Body Image Essay a Grand Prize Winner in National Contest [Corrected 05/06/13]

Article excerpt

Jennifer Wayland's award-winning essay is personal. So personal that she wrote it as well as she could the first time so she wouldn't have to go back and edit it.

Now Jennifer, a freshman at Parkway Central High School, is a grand-prize winner in Major League Baseball's "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" essay contest honoring Jackie Robinson's legacy.

Jennifer's personal story about body image was selected from more than 18,000 other student essays. She submitted her essay as an extra credit assignment for class.

"I was thinking, 'What barriers have I entered in the past year?'" Jennifer said. "What I wrote my essay on was a big one. It was fresh in my mind."

Studies show body image is on a lot of other young women's minds too. In a study of college students, 74.4 percent of normal-weight women said they thought about their weight or appearance "all the time" or "frequently."

Jennifer will join Sharon Robinson, Jackie Robinson's daughter, at the 2013 MLB All-Star Game and at the 2013 World Series.

Xavier Morgan-Gillard, a fourth-grader at Jackson Park Elementary School in University City, won a first prize in the contest for his essay about overcoming selective mutism, a childhood communication anxiety disorder that affects one in 1,000 children referred for mental health treatment.

Both Jennifer and Xavier will receive a Microsoft laptop computer for their essays.

Jennifer's classmates have been supportive, she says, joking that they now have a local celebrity in their midst. Those that she has shared the essay with have been touched by her story.

"It's moved them and had an impact on them. It's a new experience to think I can affect people," Jennifer said. "It has changed my perspective on what I write and who I write it too."

So will Jennifer pursue a career in writing? She's still trying to figure it out but she has plenty of time.

"Some kind of writing career is definitely not out of the question."

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JUST A NUMBER

By JENNIFER WAYLAND

Ninth grade

Parkway Central High School

Most people's personal barriers come from the outside. There's an injustice that they must overcome to make a difference in the world, and after chipping away at that barrier, aided by the use of nine certain values, it finally falls and they are free. Stories like that, like Jackie Robinson's, are hopeful, uplifting, and inspirational. However, my case is a little different the barrier didn't come from the outside. It had been a part of me, it was taught to me in a way. And that makes my story less glamorous, rougher around the edges. It makes my story that much harder to hear, because no one likes to talk about body image and weight.

To dispel the assumption that only overweight people are unhappy with their bodies, I want to say that I had always been a normal weight underweight according to the doctor, actually. I just didn't look it I don't have the body type that has stick-thin limbs and lean muscle. I took up space too much space, I began to think.

In eighth grade, as I looked at the girls who danced or played soccer year-round, as I craned my neck to be more and more jealous of the tall, willowy girls, it hit me that I was gross. Disgusting, in fact, because I didn't have those legs or those abs. Those girls had "good" bodies, and I did not. So I told myself that I would get that body, and I would feel good when I did.

When I started working for it, though, that began the worst time of my life. It wasn't fun, eating less and less, counting every calorie, spending hours on the Internet looking for motivation and methods to lose weight, and doing endless exercises in my room. It wasn't fun to lie to my parents and my friends. And it really wasn't fun to discover that I just hated my body and myself more with each passing day. I was constantly cranky, obsessed, and struggling to keep up with life. When I graduated eighth grade, I finally admitted I couldn't keep going the way I was. …