Sober Up!

More than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes every year, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Despite this, it is more socially acceptable to binge-drink than it is to stay sober and drink water.

Four or more alcoholic drinks per week is defined as binge drinking, according to NIAAA. Many people don’t even realize that they can be characterized in this way because they think of their behavior as being merely social. That used to be me.

In fact, I used to have a lot more than that and so did my friends. It got to the point where I was having blackouts every time I drank alcohol, even after only two glasses of wine. My blackouts and the alcohol led to really bad anxiety, to the point where I was suicidal the day after I had been drinking. Fortunately, I was – and still am – surrounded by good people who helped me get out of it.

I’ve been sober for seven months.

It wasn’t until I stopped drinking alcohol that I realized how insane and unhealthy the alcohol culture is. Every time I go to the club or a bar, I get asked why I chose not to drink.

The constant refrain is: “Just take one shot with us,” “don’t be a party pooper,” and “relax, have some fun.”

These comments make me feel like I’m the crazy one when I’m taking care of my well-being, while they are functional alcoholics living in denial. People always joke about how they don’t remember anything and laugh at it while they take a shot to “cure” their hangover.

The alcohol culture is so normalized that people are sharing memes on social media saying, “I can’t have just one glass of wine, it’s always two bottles and three people I can never look in the eye again.” They think that this is normal and healthy behavior. I shared my thoughts on this on my social media the other day and one of my followers called me a “Debbie downer” and said that “I’m taking the fun out of memes.” I was speechless.

If someone we know consumes other drugs the way we consume alcohol, we would call it risky behavior and tell that person to seek help. Because alcohol is a legal drug, it makes people think it’s less harmful and more acceptable.

When I tell people I’m sober, the most common response I get is, “Wow, I could never relax and have fun if I wasn’t drinking.” What most people don’t realize is that the problem is way bigger than that. If you can’t relax and have fun around your friends, then you should reevaluate who you surround yourself with.

We should focus more on our mental health rather than trying to drink away our fears and problems. Those fears and problems will only come back 10 times stronger when you wake up the next day and the anxiety hits you.

I’m not saying that staying sober is easy. It’s probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever experienced, but it has made me stronger mentally. I feel a lot better than I did then. More awake. More aware. And so much more resilient.

Stress to Impress

I wake up at 6 a.m. to get ready for school. I get out of class at 10 p.m. When I’m not in school, you can find me in my apartment, studying for my upcoming assignments, writing essays, planning for midterms, working on presentations, and obsessing over quizzes. “Please watch any movie about world history before next class,” said one of my professors last week. When am I supposed to have time to watch a movie when I don’t even have time to eat or sleep?

When I get home from school, I’m exhausted. I’m too tired to shower, too tired to eat. I can’t even have a conversation with my boyfriend because it feels like my head’s about to explode. Even though I’m exhausted, I still can’t sleep. Because at the end of the day, I have a long list of new assignments, essays, midterms, presentations, and quizzes I must prepare for until next week, and every second I spend doing something else but studying, a wave of guilt washes over me. School isn’t easy, and you have to earn a good grade. But at what price?

Anxiety is the leading concern among college students today with 41.6 percent, followed by depression at 36.4 percent, according to American Psychological Association. Thirty-one percent of college students have felt so depressed in the past year that it was difficult to function. On top of that, suicide is the third leading cause of death on college campuses.

As if school doesn’t take up most of our time, the majority of us also have a job (sometimes even a full-time job), children, and relationships – you know, a so-called life. Relationship problems are the third major concern among college students, because when are we supposed to have time for our private life? When we’re not in school, we’re busy either working our butts off, because let’s not forget about those student loans, or we’re busy trying to keep our heads above water and not get anything lower than a B, because that would be a disaster.

The average college student has student loan debt of roughly $17,000. The average student with a postgraduate degree owes around $45,000, according to Pew Research Center. You may have thought that the stress will be over once you graduate, but the ugly truth is that your debt will haunt you for at least the next 10 years of your life.

A good diet, enough sleep, and exercise is crucial to obtain good mental health. I can only speak for myself, but ramen noodles, three hours of sleep, and sitting down in front of my computer all day sounds more like the antithesis of that. I should do better, but I don’t have time.

I wish I had the answer for you, but surviving college without getting a spoonful of anxiety or a pinch of depression is just as likely as RedBull giving you wings.

Pray for me, will you?

The Cost of Size Zero

Every hour, someone dies as a result of an eating disorder. Over 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder today, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). Society blames the media for putting too much pressure on individuals and creating unrealistic standards of how the ideal female body should look like. They blame them for only using unhealthy size zero models in their advertisements. But who is really to blame? The magazines that makes their money on advertisements or the model agencies that push these models to become a size zero?

Today’s fashion industry has created an unhealthy picture of how the ideal fashion model should look like. The ideal height is between 5’9” and 5’11”, and the ideal weight is between 110 to 130 pounds according to Better Business Bureau (BBB). A woman who is 5’10” and weighs 120 pounds has a BMI of 17.2, which is lower than 18.5 and categorized as underweight.

When Hannah was 13 years old, her model agency told her to quit gymnastics. “They pretty much told me that my legs were too big and it wouldn’t go well for me if I didn’t quit. That was when it all started," she said. A year later, only 14 years old, they put her on a strict diet and paid for her personal trainer. When she got sent to castings, companies would tell her that she could have been the perfect fit — if she only lost a little weight. As a result of getting food poisoned, Hannah ended up being hospitalized and was only able to drink blueberry soup for a couple of weeks. The day she could go back home, she was skinnier than ever, and decided to stop by her agency to say hello. “You look amazing!” was the first words she got from her agent. She was now in perfect shape, according to her agency. Today, seven years later, Hannah still suffers from eating disorders and the feeling that she is not good enough.

“I was constantly told that I could’ve been a little smaller," Hannah said. More than six in 10 models have been asked by their agency to lose weight, according to Model Alliance (MA), a volunteer-run advocacy group for models working in the American fashion industry. The requirements from today’s model agencies are unhealthy and can in many cases be the primary cause for eating disorders among models. They break down their confidence by telling them to lose weight and stop eating, to later admire them when they are at their most depressed and unhealthy stage of their lives. If you don't give them what they want, they will ignore you until you do.

A countless number of women today have a dream of becoming a model. Last year, 6.65 million people sat down to watch the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show to admire the beautiful, skinny, smiling women walking down the runway in sparkly wings and extraordinary lingerie. Many women, especially young girls, envy these ultra-thin models and use them as “fitspo” (fitness inspiration), without knowing the consequences that it often comes with.

Italy, Israel and Spain are some of the countries that have stated a law that requires models to show a doctor’s certificate that prove that they are healthy enough to work as a runway model (based on a BMI measurement). Two years ago, France joined the movement. “We want to combat the idea that an agency could urge a model to stop eating; for example, eating cotton balls to lose their appetite, to always lose more weight”, Dr. Oliver Veran said, a French doctor and lawmaker who proposed the bill in France. Agencies that encourage weight-loss and continue to hire “dangerously thin” models will be fined up to 80,000 euros.

The tragic death of the French fashion model Isabelle Caro was what triggered France to make a change. Caro, who released an autobiography called “The Little Girl Who Did Not Want to Get Fat”, became well-known after posing naked in a provocative advertisement against anorexia. On her blog “Anorexia or the hunger to live, take a step toward healing”, she described herself as “a little invisible snowflake in a strong blizzard who is fighting, fighting to finally live, despite years of suffering, and who is crying out to the entire world to say that anorexia is a hell from which you must escape while you still have time.” Caro died in 2010 after fighting anorexia for 15 years.

Even though there have been a big step for a healthier fashion industry, current laws do not apply to the United States and many other countries. Hopefully, the rest of the world will adopt similar laws and the fashion industry will become a healthier and safer place to work.

When Celebrities Shape Opinions

This fall has been a particularly grisly season, with multiple natural disasters and, recently, a man-made one where 58 people were shot dead at a concert. While there has been considerable attention on the latter event, the nation has collectively forgotten about Texas, which is in the process of rebuilding after a devastating hurricane. Instead, the media attention shifted to reporting on how not one, but two Kardashian sisters are pregnant.

Even in the aftermath of the Las Vegas attacks, some headlines exclaimed, “Celebrities React to Vegas Shootings.” The following day after the shooting, Grammy award-winning singer Mariah Carey was interviewed on “Good Morning Britain” about her upcoming Christmas tour, but before she was asked about it, she was asked for her take on the Vegas shootings. A clearly uncomfortable Carey sprawled on her couch had no idea how to respond. She is a celebrity and not an analyst on gun crime.

We should ask ourselves why celebrity culture matters so much. We should also examine how people become famous, because it is usually not so laudable.

Celebrities are quick to sell their soul and entertain voyeurs (which in many cases equals embarrassing themselves). It is reality TV culture. The truth is that having some sort of talent won’t take you far in today’s entertainment industry, because that is not what brings in the big money anymore. Instagram followings matter more.

Thanks to a sex tape, Kim Kardashian-West has a net worth of $45 million and is one of the most-watched people in the world. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi became a New York Times best selling author by getting drunk and embarrassing herself on the TV show “Jersey Shore.” Danielle Bregoli (also known as the “catch me outside” girl) just signed a multi-million-dollar record deal with Atlantic Records. Not because she is talented, but for making herself look like a spoiled idiot on Dr. Phil’s show, and gain a huge following on her social media.

How did we get here? Our generation is incredibly good at spreading information by liking, commenting, and sharing on our social media. Even when we find something stupid, it still gets shared all over – because we find it entertaining, and because we are all voyeuristic and obsessed with social media and fame. Many people forget that all publicity is good publicity and Donald Trump is a great example of this. Sharing articles and commenting “Donald Trump sucks” and such, will only help him generate more traffic, gain more likes and views. The attention we gave him propelled him to fame because it made people wonder if there was a reason others were so obsessed with him. He became the nominee of the Republican platform by using social media the way so many third-rate celebrities do.

Right now, our society is still preoccupied with discussing whether Kylie Jenner and Khloe Kardashian are pregnant than the aftermath of major disasters like the earthquake in Mexico, and hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico. The volume of social media posts and headlines proves the preoccupation with celebrity culture.

We make people who behave badly famous because we crave that kind of news.