Centre College recently began a peer-led campus program called The Body Project, designed to promote healthy body image and acceptance, while critiquing the thin beauty ideal.
“The Body Project is an internationally recognized dissonance-based body acceptance intervention method, class and training that has been successfully implemented around the world to help decrease body dissatisfaction, dieting, negative moods and eating disorder symptoms,” said Kristi Burch, academic technology specialist in the Center for Teaching and Learning. “We felt this was an important topic for our students and wanted to bring this training to our campus.”
Burch said the purpose of the project is to internalize the healthy ideal and reject the appearance ideal, which will help reduce eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction. Through a series of workshops, participants will verbalize, write or act out elements of the training to create cognitive dissonance and ultimately speak, write and act in ways that are contrary to the appearance ideal.
“I wanted to be a part of The Body Project, because I myself struggle with body positivity, and I was aware that the reason why I thought the way I did about my body had nothing to do with me, but with what society engraved in my brain for so many years,” said Aranxa Parra ’22, who participated in a training during the fall semester. “I felt bad about my body hair or about my weight, because those individuals who were considered beautiful and wanted had no body hair and had flat stomachs. When I first read about the training, I knew it was intense, but I also knew that it would be rewarding at the end. There was a lot of reflection done, and it created a safe space for people to talk about things they don’t normally feel comfortable talking about. It was definitely an incredible experience.”
“As women, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others,” Burch explained. “The media portrays women as objects that should be admired and stared at, thus encouraging us to force ourselves into tinier and tinier boxes, starving ourselves, tanning ourselves, buying expensive gym memberships, beauty supplies, going on and off endless diets, exercising off those calories rather than enjoying what our bodies can do for us. We are spending an inordinate amount of time, money and emotional energy on trying to become ‘perfect’ and be noticed, but at what cost?”
Parra said the training is important for Centre and other campuses to have, because it provokes internal reflection and allows for individuals to reflect on why and how society has created this phenomenon that makes each individual question their self-worth.
“It is so crucial for this mindset to be addressed and gotten rid of, to create an atmosphere in which individuals celebrate their bodies for all the wonderful things it accomplishes throughout the day, and not shame it for not looking the ‘perfect’ way,” she added.
Burch identified that students at Centre are dealing with plenty of natural stressors, such as heavy, rigorous academic loads, sports, social commitments, lack of sleep and increased anxiety and stress.
“The addition of these other stressors constantly telling us we aren’t OK the way we can lead to significant problems and only exacerbates the stressors we already have,” she said. “Those of us who have gone through the training hope, that by bringing The Body Project to Centre, we can continually promote body activism, body positivity, help women learn how to decrease natural stressors and ultimately become healthier, happier people.”
Summer Lykins ’22, who serves as a peer body educator and group leader, decided to join The Body Project because of her personal experiences with body image issues and how they have impacted her life.
“I joined in hopes that the connections to other women and the educational opportunity would help me overcome my own struggles and also have a place where I can help other women in my community,” Lykins said. “I hope to see more women becoming supportive of each other and rejecting the appearance ideal that is constantly imposed on them. I hope that women realize that they are much more than just a body shape or appearance.”
Burch said, at this time, all women at Centre are invited to participate. Female students who wish to become trained as peer facilitators will have an opportunity for training on January 29-30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Ewen. Additional peer facilitator trainings will be available later in the spring semester. There will also be workshops scheduled for female students who are interested in the training as participants. Information regarding those dates will be announced in the coming months.
For updates, quotes and inspirational messages, peer facilitator bios, upcoming events or more information, follow The Body Project on Instagram @Centrebodyproject.
by Kerry Steinhofer
January 23, 2020