University News

Campaign celebrates body images

By
Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

 

Health Education kicked off Celebrate Every Body Week, a campaign to raise awareness about body issues and eating disorders at Brown while promoting positive body images, Monday. The initiative — which is occurring on college campuses throughout the country this week — includes events geared toward spreading body positivity on campus as part of a message of universal acceptance.

Brown’s body positivity celebration comes one week after the National Eating Disorders Association’s week of raising eating disorder awareness and includes more discussion of general body image issues, said Annie Buffington, University nutritionist and organizer of the initiative. Despite these efforts already in place, students continue to advocate paying more attention to eating disorders on campus.

 

Open to every body

Brown has three major events lined up for its week of celebrating body image. The first is Operation Beautiful, in which participants leave notes of positive encouragement around campus. The second is a jeans drive for charity, and the third is a screening of “America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments,” a documentary on body image and eating disorders in the United States, to be followed by a conversation with Darryl Roberts, the film’s director. 

The timing of the events — which occur one week after nationwide eating disorder discussions — was partly a practical necessity, Buffington said. Usually, Health Education plans the initiative for the same week as those discussions, but Roberts was unavailable last week for the post-film discussion. Putting the project off for a week into March — which is also National Nutrition Month and Women’s History Month — allowed Buffington to seamlessly incorporate a nutrition dialogue, she said. 

But branding the week as promoting good health is also important. A bonus for Celebrate Every Body Week is in its name — it is a celebration focusing on positive relationships with food and bodies, and it aims to include everyone. Though the week addresses eating disorders, the inclusion of body image discussion ensures the initiative does not focus exclusively on such disorders, Buffington said. This is crucial because eating restrictions — like the prevalence of diets — have become normalized and expected, she said. 

 

Getting eating in order

Ellen Richardson ’14 worked on a group project related to eating disorders at Brown last semester for PHP 1680I: “Pathology to Power: Disability, Health and Community.” Richardson and her classmates surveyed about 75 students about previous experiences with eating disorders, whether they thought disordered eating was a problem at Brown and what they knew about available on-campus resources. 

Richardson and her classmates found that most of the students with whom they spokedid know someone who struggled with disordered eating. But the majority of students were relatively ignorant about University services like nutritionist appointments, Richardson said.

The group also drew up suggestions for where the University could improve its services. They looked at other Ivy League schools for inspiration — Dartmouth, for example, has peer counselors dedicated exclusively to eating disorders and an in-patient treatment center where students can check in for a few days, Richardson said. 

Health Services currently sees about 76 students regularly — every one to three weeks — for disordered eating, said Director of Health Services Edward Wheeler. But that number does not include students who seek help with Psychological Services, Wheeler said. 

Every year, about one to three students go on medical leave for an eating disorder, Buffington said. There is no body mass index number set for determining if a student should be put on medical leave, Wheeler said. But if a student’s health is so precarious that he or she needs to be monitored multiple times a week, a medical leave may be necessary, Buffington said. 

 

Eat, play, love

Anna Jones ’12 and Sarah Marion ‘12.5 said they believe flexible spaces are necessary on college campuses for discussing not only eating disorders but also the broader issue of food, exercise and body image. In fall 2010, Jones and Marion founded and now co-lead Eat, Play, Love, a student group that attempts to provide that space. 

Initially, Jones and Marion wanted to start a group that would operate specifically as an eating disorder support group. Jones — who worked at an eating disorder clinic the summer before founding Eat, Play, Love — said many people she talked to on campus either had personal experiences with disordered eating or knew someone who did. 

Students also displayed an interest in discussing eating disorders further and felt a need for that space, especially because many felt there was no clear place to seek official help specifically for eating disorders, Marion said. 

But the group’s founders realized that tailoring their mission specifically to eating disorders might exclude others who do not have such a disorder but still have body image concerns. The group was reworked to incorporate those issues, Jones said. 

The mission drift of Eat, Play, Love in its nascent stages reflects the double-edged sword of how to talk about eating disorders and body image. Celebrate Every Body Week’s message is more relatable than one focused only on eating disorders, and it can draw people in who would otherwise feel uncomfortable talking about body image, food and exercise, Marion said. 

Though discussion of eating disorders and the stigmas attached to them is appropriate for a college campus, Jones agreed that the week’s focus has the benefit of allowing a broader range of people to participate.