‘The desire to be smaller’: These women reveal that their ‘Roman Empire’ is tied to body image, and others agree

Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of eating disorders and disordered eating. Please take care while reading, and note the helpful resources at the end of this story.

In the past month, women have been asking the men in their lives “how often they think about the Roman Empire” and have been sharing the responses on TikTok. The general consensus it seems is that — for whatever reason — men tend to ponder the Roman Empire a lot more than you’d think. And while the reason for this peculiar, now-viral phenomenon remains unknown, it has generated a “spin-off” trend, if you will, that revolves around women attempting to determine the “female equivalent” of the Roman Empire.

Responses include that iconic dance number from Another Cinderella Story, being the girl before the long-term girlfriend, the Salem Witch Trials and literally just Lana del Rey.

A more serious “Roman Empire” for women has since emerged, and it has everything to do with body image.

Alexandra Gulla (@alexandragulla) recently claimed that her Roman Empire is “the desire to be smaller.”

“My Roman Empire is the fact that I have thought about the desire to be smaller every single day for the past 20 years,” she says in a video posted on Oct. 18. “I used to call it the ‘elevator music’ in my head … I’ve thought once or multiple times a day how I’d like to be smaller, I’d like to be skinner. My arms, my belly. I’ve been hyper aware of my body for 20 years.”

Gulla says that while this hyper fixation may have improved “a little bit” over the past year, she’s felt negatively about her body for as long as she can remember.

In 2020, Common Sense Media’s report on body image, Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, revealed that children “are aware of dieting and may have tried it” by 6 years old. Research also found that 26% of 5-year-olds cite dieting as a viable solution for someone who has gained weight, and by 7 years old, one in four kids have “engaged in some kind of dieting behavior.”

An integrative literature review published in 2017 also stated that “the media was characterized as a strong influence factor in the development of deleterious health behaviors in girls.”

After coming across Gulla’s video, which has more than 1.4 million views and 283,100 likes as of this reporting, Ella Jae (@jallajae), another TikTok creator, revealed that this sentiment also rings true for her.

“The first time I thought about losing weight, I was around 10 years old, and I was at the pool, I was with my friends, I was in a tankini and I looked at them, and I looked at me and I went, ‘Hmm … we do not look the same, do we?’ and from that point on I did not like myself. And I did everything in my power to change myself,” she says.

Wanting to lose weight, Ella explains, is a thought that has consumed her brain for what feels like a lifetime. And now, at 21 years old, she realizes that this is something she’s been thinking about for over a decade.

“It overtook my life. It drove every thought, every action, every behavior, to the point where I was forgetting about all of the connections I had, relationships, what I love, what made me happy. All of these really significant things in life that make life what it is,” she says. “I forgot about all of those because I was so focused on wanting to be thinner, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking about that.”

The belief that thinner is better, according to Heather Wilson, a licensed clinical social worker and executive director of mental health and addiction treatment center Epiphany Wellness, is one that society’s long echoed. Even now, in a time where body diversity is more prevalent, the desire to be smaller hasn’t exactly gone away.

“From advertisements featuring thin models to clothing stores carrying only smaller sizes, there has been a constant message that being skinny is desirable,” Wilson told In The Know by Yahoo via email. “But the truth is, what society considers as the ideal body type is often unattainable for most people. It fails to take into account the diversity of body shapes and sizes and promotes unhealthy behaviors such as extreme dieting or even eating disorders.”

Focusing on health rather than appearance, Wilson explained, is one way to repair your relationship with your body.

“Our bodies are meant to be nourished and taken care of, not punished or restricted,” she added. “Instead of trying to achieve a certain weight or size, focus on eating nutritious foods and engaging in physical activities that make you feel good. Once you feel good on the inside, your confidence and self-love will reflect on the outside.”

Many women, on both Gulla’s and Ella Jae’s videos, are getting candid about how the need to be thinner has also consumed and, for many, still consumes their lives.

“My body consumes my thoughts literally once every 10 minutes of every day. It is exhausting,” @esssense wrote in response to Ella Jae’s video. Her comment received more than 55,700 likes.

‘”I don’t even remember a time when I liked my body … it’s been a constant hatred since I was little,” @dandelionlikes_monster also replied.

“Even at my thinnest this thought has never not crossed my mind daily,” @sophianestande wrote in Gulla’s comment section.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating habits, contact The National Alliance for Eating Disorders at 866-662-1235. You can also connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor at no charge by texting the word “HOME” to 741741. Visit the Alliance’s website to learn more about the possible warning signs of eating disorders and disordered eating.

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