What Health Education Taught Me

I was nearing the end of 7th grade when it happened for the first time. I was getting ready for school and glanced at my reflection in the mirror. Something seemed different, so I paused to take a better look. I look fat, I thought to myself.    

Something miraculous occurred that day, because my next thought was, No, I'm not fat, this is body dysmorphia. If I felt and looked normal yesterday, there is no way I could suddenly be fat today. I have my 6th grade Health class to thank for that moment.   

In 6th grade, everyone dreaded going to Health class. It was common knowledge that everything we learned in Health, from talks about drugs to sexual education, was "stupid". While I outwardly expressed the same views to my peers, I inwardly found everything we learned in Health fascinating.  

Amongst the many topics we learned about in Health class was body dysmorphia. We learned about anorexia, bulimia, "manorexia," and other anxiety-based eating disorders. I was fascinated by the idea that someone could look in a mirror and see an altered version of themselves. 

Then, a year later, it happened to me. I looked in the mirror, and saw someone who was "fat". As an anxious and insecure 7th grader, there is a good chance that this one negative thought could have turned into more negative thoughts, and taken me down a dangerous and unhealthy path. But because I had already learned about body dysmorphia, I was able to recognize my own irrational thought, and simply discard it.    

I am now twenty-two years old, and there are still moments when I look in the mirror and feel dissatisfied with my appearance. But just like that day in 7th grade, I am able to take those thoughts and rationalize them. I sometimes even laugh about them.  

Good health education, including knowledge about safe sex, drug use, mental illness, healthy eating, and exercise, is essential for pre-teens. The chances are extremely high that pre-teens will encounter challenges related to one or more of these topics, and being well informed can change the course of a life. I know it changed mine.  

 

My name is Melanie and I'm twenty-two years old. I graduated from Northwestern University in 2014 with a major in English and a minor in African Studies. Curretly pursuing a dual degree in Special Education and Social Work at Bank St. Graduate School and Columbia University.