Growing up, we are conditioned to believe that prom will be the best night of our lives. From the dresses to dancing the night away with our best friends and dates, Hollywood has capitalized on the idea of prom oh so well – and many of us have bought into it.
By the time I got to my senior year, there were only two things my friends and I could talk about: the stress of applying to college, and the anxiety of going to prom. We were worried about who would ask us, and if anyone would ask us, but half of us didn’t even care about that – we just wanted our pictures to look great. I secretly fell into this group. My worries weren’t about showing up dateless or about my dress being the same as someone else’s – what kept me up late at night was my weight, and my anxiety over how I would look in my prom dress.
Growing up in a suburban town on Long Island, my weight was always an issue. I was surrounded by the thinnest, most athletic girls, and it seemed like no matter how much they ate (or didn’t eat), I always stood out the most. Not only was I in the group of the tallest girls in my class, but I was one of the curviest. Back before bodies of all shapes and sizes were celebrated, I was constantly down on myself for not looking like the girls on the front page of my favorite magazines or the ones that walked the halls of my school.
Every time my friends and I went shopping, I stuck to accessories because I was embarrassed I couldn’t fit into the same clothes they could, and I was haunted by being bullied in middle school. You haven’t lived until one of the most popular girls in school tells your neighbor that your new nickname is “Roly Poly” because of how big your “chipmunk cheeks” and thighs are.
So when it was time for prom, I felt as though I needed a win. I always put every effort I could into academics, and played the overachiever role very well. But for one night, I wanted to feel beautiful instead of smart. I wanted my Cinderella story moment.
So the two months leading up to prom, I dieted. Hardcore and unhealthily. Because I was so involved in school activities, my schedule began at six AM, and most nights, I didn’t make it home until nine or ten PM. During the day, I didn’t have a lunch period because I filled it with an extra class so that I could graduate with extra English credits. This made it easy to diet. During the day, all I would consume was a breakfast bar and yogurt, except for the days I needed extra fuel for a test – then I would make a salad. My friends were picking up burritos and drinking Starbucks Frappes in class, and I always turned them down. Eventually, I got tired of answering why I wasn’t placing orders, so I started requesting low-cal fruit smoothies.
When I got home, I would barely eat half of my dinner because I had homework to finish, and I would reassure my mother that it was too late to eat a heavy meal. If that didn’t work, I would tell her I was still full from when we ordered food at my committee or town boards meetings. The fact of the matter was, I wasn’t even eating there because I would reassure them that my mother cooked amazing dinners at home and I didn’t want to be too full to eat dinner at home.
Two months before prom, I purchased my dress and I loved it. I was so excited to wear it. By the end of my crash dieting, I had lost close to 15 pounds. The week leading up to prom, I cut my meals down even more, and I was proud that I had to get my dress taken in because of how loose it had gotten since I bought it.
The day of prom, not only did I not eat anything, but I didn’t consume any fluids as well. That year, we were hit with a heat wave, and it was one of the hottest June days ever. Between not eating and standing outside for hours taking pictures in the heat, it was only a matter of time before I got sick. While dancing, I got so dizzy that I almost passed out on the dance floor. The rest of the night, I held court at my table, blaming my heels and tired feet for my inability to break it down on the dance floor. By the end of the night, I could only muster up the energy to stand on my chair and sing “Sweet Caroline” with everyone else.
At the end of the night, I ended up receiving the biggest shock ever. A guy I knew and admired because of how smart he was told me that he was too intimidated to ask me to prom because he thought I might have had a line of guys waiting to go with me. I had never given him a second thought because he was too cool for me (or so I thought). It was in that moment that the literal weight of what I had done rushed forward, and instead of going to an after prom kickback, I found myself in a bathroom stall asking my dad to come pick me up as the DJ called for the last dance.
I no longer felt proud – I felt ashamed. As I received compliments from my friends and people I had never spoken to about how slim I looked, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed at the drastic lengths I went through just for one night. I had gotten the reaction I wanted, and I expected to feel beautiful. Instead, I felt like the biggest fraud in the world. I was always the girl to tell my friends they were pretty just as they were, to give themselves a break, that if the boys they were crushing on didn’t crush back it was their loss. But I was incapable of giving myself the same break or love. For years, I let my insecurities about my body and shape craft this image of myself that wasn’t healthy.
The fact of the matter is, it’s okay to lose weight to feel comfortable and confident in your own skin. But it’s important to do it the healthy way. Crash dieting just to feel pretty only allots a short term fix, but it doesn’t fix the problem at hand. Looking back at my 17 year old self, I can’t even begin to tell you all how much I would have changed.
I know you may read this and not want to hear you’re beautiful as you are, because if you don’t feel that way, hearing it from a stranger just doesn’t cut it. But take it from someone that evolved from the nickname Roly Poly… there are so many things that will make you feel beautiful besides the number of pounds you are on a scale.