At the end of the spring semester, a whole 3 months ago, two very extraordinary and long-wished-for things had happened to me. First, I managed to achieve a GPA of 3.5-something, with no grade lower than a B, for the first semester in my entire time at college. Technically it was the second semester, unless you count organic chemistry, but it was still a long way from that terrible sophomore year when I halfheartedly dragged myself through two twelve-hour semesters and at the end of it all was only too glad to escape school and hide in my bed at home forever.
Secondly, through a combination of stress, increased exercise, and many lunch periods skipped while cramming for my 1 PM capstone lab, I managed to lose almost fifteen pounds in three months. My smallest pair of shorts, which were almost too tight to zip up at my heaviest, now hung loosely around my hipbones. My stomach was newly flat. The first time I raised my arms to shampoo my hair and saw my abdominal pulse, now clearly visible, I spent the night convinced that I was about to die.
No one else commented on my weight loss, though. Did they even notice? And while I was busy congratulating myself on my grades, the rest of my class was getting ready to graduate. Many of them were going to grad school, or medical school, or lucrative jobs. Meanwhile, there I sat, with my scraggly hair and acne-covered face, watching my Facebook feed full of beautiful, happy, successful people.
Something had to change or I was going to snap. So I deactivated my Facebook account. I didn’t really make a fuss about it. I didn’t think anyone would miss me. I deleted my Snapchat app, as well, and my Tumblr, and while I couldn’t quite bring myself to shut down Instagram or Twitter I stopped posting on them for some time.
While a few of my friends told me they hoped I would come back to Facebook soon, only one or two long-distance friends reached out to me via text or email. During those weeks, I logged back on to Twitter occasionally, hoping to find DMs or mentions – something. Nothing appeared.
I was surprised, but to be honest, I shouldn’t have been. After all, I have about 950 Facebook friends, but only about fifteen of those I can really call “friends,” people I could comfortably chat with over a cup of coffee – and only five of those fifteen are close or “best friends,” people I’d feel comfortable (if I weren’t so anxious, anyway) calling or texting on horrible nights when everything is falling apart. This concept of limited social group sizes is called the Dunbar number. Think of it as reading a novel – how many characters can the author add before you start losing interest? If one of my 950 Facebook friends deactivated their account, sadly the chances are pretty slim that I’d even notice, much less care.
It was still hard for me to accept. In the novel that is my life, I’m the main character, but I’m not the main character – or even a very important one – in most others. I was sad but determined. I’m going to lose even more weight, I thought. I’m going to study chemistry and grow out my hair and stop picking anxiously at my skin. I’m going to become smart and beautiful and when people come back to school they won’t even recognize me, I’ll be so much better than I was before.
This was not the way that things would turn out. To be honest, I’ve probably gained that fifteen pounds back and then some. Yes, I reviewed chemistry, but maybe half of what I had hoped to cover. And when I got my traditional end-of-summer haircut, the stylist held up my hair and said, “To get rid of all the split ends I’ll probably have to cut off about an inch, is that okay?” Three months of growth, gone.
The most important consequence of my weeks away from Facebook is that none of these things really matter to me anymore. Particularly not where my appearance is concerned. I can’t begin to tell you the sense of relief I felt when I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted again. The cellulite came back, and the tiny pouch of fat on my stomach, but oddly enough, so did my self-confidence. I bought a big bottle of chamomile shampoo and watched the gold and honey-colored highlights work their way out over the course of the summer. I went to the mall, the fancy grocery store, the consignment store. I ate a hamburger and fries at a place called Mooyah, and watched sitcoms and cooking shows with new friends from my job, and visited my boyfriend’s new apartment in Minnesota, which I can tell you I never expected to do back when I first met him almost seven years ago.
I learned that there’s a time and a place for social media and that I’m fully capable of using it to buy and sell things, and to track down free food, without letting it consume my life. And this summer, somewhere between juggling apartment paperwork and celebrating reaching 60 Ranged on Runescape (I refuse to grow up before my time) I sort of … forgot to worry about how everyone else was doing compared to myself.
I’m not a medical student, or an actor, or a slam poet, and I probably will never be any of those things. But I am employed, safe, and relatively healthy, within shooting distance of my degree, and right now I have a full stomach and people – at least five! – who love me.
Everything’s going to be okay.