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Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Spreading self-love every week

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Opinions Columnist

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The National Eating Disorders Association sponsors this week and endeavors to rally support from all citizens. This group aims to prevent eating disorders and body image issues by ridding them of their negative associations while improving access to treatment. Though there is a week devoted to the matter, eating disorders in general are widely under-recognized in university life. Brown, for one, does not adequately talk about the issue or simply raise awareness in the community enough throughout the year.

NEDA has dedicated this week to spreading awareness of its cause. The group asks everyone — volunteers, professionals, educators, social workers, students or simply any individual — to “do just one thing” to help raise awareness. People can do this by using social media, distributing flyers, hanging up posters, hosting a speaker for the cause or holding activities like panel discussions. According to NEDA, any help is productive.

How are we observing this week at Brown, and is it enough? Can the problems surrounding eating disorders be adequately highlighted in just one week? Is eating disorder awareness properly publicized at Brown in general?

Brown is in fact honoring Eating Disorders Awareness Week by holding Celebrate Every Body Week. This week is implemented to do just as NEDA asks. Free buttons and bracelets will be offered in recognition of the week in the Sharpe Refectory, free yoga classes will be available and an open panel discussion will be held. There is even an additional Brown twist: Mirrors will be covered up in select locations “as a reminder that who you are is more important than what you look like,” according to the week’s official webpage.

Suffice it to say, Brown is doing its due diligence in spreading awareness during the selected week. But what about all the other weeks? Eating disorders do not simply occupy one week — so short a time that they cannot be resolved or even easily admitted. While it may be possible to diagnose someone with such a disorder this week, it takes far longer for a victim to grasp the reality before him or her. It takes just as long for bystanders and members of society to comprehend that this is not an issue to be taken lightly or to be trifled with. And it takes far longer still for the societal idiosyncrasies feeding this issue to be resolved.

One week is simply not adequate. Seeing as a Princeton study found that 53 percent of Princeton students with eating disorders developed them in college, Brown needs to take stronger action simply by discussing the issue better. I am not suggesting that Brown take direct action by imposing medical leave on troubled students — the student body’s overall awareness is a separate matter. Brown and universities in general need to promote a more healthful environment by proactively communicating the realities of eating disorders.

There are a few variables that our institution has no control over that affect eating disorders. I wish to focus on techniques that do not make students’ attendance at Brown contingent on “losing” their disorder. No direct involvement in specific cases is necessary, but advertising and encouraging a better and more healthful environment is essential.

One factor of eating disorders that is impossible to control is the amount of sleep students are getting or not getting. Sleeping schedules that are disrupted or lacking are very unhealthful — for the body itself and the self-esteem of its owner. This is something that needs to be independently monitored by individuals, rather than controlled by the school. Increasing awareness of self-love may be helpful in producing healthier bodies and minds in college students.

Another variable is the psyches of students as they enter the University population. Brown cannot be responsible for the body image attitudes with which students have been previously plagued. Nonetheless, it is our obligation as a community to try and efface these harmful notions.

One element of eating disorders that appears to be out of Brown’s institutional reach may very well not be. This is the stigma surrounding eating disorders in the community. Indeed, it is a challenge for a university to conquer standards imposed by the rest of society. But it is all Brown can do to try to instill different values in its community members simply by raising awareness of the matter. Rather than intervene, spread knowledge of the issue.

Why not take a stronger approach to defeating such a detrimental, life-threatening dilemma? Hold frequent panel discussions surrounding the issue, not just one a year. Welcome and encourage — even arrange — engaging events such as fashion shows or art exhibits.

A group promoting eating disorder awareness at Columbia recently hosted a body-positive photo shoot. Its aim was to get more people involved and to publicize NEDA’s week before it occured, in hopes that it would promote more support for the week. The theme was “I Woke Up Like This” to grapple with body image issues and stress natural differences in bodies. Something similar would be an uplifting way to energize the Brown community about the cause and heighten awareness about what individuals can do to help.

In addition to seeing signs reading “what to do if you have been sexually assaulted” on the back of the toilet stalls, I want to see “you are not your weight.” I want to stop dealing with the standard to be thin and squeeze into tiny little clothing in order to look “sexy” to other people.

I want to be inspired through heaps of encouraging posters around campus and motivational events. And I want these events to take place at various times throughout the year, not just in one week.

 

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 can be contacted at megan_grapengeter-rudnick@brown.edu.

  • ‘`*-.,_,-*’`*~-.,.~*’*~ (2014)

    this is a great piece!!

    first of all, i think it fits in well with recent (ongoing but disjointed) discussion on campus about raising awareness of and destigmatizing mental illness in general.

    secondly, i like how you drew lines between things brown can do, things out of the administration’s scope, and even things that could be within its scope but shouldn’t. (with two recent tragedies involving students who took psychological leave, questions have popping up lately: how can brown help troubled students? when is it a good idea to put pressure on a student to leave, and what can brown do to ensure the best results for ‘voluntary’-but-not-really leaves?)

    and finally, the message of self-love is just so important. i feel a little lighter (…figuratively…) after reading this article, just being reminded to accept and love myself. on a campus where it seems like all the other girls are attractive and well-put-together, i often go through periods where i become incredibly preoccupied with how i compare. lately i’ve been feeling a lot of shame over how i look, how i present myself… it’s like i feel obligated to look a certain way and should be embarrassed for not looking that way. it’s nice to be reminded that there are more important things than how i look and that i don’t owe anyone anything. i’m really grateful for this article.

    so, yeah, i’d be really glad to see an awareness campaign like the one you describe. i’d love to see messages on bathroom stalls reminding me to stop caring so much about what i look like. 🙂