Name: Shreeya Tuladhar
Major: Biology, Minor in Writing and Anthropology
Hometown: Forest Hills, New York
Interests: Project BEaUtifull, The Humanology Project, FIT U, The Himalayan Club
What led you to start Project BEaUtifull and how has your experience shaped it?
Shreeya:”I was born in Kathmandu, Nepal. I was there until I was about 9 years old. While I was there, I took part in some child modeling gigs and dances. It really started out because my family came from such a media related background…I got my first solo dance around 5 years and I continued with it. When I was 8, I got a bigger gig, I did a commercial, I was on billboards, and doing these shoots. Plus, I was well known in school and generally highly involved. I was always on stage from 5 years of age. Around 7 or 8 during a clothing fit, they said ‘Oh if you were a little skinnier, this would look good on you.’ I was already very, very skinny. Even while dancing my choreographer would say, ‘Oh you know what? This move would look so good on you if you were a little skinnier.’ And at that point it didn’t mean anything, but it was a crucial point at 9 years old.
There were a lot of circumstances that led me to stop modeling for a while and this happened after I moved to America. I was okay with not being in the spotlight for some time. I had skipped a grade when I came over, so everyone was older and more developed while I was naturally skinny. So I got bullied and people were like, ‘Oh my god, she has no assets. Why are you so thin? Why don’t you have boobs?’ At that age, I looked in the mirror and questioned these things. When I told my mom she reassured me that I was younger and it was okay. I was body goals in Nepal, and I come here and no one paid attention to me. I was happy with the aspect of not being on stage, because there was a lot of pressure. However, I wasn’t happy that I was now looked down upon because of my body. No one gave me a chance to be me they just judged me right off the bat. I was like, that’s not cool, so I told myself I was going to gain weight because apparently I’m not good enough. This was in the 6th grade. I came here for my 4th grade but jumped to 6th. At the same time, I tried to block it out and focus on my education and being healthy. In the 7th grade the same people started saying, ‘Oh my god, why is she so fat now?’ and I was not fat. The kind of weight put on was healthy and age related. But when people started to make fun of me again I said, okay. I’m going to lose weight again. At that time I was also recruited to another dancing agency in New York. My new choreographer made the same comment as my old one this time. It was a vicious cycle. My boyfriend in 8th grade loved working out, so I joined him. What unfortunately happened was that he started criticizing me and that became unhealthy. I can’t work out on his level because he’s a boy and that wasn’t healthy for me so I slowly stopped working out and ended the relationship around 10th grade. I guess he was angry because he said things like, ‘I deserve so much better, you’re so fat, ugly, and untalented…’ At that point, I was 85 pounds. I was so young, 15 at that time, and agreed with him. It triggered me and it was the onset of me constantly trying to fit into society’s beauty standards.
I decided to go vegetarian—and by vegetarian I mean I stopped eating. I completely stopped eating and around the end of 10th grade I had developed severe anemia. When I went in for blood tests, they would literally have to squeeze my arm to get the blood out. This continued into college and no one including my family knew about this…The night before my 19th birthday I ate chicken but then got back to my room to throw up. There was blood everywhere and it was really bad. In my head, I was like holy crap I’m going to die. If I keep this up I’m going to die. I made an appointment with my doctor and put me in therapy with some IV’s. That’s when my family found out something was up and they associated that with just being anemic. This continued onto April 2015 and I was getting better with the therapy and everything. That month I had a final project that was like, ‘Write about your life in 10 pages.’ That was so vague and I asked my professor to clarify. His response was to write about something that has impacted my life. Could be a person, event, something that’s related to you. I decided writing on my eating disorder and that was the birth of Project BEaUtifull really. I made the video and I sat my parents down and showed it to them. It was a very emotional moment that put everything in perspective. Overall, they were really supportive and I released the video publicly January 2016.”
What does Project BEaUtifull stand for?
Shreeya:”The organization has three pillars, first of which is health first. We collaborate with different organizations on and off campus. We workout with FIT U every week and help people by giving them a positive environment to reach their body goals. The second pillar is rise above your weakness. This is the mental aspect. If someone needs help, we get him/her in touch with either CAPS or someone within or even outside our group that can help them through conversation. Talking or opening up to someone always helps you out. We even try to get funding for guest speakers and programs on campus regarding eating disorders and mental illnesses. Our final pillars is be true, be you. We just go out and capture beauty in a way that’s not conventional. We try to redefine beauty in a way that as long as it’s being true to it’s nature, happy, and healthy, it’s beautiful.”
Did you find that this movement helped you with your own struggles as well?
Shreeya:”My disorder did affect my life; I had avoided so many events because I felt fat. I didn’t want to be seen at times, and I avoided dating because who wants a girlfriend that starves herself. How can you go on a date, when you can’t eat? I would eat with my friends and be social, but no one noticed the nuances. People were still so supportive and it really wasn’t what I expected.
I didn’t have cake until my 19th birthday and that always shocks people. My thought process was, the more fat I put into my body the less people will like me. The skinnier I am, the more attention I’m going to get, and the more people will like me. This is what the standard of beauty is and being skinny is successful. It was like food was the one thing keeping me from being successful. I knew I needed it but I hated that I needed it. At the end of the day, especially once I got to college, it’s a rude awakening because being skinny doesn’t mean anything. It’s your grades that matter, it’s the personal connections you make, it’s the vibe you give people, it’s the good things you take part in. Project BEaUtifull helps me recognize these aspects in others’ stories.
All of the extracurricular stuff I was doing was more of a distraction at that point. This movement became more of a journey, like therapy because I get to help other people. It’s always good to help other people but this type of community service is great because when I help other people, it helps me out too. Not only do I get to see other people smiling, but I get to see them change and get better while understanding my own story in a better way.”
What sets this apart from other similar movements?
Shreeya:”A lot of people don’t want to talk about their mental illnesses because there’s a stigma against it. When a person looks at me I look like a normal teenage girl I have my school, friends, and I’m so involved people wonder how I have these issues. It’s a persona where people look up to me and depend on me. When a person like myself breaks the news that he or she isn’t perfect, it’s kind of scary to alter that perception. Last fall, I started interning for the Humanology Project that destigmatizes mental illnesses. It’s not a big shame; it’s a real thing. It doesn’t make them any less human. I kept rejecting interviews regarding my own project because I was unsure still and I took that summer to really think about it.
This movement was created by chance. I never meant it to become and organization or my story to be blown up in this way. My professors pushed me to share this story and empower people. ‘You’ve made a change, gotten help, and gotten better.’ What really got me to start this project was my sister and I were talking. I have all these opportunities and I feel blessed but stressed at the same time. My sister responded, ‘Listen you’re turning 20. You’re being selfish. What if there’s another another Shreeya—another girl out there you can help out? You have a reach and you should make the most of it.’ I agreed. I realized, I have a story and I actually re-made my video and asked other people to participate in it. I got the help of Miss Nepal 2016, who I’m related to, and she was shocked and supportive as well. She wanted to join and empower people that may be struggling like myself. She had said, ‘Don’t strive to be like me, strive to be the best you can be.’ It goes back to our mottos: ‘As long as you’re being you, you’re full of beauty,’ and ‘Be true, be you.’ We seek to empower the world one story at a time. It started with me but it continues with all of us.
I created the platform and then created social media pages that helped kick start this organization. This is an online platform, but we also have an offline presence. I don’t want anything commercial; this is solely nonprofit. This is something that helps people like me that creates a chain effect of people helping others in similar situations. So this is based off people. I have a team and we work together to make other people’s stories come to life. On our website we post stories of real people, real time. People can send us pictures and their stories. We feature them on Instagram, and we take all those stories and educate kids in high schools and middle schools. That’s where it started. The bullying and everything can be combated by teaching these kids about body positivity is. They have to know that being body positive doesn’t just mean having a fit body, but a healthy body. There’s a drastic difference between the two.”
What are some goals and expectations from here on out?
Shreeya:”I want to leave a legacy in Stony Brook and expand it. Obviously, I can’t be here all my life so I started an internship here that goes by the same name. We write articles and de-stigmatize mental disorders and get funding for related programs. My goal is to leave it here because it started here. This organization should be able to be one of the resources for anyone struggling with something or someone that’s just looking for more information on this. It would be great to expand to other campuses within the US. I want our education system to have a place where people can go that’s not just CAPS. I want it to be a student body led organization where other campuses, high schools, and groups can reach out to us for information on this. Our target is high school kids in that environment so they can go out and positively influence others in the journey they pursue. Of course, there’s the online platform where people everywhere can chime in, but I also want an offline presence where they can reach out personally.”
How do you think beauty has changed over the past two decades?
Shreeya:”In a world where commercials and advertisements and videos are constantly trying to show you what’s beautiful we’re trying to show you the opposite. We’re saying you don’t have to follow those things to be beautiful. So the past two decades it’s gone from what you see to what you’re told is beautiful. Define beauty yourself.”
What are your favorite ways to stay BEaUtifull?
Shreeya:”I love doing yoga and meditation to get in touch with myself. I like staying fit in unconventional ways other than the gym. Long walks, hiking, running, swimming are all fun especially with friends. I love to dance, go for karaoke, and take part in community service things. I like getting my hands dirty considering I’m a pretty outdoors-y person. Experimenting with new styles and makeup is also fun. I enjoy putting in time to work on myself and connect with my environment rather than being glued to the phone.”
Anything you want to say to people out there struggling in similar situations?
Shreeya:”You have to be patient with yourself; you can’t expect an eating disorder to go away. I’m still working on mine, and I would never say I’m completely recovered. I know it’s going to be a lifelong process. You can’t just delete the idea of societal beauty standards. I catch myself being critical of myself sometimes and that’s okay to feel that way but then you can work on it. I say never be satisfied but be happy. Be appreciative of what you have and maybe realize that you may not be at your goal weight or fitness but you’re being you and you’re working on it and that’s what matters.”
How can other students get involved?
Shreeya:”Some future events involve us going to different parts of New York City while expanding into cities like Boston and Philadelphia. We’ll be conducting social experiments and plan on releasing a new video over the summer. Students can feel free to reach out and be a part of the video or offer their story in general. We’re going to try to do a flash mob in Times Square for fun, so we’ll update that on our website.
Next semester we’ll be hosting a de-stressing event around finals or midterms with guest speakers and fitness activities geared towards good health a positive mindset. Feel free to check us out at the involvement fair as well! You don’t have to be a part of our team to be a part of our family.”
Learn more or get involved!