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Love Your Body Week Seeks To Change BC Perspectives On Body Image

and Mary Rose Fissinger

Published: Monday, November 11, 2013

Updated: Monday, November 11, 2013 09:11

Editor’s Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about body issues and health on campus.

Emma Moriarty, A&S ’14, says that most weekends at Boston College begin with a script molded around body shaming, creating an atmosphere of negativity. The dialogue is exhausting, relentless, unrealistic, and it can suck you in.

“There’s this group mentality where everyone is shaming their bodies so much so that it becomes normalized, and you don’t realize that what you’re saying is problematic or hurtful to yourself and to others,” said Moriarty, a student director of the Women’s Resource Center’s (WRC) Love Your Body Week.

Jessica Stevens, Moriarty’s co-director and A&S ’14, agrees.

“I feel like it’s really hard to extract yourself from that atmosphere, and it’s so easy to become absorbed in that mentality once you start,” she said.

Love Your Body Week, which begins today, started in 2004 as a way to educate students about body image issues and to create and sustain a more positive dialogue around body image. Katie Dalton, director of the WRC, helped create a more collaborative process for planning the week’s events.

“All of our events are co-sponsored with another group or many groups, as a way to involve student populations that may not necessarily be involved with the Women’s Resource Center and to address those issues that intersect with the issues that we deal with,” Dalton said.

Dalton, Moriarty, and Stevens all hope that this year’s program will help students evaluate how the media creates an unrealistic expectation of beauty, and recognize what it means to have a healthy relationship with one’s body.

The week’s events include public forums and conversations with BC professors to discuss body image, as well as a presentation about the media’s role in sexualizing women in pop culture.

One of the week’s hallmark events will be a presentation called “Fat Talk,” by Northwestern University professor Renee Engeln, who will discuss how negative dialogue fuels negative body image in women and men.

“It’s really a starting point for people to shift the way they’re thinking, and it’s really about celebrating your bodies and taking yourself out of this cycle of having negative thoughts,” Stevens said.

One of the week’s main goals is to transform the way students think and talk about their bodies.

Julie AhnAllen, a senior staff psychologist in University Counseling Services (UCS), said that many students at BC have a competitive nature that contributes to an unhealthy culture surrounding body image.

“I think there’s almost this competition amongst students,” she said. “There’s a general sense of negative talk and comparison about bodies and food and exercise.”

Many of her students describe the competition as exhausting because they feel that they are constantly worrying about their own appearances and those of other students, she said.

This pervasive sense of competition among the females at BC is one of the issues that I Am That Girl (IATG), a newly registered student organization (RSO) this year and a collaborator with the WRC for Love Your Body Week, hopes to address through its discussion-based weekly meetings and programs aimed at boosting women’s self-esteem. One of the tenets of the organization is “collaboration instead of competition,” and it strives to communicate to girls that there is more power in coming together than in tearing one another down.

“It’s about becoming each other’s champions,” said Erica Ludlow, vice president of IATG and CSOM ’14. “Championing each other’s growth and development and progress. We have a lot to offer each other, and we have a lot of strengths that can play off each other, and I think that’s something people need to hone in on a little more around here.”

Ludlow and Abbey Clark, president of IATG and LSOE ’14, were eager to get involved with Love your Body Week as a first year RSO because of how closely the week’s mission aligns with IATG’s mission to promote healthy self-esteem among females at BC.

“The first step to turning that statistic around, that BC girls leave college less confident than when they came in, is starting that conversation,” Clark said.

IATG is working with the WRC to put on a “mirror campaign” during Love Your Body Week, which includes posting positive messages on mirrors around campus. In addition, a photo of them holding a sign saying what they love about their bodies will be featured in this year’s Robsham Window Project.

Another feature of this year’s Love Your Body Week is a talk by the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, Sharlene Hesse-Biber, on her book, The Cult of Thinness. The book focuses on the societal pressures women feel to look a certain way, and is based largely on her experiences with the high number of BC students struggling with eating disorders.

Hesse-Biber conducted extensive research on specifically BC students’ self-esteem and eating problems as far back as 30 years ago, and came to the same conclusion then that still troubles BC today—that female students’ self-esteem decreases while they are at BC.

“If you believe this data, college may not be such a great experience for women, compared to men,” she said.

In the face of these statistics, Hesse-Biber says that she has “a passion to make things better,” and she views Love Your Body Week as an important step in that direction.

Moriarty, who recently led one of the WRC’s “Res Talks” with freshman girls, said that many in the group also expressed concern about the emphasis on image at BC, revealing that even students who had only been on campus for a few months feel the pressure to be thin.

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