New York College Students Swap Education For Body Image Awareness

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It is common knowledge that low self esteem and body image concerns start to develop at a young age in kids. There are studies which have identified these issues in children as young as 6, and that is horrifying. Sure it is up to parents and guardians to ensure they set healthy, positive examples, but as children grow up, they have to know what kind of cultural examples to draw upon in order to set healthy standards for themselves.

Unfortunately we live in a very celebrity and media-obsessed culture, where young women find themselves comparing their looks and life to that of reality stars like Kim Kardashian, and along the way we often forget that men too suffer from eating disorders and body image issues.

These issues are one of the main reasons sisterhood and empowering one another is a very important defense against negative media influence, and we can’t stress it enough. University students from New York at the College at Brockport have banded together to create an environment which fosters body positive attitudes, and have embarked on a couple of important campaigns to promote it.

During the month of October, they declared the 20th-24th Fat Talk Free Week. The Center for Select Respect took on the idea which was launched in 2008 in the US by Delta Delta Delta sorority. It has since become an international phenomenon and is today widely known as an activist campaign to highlight body image issues and the damaging impact of the “thin ideal” on men but, most commonly, in women in today’s society.

“Fat Talk describes all of the statements made in everyday conversation that reinforce unrealistic beauty ideals and contribute to women and men’s dissatisfaction with their bodies,” according to the official website.

“In regards to fat talk free week, I think it’s really important for students to be aware of the damaging effects that the thin ideal has on our society especially students our age like 18 to 25 age range is a huge time in a person’s life in regards to body image and self-esteem,” Select Respect Peer Educator and RESTORE advocate and volunteer Charice Putnam said.

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Since it is the fall season, Brockport students filled pumpkins with negative statements and smashed them, in a mix of festive and symbolic gestures.

“What we’re trying to do is to promote instead of that thin ideal that we so often see in the media we’re trying to promote a healthy ideal which looks different on everyone and it’s focusing on an ideal that you’re happy in your body, just a body that you’re happy with and that you feel healthy in instead of constantly striving for the impossible thin ideal in the media,” Charice Putnam said.

The college newspaper reported some more shocking statistics, stating 67 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 64 have withdrawn from life-engaging activities because they feel badly about the way they look. 83 percent of college-aged women diet to lose weight, while 44 percent of them are already of normal weight. 54 percent of women would rather be hit by a truck than be fat. 38 percent of men would sacrifice a year of their lives to obtain the perfect body. 20 million females suffer from an eating disorder during some part or their life.

These numbers show it has never been a more crucial time to talk about the issue of body image more openly to gain a better understanding of how everyday people can tackle the problems. Aside from the smashing pumpkins exercise, Brockport College students also held a poster contest in the same week around the theme “love your body”.

It was the second year the college held the contest, and resident assistant Daniela Bulos came up with the idea from the National Organization for Women (NOW).

According to the NOW website, “as the grassroots arm of the women’s movement, the National Organization for Women is dedicated to its multi-issue and multi-strategy approach to women’s rights.”

NOW focuses on six core issues: reproductive rights and justice, ending violence against women, economic justice, LGBT rights, racial justice and constitutional equality amendment.

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In one of the school halls, anyone was invited to come in and design a poster with a message that conveyed what positive body image and loving your body meant to them. The contest was aimed at men and women, and along with designing a poster, entrants were asked to sign a pledge to declare how they were going to live their bodies in specific ways.

“In so many ways the beauty industry and the media, the way they portray beauty is really unrealistic,” Daniele Bulos said. “And it’s just this campaign is a way to bring awareness to body positivity and how the media misconstrues bodies and it’s really the way they edit it in Photoshop.”

These campaigns are part of a greater worldwide movement to break down negative body image messages and create tools to help people navigate through harmful media messages. Over in the UK in October, they recently celebrated Body Confidence Week, which is an initiative by the British Government’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image, which created the Be Real Campaign designed to gather individuals, schools, businesses, charities and public bodies to come up with ways to instill confidence in men and women.

It was founded off the back of survey results which found half of British adults felt their prospects in life were diminished because of their looks, and more than 10 million UK women feel depressed about the way they look.

What the Body Confidence Week results show us is that positive reinforcements and healthy outlooks must be taught from a young age. What the Brockport College students are doing is equipping these young men and women to go out into the world feeling confident and not being held back because of body image issues.

These are the kind of initiatives we need to see more of, in the hope that one day we won’t need them because our collective voices are more powerful than the damaging messages we are ingrained with from a young age. We should all take a leaf out of the College at Brockport students’ books and understand that community empowerment is not something to dismiss.

Take a look at some of the statistics in the UK Be Real Campaign videos below and how they worked with Dove to send an important message to the public about body image:

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