Clubs draw focus to student body image
With over ten million American men and women currently suffering from some form of disordered eating, Student Health On Campus (SHOC) and the Feminist Alliance have teamed up to promote healthy living for all students during the College’s third annual Body Image Awareness Week.
Body Image Awareness Week, which began Monday, March 5, is a four-day event designed to encourage students to think more positively about their own bodies. “We wanted to focus on more than just eating disorders,” Sarah Falkof, president of SHOC said. “We wanted to focus on body empowerment, nutrition and being aware of how we talk about body image.”
While the event has been fairly low-key the past two years, due to the overwhelming positive response SHOC decided to increase the event’s visibility this year by partnering with the Feminist Alliance.
“SHOC reached out, and it is a great partnership,” Berol Dewdney ’13, co-founder of the Feminist Alliance, said. “Through coalition building we can affect more positive change.”
Body image is greater than just a campus problem—it is a national problem, and it is affecting men and women at younger and younger ages. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives.
Additionally, 40 percent of six-year old girls wish they were thinner, and 50 percent of them will have tried dieting by age eight. Young girls also often experience a severe lowering of self-esteem as they reach puberty due to the overwhelming number of misogynistic images of women in today’s media.
The types of bodies that the media promotes also contribute to poor body images and impossible ideals in both women and men. While the average American woman is 5’4” and weighs 140 pounds, the average American model is 5’11” and weighs 117 pounds. This fashion-model body type is attainable for about 10 percent of the population, as genes determine body type.
The national statistics for body image are comparable for male and female students on the Hill. The first Body Image Awareness Week was formed in 2010 following disturbing results from a SHOC student survey. The results showed that 54 percent of College students want to lose weight, 87 percent compare their body to others, 47 percent have tried at least one diet and 18 percent have an eating disorder.
“Some people have set ideals of what their body should look like and strive to achieve these perfect bodies. This struggle can turn to obsession and often create more stress and lower self-esteem,” Falkof said.
The internal and external pressures placed upon students to fit in to the idea of a “Colby” norm have affected both students’ eating and exercise habits. In the same SHOC survey, 63 percent of respondents said that they talk about eating habits with friends a few times a week, 47 percent feel self-conscious when eating with others and 69 percent feel stressed or guilty when eating certain foods.
In addition, 69 percent of survey respondents go to the gym at least a few times a week, 52 percent feel guilty after missing a day of working out, 53 percent compare the intensity of their workout to others and 63 percent feel self-conscious about their body when working out or how they are working out.
This week’s schedule breaks down Body Image Awareness Week into four separate themes: eating disorder awareness, media and cultural influences on body image, healthy eating awareness and the Celebrate EveryBODY! Campaign.
Monday’s focus on eating disorder awareness featured a lecture by Hugo Schwyzer titled “Men, Women and Body Image.” Schwyzer discussed cultural issues surrounding body image, gender identity, media and social pressures and provided insight on our physical and internal identities.
“Hugo discussed how a lot of things in our life we can’t control, but what we eat—that is something we can control, which can be the basis for many eating disorders,” Falkof said.
Tuesday’s theme, media and cultural influences on body image, involves understanding both the negative effects of media and its positive influences.
“The Feminist Alliance was really involved in ‘Media Day’ and media literacy,” Dewdney said. “Media culture can negatively effect us and we need to learn how to be empowered and respond.”
Dewdney cited the Powered by Girl blog, a project of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, as a way of empowering women and mocking media representations of women.
Wednesday will focus on healthy eating patterns featuring the Sodexo nutritionist as well as a screening of Miss Representation in Ostrove auditorium.
SHOC and the Feminist Alliance hope that students will benefit from community discussions regarding body image and will learn to embrace their own bodies.
“If your head and your heart are always somewhere else, you can’t fully explore the world around you,” Dewdney said. “It really decreases your ability to make positive change in other areas—you can’t save others if you’re drowning yourself.”