Real hot girl shit. Or at least that’s what we told ourselves. It was our mantra as we prepared for a year where we could no longer wear pajama bottoms to class, carefully curate Zoom lighting or turn off our cameras. Where we would no longer exist as two-dimensional faces and instead, where our three-dimensional bodies would be thrown together, after 18 months of hiding, without any other choice but to be seen.
“Real hot girl shit.” We chanted quietly, this of course being a gender neutral state of mind. We manifested it desperately in Target’s dressing room mirror, at our hometown gym, or while we frantically browsed Savage x Fenty online before our flight to BDL. Maybe we believed that we really were hot shit. Maybe we didn’t. Either way, we were eventually thrown onto the violent catwalk that is a college campus.
As I walk down Prospect Street each morning, all I see is a body here, body there, body-ody everywhere. Legs in tiny shorts or thrifted jeans, shoulders exposed or covered, feet in Birkenstocks or boots. People that I’d known from Zoom class are taller or shorter than I’d imagined. Nails are painted, hoops dangle from ears and there is a watch on a wrist. I am both angered and awed by the sheer number of beautiful young adults around me. Skin glows. Hair blows. It’s truly a spectacle to behold.
Everything gets more real on nights out. Being surrounded by people shifts from a passive viewing experience to one that is interactive and tactile. I am reminded that the bodies have a biological impulse to reckon with one another. At Woads or a frat, I push my way through the body-ody-ody. I bump a bicep, wade through waists and smell sticky skin. For many, a large part of the collegiate experience is engaging in the rituals of horny teenagers with all the confusion those can bring. Inevitably, the kissing, cuddling and fornicating ask a lot from our physical form.
Naturally, people have different responses to being a body. Some people revel in the idea of being seen. Others do everything they can to hide. A lucky subset don’t see themselves as characters on an infinite stage, constantly subjected to objectification by others. But I imagine that even for these individuals, it’s hard not to be reminded.
“He’s a skinny legend now.
“She glowed up.”
“I ate too much.”
“They eat too little.”
“Quarantine did him well.”
“Chloe Ting didn’t give me a bubble butt.”
“All I wanted was to hook up.”
“I never want to hook up.”
“The forbidden rice is forbidden because it’s cutting season.”
We hear these words slipped into conversation with harmless intent but the truth is that these casual tidbits are both the expression of and trigger for the often complicated, consuming and painful relationship many people have to their bodies. While many of us deal with disordered eating, self-esteem issues, body dysmorphia, sexual trauma and the plethora of other psychological burdens associated with being a physical being, these comments are only a small fraction of the feelings that we choose to express.
So when I hear these cues, I am reminded to not only see bodies but to wonder about how people see theirs. Do people sit in lectures stressed, insecure or worried that they aren’t beautiful enough? In the dining hall do people feel judged for having a bad hair day or bitten nails? At a party, are strangers struggling with eating or afraid of physical touch? I also wonder if some people go throughout their day without worrying about any of this, and wonder how that might feel. I imagine it would feel good.
As a group of people known for the quality of our minds, it seems as though our bodies should be an afterthought. It seems as though we should spend all of our time burying our heads in history, or participating in politics, rather than calculating the calories in our lunch swipe. Alas, this is not the case. Perhaps it is because Yalies are not just intellectuals, but also high achieving, world-class conformists, who deeply internalize society’s expectations. Perhaps it is just because we are human.
The point is that our bodies are important to us and are thus worthy of deep and sustained consideration. As future leaders, thinkers and moralists, it is our responsibility to be conscious and critical of our bodies’ relationship to the world, each other, and ourselves. When we recognize that systems or behaviors help us more than hurt us, we have an equal responsibility to change.
For example, maybe over dining hall conversations we should talk a little bit less about our new diet. Maybe while walking down Prospect Street we should gently push ourselves to appreciate beauty rather than envying it, or find it in new places all together. Maybe, if we consistently struggle with our bodies, we should seek help from a friend or a therapist.
How we deal with the conundrum of having a physical form is complex, multifaceted and probably different for everyone. The purpose of this essay is not to lay out all the answers but to acknowledge that stepping out of the Zoom box and into the world of bodies is the same as facing any new frontier. It is a novel, intrepid landscape that triggers fear, requires bravery, and begs the question of how we should move forward.
To read more about bodies and being back on campus I encourage these wonderful essays.