Every year at Rosslyn Academy, the senior class goes on a trip to the beach for a week in March. The trip is meant to be a time of relaxation and debriefing from a busy year. However, it is often the case that feelings of excitement for the trip are overshadowed by great anxiety in having to meet social expectations and pressures that are present throughout the trip.
“I hear students talk about getting ready for senior trip all the time, saying things like, “I’m going on a diet because I want to look good for Senior Trip”and other comments like that,” remarks English teacher John Leonard, who has accompanied students on previous trips.
In talking with students, it is obvious that the expectations are clear to many. “There’s definitely expectations of how your body should look and what you’re going to wear,” says Njeri Thuo, a current senior. Junior students Jackie Lee and Kafura Thairo state that they are aware of the expectations and the stress over whether to wear a bikini or not or whether to get in shape early on, among other pressures. Kafura adds that she’s had several discussions with classmates about Senior Trip in relation to body/clothing standards, showing that the pressures from these expectations can be felt even by underclassmen. “As a freshman, I used to think that Senior Trip was simply going to be a time of fun. However, just hearing stories from previous senior classes, I know that it can come with drama with regard to overall body expectations,” says Njeri about the change in mentality toward the trip. “It won’t be pleasant for everyone—if you’re insecure, it’ll definitely be a tough time.”
Many think that these expectations are only present in theory, however, the expectations have already taken their toll, according to students.”I’ve seen people who hate sports join track team just to get in shape for Senior Trip; I’ve heard girls diss their bodies, make plans to get rid of their stomach fat and make vows to be different for senior trip,” comments Njeri. The expectations for the trip aren’t just felt by girls though.”To be honest, I’ll probably start to work out over the summer leading up to the trip,”junior Kofi Amoafo admits.
The interesting aspect of this is that when asked whether they would change for Senior Trip, all except for one interviewee replied no. This indicates that there is a strong dichotomy present in how students view their beliefs versus what they actually do. Although many students (especially seniors) say that they refuse to let body and image expectations get to them, the reality is that several are worried about their appearance for the trip, and have already started to make changes.”It’s hard,” remarks senior Josh Mesfin. “We say that we don’t care about what other people say or think of us, but to a certain extent, we really do. We know that there are certain expectations that we have to rise to in order to be accepted.”
The next question to ask then is why students see Senior Trip as more of a motivator to implement changes in their lifestyle, rather than making those changes out of concern for their own welfare. “We’re young, and most of us aren’t concerned about making life changes for our well-being. What we are concerned about, however, is others’ opinions of us and how our image plays into these social tensions,” explains Njeri. “It says a lot about our priorities,” Josh comments. “People will get in shape just for a week long trip because they care more about what others say about them, rather than doing it for their own health.”
Several interviewees stated that while having a little anxiety is normal, people shouldn’t stress too much. Mr. Leonard states that in his observations, although the pressures definitely exist, especially in preparation for the trip, the expectations do not manifest themselves once the trip is underway. “By acknowledging these unrealistic social pressures and giving in to them, Senior Trip becomes more of a time of stress, rather than a time of fun,” says Josh.
We are well aware of the consequences of not adhering to social standards in place and none of us wish to be on the receiving end of our peers’ judgement or gossip. But is avoiding social scrutiny worth letting our lives be run by the fear of that we don’t fit into impractical and subjective standards of image? As made evident by students’ responses and actions, what we value greatly factors into what we allow our motivations to be. Why place such high value in others’ opinions and in turn have our ambitions ruled by an unrealistic system, when we can instead value our well-being, celebrating who we are, rather than tearing ourselves down for the approval of our peers?