They say the most imperative time for brain development in our lives is when we are young. There are countless articles and advertisements explaining that kids are like sponges and whatever they absorb will effect them. What most forget is that this “sponge stage” doesn’t stop until way after childhood.

The brain doesn’t finish developing until about 25 years old, but we’re considered adults much sooner than that.  Once you go off to college, societal expectation dictates that you’re now a productive, adult member of society. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Food was at the center of family life while growing up for me. I was 7 years old when we had renovations done to the house and I remember being so excited about the walk-in pantry. That thing was stocked constantly with very foodstuff imaginable. I would sometimes just sit in there because I could. We had the double-door fridge and when I wanted something to eat, I grabbed it. Deep-dish pizza was the love of my life even before I was an athlete.

I began playing volleyball in the seventh grade. I still look back on it as one of the most important experiences of my life. I loved being on a team and having a routine. I played 10 months out of the year so I was constantly active and never paid much attention to what I was eating because of it.

That all changed when I got to college.

It had been 9 months since I had last played volleyball, so my muscle definition was fading, but I didn’t really notice much. What I did notice, however, was the obsession girls had with food.

I noticed girls in the dining hall getting salads. I noticed myself getting pasta and having ice cream every night. I suddenly felt weird for eating the food I was so comfortable eating before I got to college.

I noticed girls grabbing their fat and complaining about everything they had eaten in the day. I noticed myself looking larger in the mirror.

I noticed girls turning down meals. It was college where I realized skipping meals was a way to lose weight.

“Instead of eating less, I just won’t eat at all,” I thought to myself. How stupid was I to have never realized this? I was a sponge my freshman year, absorbing every negative body image stereotype there is.

Now, I’m not at all saying college girls force each other into hating their bodies or having eating disorders. But freshman year is a time when some find themselves and I lost myself. It’s not that these girls were the reason that I became insecure, but the self hatred and meal skipping I was exposed to served as a constant reminder that I had some work to do on myself.

The other issue is that no one seemed to flag it as problematic when I drastically dropped thirty pounds over the course of a few months. I found myself receiving more and more compliments about my appearance. “You look so skinny!” and “Your stomach is so flat!” and “OMG I wish I had your body,” were only fuel to my fire. No one noticed when I managed to skip 3 days worth of food. Then again, maybe someone did notice.

I think the “if you see something, say something” campaign shouldn’t be only for public transit. We should feel entitled to protect others around us, especially other college aged girls. We get shit on so often for being sluts and alcoholics, we call each other these names so casually.

I remember pointing out this problem with a girl in one of my classes. We had been working on an assignment together, and I asked if my friend knew her. Without missing a beat my friend replied, “You know she’s anorexic right?”

I was mostly confused because I was under the impression that eating disorders were just so taboo and no one was talking about them openly. Yet another opportunity to shame a woman for her behavior.

So let me just clarify. If you see something, don’t say something nasty. Say something productive. Like, “Hey I care about you as a friend let’s talk about this.” Not, “Hey let me tell someone else about this.”

So next time you hear that someone isn’t eating tonight because they want to get drunk, or that they feel fat today, or that you should look at someone else’s body because they want to look like that say something productive.

We should be reminding each other of our beauty, not adding to the already strong epidemic of self-hatred amongst girls and women.