combined (both inattentive and hyperactive).
Several conditions are comorbid to ADHD, including (but not limited to) Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, Auditory Processing Disorders, Anxiety, and Specific Learning Disability.
That was a mouthful.
The common misconceptions about ADHD are harmful to both diagnosed and undiagnosed individuals. Those in school settings are often labeled “unmotivated” or considered bad students when, in fact, they are eager to learn but have trouble with memory, attention, and initiating tasks such as homework or note-taking. Individuals are considered “lazy” when they have trouble taking showers or brushing their teeth regularly due to executive dysfunction.
All too often, neurodivergent and disabled people are left out of the conversation, even conversations about their own communities. Organizations like Autism Speaks are designed by abled individuals to allow them to dominate the conversation, rather than letting disabled or neurodivergent voices speak up. You will rarely see a neurodivergent person diagnosing someone else as neurodivergent. Our communities are dominated by non-disabled and neurotypical people.
Furthermore, ADHD is severely undiagnosed in girls and people of color, largely due to the stereotypes surrounding this disorder. ADHD is not just the young, white boy being disruptive in an elementary school classroom. Bias clouds physicians who do not learn that behaviors present differently in those from marginalized groups and diverse cultures.
We are taught to behave, sit still, and act “like a lady” in order to fulfill our role in the patriarchal society we live in.
Girls who grow up with ADHD are often forced to mask it more than young boys. We are taught to behave, sit still, and act “like a lady” in order to fulfill our role in the patriarchal society we live in. This conformity often coincides with hiding the most commonly identifiable ADHD traits, such as fidgeting or impulsivity. We live behind the shame of being too loud, fidgeting too much, being too much, while boys are told that it is normal and that “boys will be boys.”
According to the CDC, boys are 7.3% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. The National Center for Health Statistics adds that White and Black children are significantly more likely to be diagnosed than Asian and Hispanic children.
Is this because of a genuine disparity in the population of those who have ADHD, or is this a systemic issue permeating our ability to acknowledge that neurodiversity is diverse? I mean, it’s in the name. So what makes this so hard?
Going forward, I challenge you to look beyond the statistics and stereotypes. See neurodiversity for what it truly is and neurodiverse people for what we can truly be. Neurodiversity is something to be praised and loved, not hidden and admonished.
Trigger Warning: this article discusses eating disorders and body image.
Everyone can appreciate a good ice breaker question. The rare thought-provoker can save you from having to listen to the all-too-monotonous answers of your classmates during syllabus week. One of my professors tried to get creative by asking us “how have your eating habits changed during COVID?” This question took me aback. What a specific, personal, and possibly triggering question to ask. And this same question was asked again in another one of my classes later that same day. I assume that my professors had nothing but good intentions. But from their perspectives as privileged, white men, they may not have understood how inappropriate such a question could be–especially now.
Why is there such an emphasis on eating and body image during the pandemic? I remember downloading Tik Tok during quarantine in March and being bombarded with Chloe Ting challenges, complaints about post-COVID weight gain, before and after pictures, etc. And these trends have not alleviated. Recently, people have been hula hooping to lose inches on their waists. I feel like every day I hear someone mention intermittent fasting. #WhatIEatInADay is making its way around social media with people listing their calories for the day, and some of these numbers are dangerously low. Diet culture has seemingly always existed in the United States, but why has there been an upsurge since the beginning of the pandemic?
Perhaps the danger that COVID poses to our bodies is festering in the American Psyche. As Lalita Abhyankkar writes in “Anorexia in the Time of COVID,” “eating disorders are only partially about body dysmorphia and body image. They often stem from an attempt to achieve control while in a state of anxiety or uncertainty.” Therefore, the anxieties that come with living through a pandemic are risk factors for those who suffer from eating disorders or struggle with body image. Since the beginning of 2020, people have experienced isolation due to quarantine and social distancing. Most of us had to stay at home near full-time. We’ve had to restrict our grocery runs, so a lot of us have been at home with overly-stocked fridges and pantries. Those who are underweight or obese have been added to the list of those at risk. And, of course, we’ve been exposed to the endless discourse on social media surrounding weight gain and weight loss (both pandemic-related and otherwise). These examples do not constitute a comprehensive list of risks that the pandemic has posed to those with eating disorders. There is an undeniable overlap between COVID and these disorders as one exaggerates the other.
This overlap can be seen in the way medical care resources have been exhausted as a result of both afflictions. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that they received a 70% increase in the number of calls and chat inquiries from 2019 to 2020. Just as we saw hospital beds full of COVID patients, inpatient eating disorder units became full. Those unable to receive inpatient care were put on waiting lists. Clearly, the stress that COVID has put on our healthcare system has extended to eating disorders and mental health in general.
When we speak of the pandemic, we obviously refer to the spread of COVID throughout the world. But perhaps the implications of our use of “pandemic” should include the current mental health crisis associated with COVID. Pathologies like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders seem to be comorbid with living through a pandemic, so we should acknowledge and attend to these serious issues. Just as you put on a mask to protect your family and strangers on the sidewalk, or socially distance from your friends, you should make it common practice to check in on yourself and others. We must be aware that this pandemic is far more widespread in ways we don’t always consider.
For urgent services, you may reach the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the 24/7 National Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741, or the 24/7 National Lifeline Crisis Chat service here.
For support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one, you may contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline. You may call (800) 931-2237, text (800) 931-2237 from the hours of 3-6pm Monday through Thursday, or you can access the chat feature here. For crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.
If you are a member of Cornell University, Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is available to all students at Cornell University. If you feel you are in need of psychological services, you may call to set up an appointment with CAPS at 607-255-5155 or visit their website here. For urgent services, you may reach the Cornell Health 24/7 phone consultation line at 607-255-5155 and press 2.
Disclaimer: Please note that the following article uses the word “women” to largely refer to cisgendered women; this is not meant to be dismissive of transgender and gender nonbinary experiences. We acknowledge that the discourse surrounding sexual and reproductive health greatly omits a diverse community of transgender and gender nonbinary people whose needs may have similarities and differences to the needs of cisgendered women.
If I asked you whether you use birth control, you would most likely respond in one of two ways: “Yes, I use the pill” or “No, I don’t use the pill.” Nowadays, it is not at all uncommon to equate the concept of birth control solely with the contraceptive pill. This assumption is risky because it negates not only the possibility of the wide array of other birth control methods that exist, but also the seeking of help by women and individuals with uteruses who are unhappy with the side-effects of their hormonal contraception.
Let me share with you something that you have not heard before: if you have been taking hormonal birth control for say, four years, you have not had a real period in four years. That’s right—the monthly bleed that you experience is not real menstruation. It does not result from ovulation, nor does it involve real estrogen or progesterone. Instead, the pill is derived from steroid drugs that function as a hormone replacement not greatly differing from the one supplied to menopausal women.
As Dr. Lara Briden claims in her best-selling book The Period Repair Manual, “Pill bleeds are pharmaceutically induced bleeds which are arbitrarily coordinated into a 28-day pattern to reassure you that your body is doing something natural. Having the occasional pill bleed is necessary to prevent breakthrough bleeding, but it doesn’t have to be monthly. A pill bleed could just as easily be every 56 days or every 83 days, or any number of days you’d like.” In fewer words, hormonal birth control causes you to bleed monthly, but relies on shutting down your ovaries and hormones. This made sense decades ago, in the 1950s, when contraception was illegal and hormonal birth control was starting to be developed. The pill was proclaimed a cure for irregular periods and other “womanly” disorders (rather than for pregnancy prevention) with the sole purpose of attaining legality. Without a doubt, the emergence and legalization of contraception was once a highly significant step towards the feminist movement and women’s jurisdiction over their bodies. But seventy years later, it should no longer be acceptable to sacrifice women’s overall health, nor to disregard less harmful anti-contraception in order to prevent pregnancy.
But why exactly should you want to quit the pill? After all, the pill keeps you free of worry, gives you clear skin, regulates your periods, subdues your monthly pains, and even makes PCOs manageable. And your doctor seems to agree! Or is not hormonal contraception the first solution offered by a medical professional when you complain of any of the former maladies? What if I told you that the contraceptive pill is not a permanent treatment for any of those, but rather a band-aid that conceals your underlying health issues while unquestionably worsening your overall wellness? What if I told you that you can have regular, painless periods, reverse PCOs, and effectively (and conveniently) avoid pregnancy?
If you are not yet convinced that you should quit hormonal contraception, let me introduce to you the lengthy list of its short and long-term health effects. We are all familiar with the more commonly reported symptoms of long-term pill usage: depression, loss of libido, weight gain, blood clots, and hair loss. Lesser known is the increase in breast cancer risk by three times while on a high estrogen drug, as well as high blood pressure, thyroid dysfunction, digestive problems, yeast infections, and many other illnesses. The higher depression risk had been more of an anecdotal than scientific fact up until 2016 when the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry established a significant correlation between girls and women relying on hormonal birth control and clinical diagnoses of depression. And may I emphasize that this study only took into account those women diagnosed, and not the many more who experience mood changes but do not (or cannot) seek help.
Post-pill side effects are not any better. After stopping taking the pill, polycystic ovaries for the first months (or longer depending on how long a person took the drug) are not uncommon. Neither is acne, post-pill PMS, or missing periods. After so many years without ovulating, women who are trying to conceive without success are sold fertility treatments as the only option. Still, you may be reluctant to go off the pill because you were prescribed it for reasons (which you thought to be) beyond your control. The truth is that if you were prescribed hormonal birth control at a young age to regulate your period, you likely only had to wait a few more years for the newly emergent hormones of estrogen and progesterone to self-adjust. And if you suffer from painful heavy periods, PCOs, or even endometriosis, I highly encourage you to read Dr. Briden’s book. In it, she describes natural and highly effective methods to completely heal (rather than placing a band-aid on them) these maladies. From an absolutely anti-inflammatory diet to supplementation of Zinc and Magnesium, The Period Repair Manual will teach you exactly how to take back the reins of your health.
By now, you may still have three questions: one, does a healthy period really matter so much anyway? Two, what other effective yet convenient birth control methods are out there then? And three, what about all the beneficial aspects of the pill that my doctor has talked about? To answer the first question, your period is, in the words of Dr. Briden, your monthly report card. It is a representation of your general wellness. A healthy woman will have regular, smooth and painless menstruations. If you are unhealthy in any way—whether under eating, under significant stress, or consuming a highly inflammatory diet—your monthly report card will not fail to show so. Plus, progesterone, one of the hormones involved in your menstrual cycle, improves brain health, hair growth, and combats inflammation, among other benefits. If at any point you do decide that the pill is no longer for you, I urge you to not postpone your natural period repair since the longer you wait, the more troublesome and difficult to reverse your issues will become.
Regarding the other birth control options in existence, know that outside of other hormonal alternatives (including but not limited to injections, the “mini” pill, and implants), there exist at least five other ways, ranging in efficacy and convenience of course, to prevent pregnancy. The least unreliable ones include the “pull-out” method and spermicide, but methods with a failure rate even lower than that of the contraceptive pill include male and female condoms, the copper IUD, diaphragms and cervical caps, and the Fertility Awareness Method. Lastly, the benefits that you associate with the pill (namely preserved fertility and postponed menopause) are based on the outdated and now disproved concept that women’s ovaries eventually exhaust their eggs.
This article would not be complete without a brief discussion of the gender disparity between women’s and men’s birth control choices. Though it is unquestionable that a woman who solely relies on a man’s cooperation for birth control is at a huge disadvantage to say the least, it is similarly interesting to note that there exists technology for male hormonal birth control which continues to stay off the market. Why? It is highly dubious that men would agree to shut down their hormones, experience low libido, and suffer depression among other ailments in the name of contraception. And to be completely fair: why should they have to? By the same token, why should women have to?
All this having been said, I want to stress the socioeconomic privilege that those women who can even ponder whether hormonal contraception is for them have. Birth control in any shape continues to be representative of women’s autonomy over their own bodies, and that must continue to be celebrated. My only argument is that it is now 2020—not 1950, a time when contraception was illegal and when the pill was the most convenient option to prevent pregnancy. Let us keep in mind that for reproductive health to be attained, eliminating the very things that make us female (at least biologically) is not the answer. For this reason, the privilege of choice—a consequence of resources and education—is more crucial than ever before.
(For more information on quitting hormonal birth control, what a healthy period is like, and treatments for all the maladies discussed above, make sure to read Dr. Briden’s The Period Repair Manual)
It’s time we get #real about the topic of body insecurities: a topic that is so prevalent among the world of female athletes, but rarely touched upon. There is a constant binary created within the athletic world for females. We’re constantly training to build up our muscles to become powerful and strong, while the world tells us to make sure we’re remaining skinny enough to fill the feminine role that society expects of women. It’s time we’re not silent on these issues, and use our voices to get #real.
I felt pressured to be able to fit a certain size, eat a certain amount, or look a certain way despite all the hard work I was doing in training.
As a collegiate pole vaulter, and former gymnast, I have spent my whole life trying to fit into society’s standards, always wanting to hide my muscles and strong build, rather than embracing what it is that allows me to fly through the air. I felt pressured to be able to fit a certain size, eat a certain amount, or look a certain way despite all the hard work I was doing in training. Society’s expectations and lack of encouragement for young girls to push themselves in sports leads to many girls dropping out of sport earlier on in their careers. A study done as recently as June of 2020 released a report that, “among girls who have participated in sport, one in three leave sport by their late teens. By comparison the dropout rate for teen boys aged 16-18 is only one in 10” (Canadian Women and Sport). There is also a prevalence of eating disorders and mental health issues as a result of these pressures that surround female body insecurities in athletics. In a report published in 2004, there were findings of “42% of elite female athletes in aesthetic sports and 24% of female endurance athletes show symptoms of having an eating disorder” (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14712163/).
Former USC volleyball player, Victoria Garrick, is a social media influencer that is advocating for this change among female athletes. I stumbled upon her podcast, REALPOD, which champions being real about mental health and body image in athletics. The podcast interviews many inspirational guests, forming real conversations about success and failure, as well as many of the challenges of life. Garrick highlights her change in attitude towards her body throughout her social media platforms, saying that she used to downplay her strength, as she wanted to look like the girls who didn’t play sports. Now she pushes girls and followers to challenge their limits when it comes to training, hoping that female athletes choose to honor all the hard work they’ve done by loving the body they’re in.
Let’s get #real about females in athletics.
What if we as female athletes, and we as women, didn’t work out to lose weight, but instead to become strong? What if we ate to fuel our bodies, rather than to detox/lose weight/become lean like society says we should? Or what if we didn’t train because we had to, but rather train because we want to, approaching exercise and sport with a sense of gratitude for our abilities and our bodies? Let’s get #real about females in athletics. Let’s be strong. Let’s be loud about these topics and speak up to our teammates whenever the chance arises. Let’s lead by example and embrace insecurities and imperfections. I’m here to say: feel free to lift more than the guys in the weight room. Feel encouraged to eat until you’re full after practice. Feel inspired to put on your uniform (whenever you finally get the chance), and look in the mirror, and love the freaking strong woman you are <3.