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Authentic Eagles: Hannah Bowlin on High Expectations

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Hannah Bowlin, MCAS '17

To say I had high expectations for Boston College would be an understatement. As a senior in high school, I fully anticipated doing a 180 as a freshman in college. I would be “cool” not a band geek, “thin” not pudgy, and “confident” not self-conscious. I hoped my life would turn into a human version of extreme home makeover and I would go from geek to chic in a matter of weeks. My friends would be beautiful, intelligent, and witty, and we would all get along effortlessly. Retrospectively, this was a naïve way to approach freshman year, but as a caboose for most of my life, the thought of finally becoming a steam engine made me starry-eyed.

The first month of freshman year demonstrated quite clearly that my steam engine dream would not come easily. I was discouraged by my lack of friendships, my inability to control my weight, and my debilitating self-consciousness. I wanted desperately to change, and I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I was the same as I had ever been: I didn’t have many close friends, I was always socially on the margins, and I was extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. In a desperate attempt to counteract these seeming personal stagnations, I made a pact with myself to lose weight and to make friends. It didn’t matter to me the kind of friends; just that they were beautiful, fun, and could do my hair before going out.

The weeks that followed were filled with regimented eating, excessively working out, and attempting to hang out with anyone I could. My days revolved around going to the Hut, eating salads, and displaying myself as pretty and cool to those around me. This superficiality wore on me. I began to feel as if I had two separate lives: one inside my head and one worn on the outside. After a few weeks my plan began backfiring. I didn’t find satisfaction in superficial friendships. Without the support of my family, I lost my footing and began spiraling downward.

Instead of eating on a healthy schedule I began binge eating in the privacy of my room and instead of continuing these surface-level friendships I had made, I avoided social interaction at all costs. It got to the point where I distanced myself from my family because I was so frustrated with my lack of collegiate social interaction. My bodily insecurities increased as I lost social validation and confidence. My short-lived front of beauty and popularity cracked and broke down as I gained weight from the binging and felt the few connections I had made slip away.

My high expectations of collegiate friendships and self-worth ultimately knocked me down. I set my sights on idealistic relationships and a perfect outside image.When I couldn’t easily attain these things, I crumpled. The natural façade of BC  worsened my unrealistic expectations. I found an abundance of social pressures and a lack of resources for freshman women at the time. I also felt an inconsistency with BC’s message of authentic relationships and the lived experience of being a freshman. I struggled with figuring out who I was as an individual, who I wanted to surround myself with, and what I was doing at BC.

Sophomore year I set out looking for deeper connections with others and myself, so I got more involved with clubs I cared about. BC EMS, Chorale, and the Arrupe International Immersion Program were central in finding true friendship and myself.

Through Arrupe especially, I began to redefine my notion of community. My small group kick-started this by welcoming me with open arms. My group showed me that I was, to quote Brene Brown, “worthy of love and belonging.” Reflection, Emmaus walks, and our trip in-country pushed me out of my comfort zone not only in terms of travel, but also in personal closeness. I had never before intentionally let people see my flaws. In the past, when I let my flaws show I was alienated, pushed away, or “dropped” as a friend. Arrupe helped me see that true friends accept you and love you for your flaws even if you don’t.

However, my Arrupe community did not stop there. Through the post-trip retreat in January, I met the people that I continue to call my best friends to this day. They don’t care what I look like, how I dress, or how many days a week I go out. We found common ground based on humor, similar values, and activities that didn’t always include alcohol. My expectations for what friendship should be shifted with this new group. While they are beautiful and fun, they are also incredibly caring and kind. I don’t have to try to be pretty and thin with them, I just strive to be myself. I had never before had friends who truly valued me for me, quirks and all.

This new sense of community shaped my relationship with myself as well. Instead of pulling my self-worth solely from those around me, I began to find it internally. With healthy friendships, in which I felt valued for my flaws and my gifts, I found it easier to love myself. I stopped binging, and I focused on keeping myself healthy rather than skinny. Even this simple semantic change has made all the difference. By loving my body and personality the way they are inside and out, like my friends do, I am more confident, more happy, and more motivated to stay physically healthy.

Retrospectively, my high freshman expectations have been met, but in a very different way. I had to figure out who I was as a person through genuine friendship and adjust my expectations to what truly made me happy, not what I thought should make me happy. By redefining my expectations of friendship to include vulnerability and authentic connection, I also redefined my expectations for myself. I now value my whole self, not just the picture-perfect parts.