When I think back on my pre-teen and teenage years I wish I had more good memories. Having been overweight for the entirety of that time period, it was colored with more downs than ups. Suffering from years of bullying and public humiliation, I still feel the pain and social stigma that came with being physically different than my peers.
By the time I was a junior in high school I was over 300 lbs. My moment of bliss came when I established a group of friends who had a common interest in music and theater. For the first time I had a network of people who I truly counted as friends. I could be myself.
But why did I have to wait until junior year? What could have helped ease the pain of the painful years that preceded 11th grade? Though I’ve done plenty of evolving since 16, I have to admit, the remnants of those difficult years never completely disappears. I have often pondered all the different factors that contributed to my experience since beginning a career as a program director at an all girls high school.
I narrowed my thoughts down to two contributing factors:
- The desire to feel beautiful
- Being in a co-ed atmosphere
While the first may be self-explanatory, I think the second is worthy of reflection. Somehow, the co-ed atmosphere created an added pressure for me and my insecurities. From finding a date to the prom, to feeling the pain of unrequited puppy love, the experience of relating to the opposite sex at school definitely presented a challenge.
I have been truly amazed to witness the different atmosphere that is created in an all female educational setting. Girls seem to be able to define beauty in healthy ways that relate to their character and achievements. In interviews, they seem almost unanimous in the single sex atmosphere contributing to their increased confidence.
I asked a number of my students to share about their own weight issues, what makes them feel beautiful, and how being in an all girls school affects it all. I was overly touched by their candid responses:
“Since about the 8th grade, I have felt conscious about the way I look, especially my weight. Going to public school didn’t help much either. I used to feel fat, ugly, and disgusting. Coming to a new high school, an all girls school, made me feel even more self-conscious. I was going to now go to a school with 800 pretty, skinny girls and I didn’t think that they would accept me.
My opinion soon changed the after the first month of school. Girls stopped doing their hair and worrying about their appearance. People were still making friends, without having the perfect body and clothes. At this school, girls don’t make friends based on who has the best clothes and the best hair. Friends are made on personalities and admirable qualities. I thought would feel self conscious but the new all girls school actually made me feel beautiful.
I have learned to believe that my most beautiful qualities in myself are kindness and generosity, rather than what my weight is. When I was younger, I would always hear people saying what’s on this inside is what counts, but now I truly believe that to be true.” ~ Lily, HS Sophomore
“Going to an all girl school helps a lot because no one is looking at you and judging your outside appearance by “hotness.” You can even eat whatever you want and not feel self-conscious! At lunch, if you have the ravioli with fries and cookies and not the salad with fruit no one is going to look at you differently!” ~ Holly, HS Sophomore
“Going to an all girl’s school allows me to realize that each girl is beautiful in her own way. Seeing girls with no makeup on everyday allows us to get to know that true person. I see the beauty in every girl at my school because we are all vulnerable without our makeup to hide our insecurities. When we are vulnerable, we open up to each other, and our true beauty behind the mascara and lipstick is shown.” ~ Hanna, HS Junior
So where do you weigh in? What makes you feel beautiful? Do you think having boys around at school makes it harder to deal with body image issues? Leave a comment or question!
Stephanie is a service and leadership coordinator at an all-girls high school. She is also an experienced life coach for teens and adults. She can be reached at