Peer educators foster body image discussion

“What are some expectations of us as Oles?” Britta Stjern ’14 asked the round table. A few members of the small group began to suggest expectations like “being perfectly healthy.” Another participant brought up the expectation that Oles are supposed “to do everything and not to look stressed about it.”

This ice-breaker set the tone for a round-table discussion on body image on Monday, Nov. 18. To kick off Body Image Awareness week, the Wellness Center put together a discussion to talk about issues of body image and self-expectations on campus. It opened up the conversation on how people look at and speak about themselves, as well as how people perceive their bodies and their more general selves.

The outcome of the ice breaker was a piece of butcher paper taped to the ballroom wall with plenty of buzzwords – “pretty”, “stress”, “well-rounded”, “liberal arts” and “granola” were among the many, all giving rise to the typical vision of an Ole who gets everything right.

It would probably be easy to draw this picture yourself – the always-put-together, tall, beautiful person who rushes everywhere but never seems flustered. He or she has a backpack full of books and plenty of clubs to go to… so many that you wonder how he or she gets any work done. Despite the fact that he or she gets perfect grades, you’re not sure when the homework gets done. And don’t bother asking about dating; this person has either been in a committed relationship for eight years or does not have time for dating or a romantic relationship.

Stjern went on to say that “We have this perception that perfection is achievable, when those we see as perfect themselves have their own body image issues.”

And while these expectations may not be directly tied to body image, “body image is tied to self-worth…and it becomes this other thing that we’re just supposed to do, this expectation that we all have to be attractive.”

Together the group brainstormed ways to combat high expectations that give rise to this negative self-image. Some ideas included being able to say no to extra commitments or doing activities that help empower the human body instead of avoiding physical activity all together.

Any effort to relieve oneself of perfect expectations gives a person a chance to focus on himself or herself and the expectations and attitudes the person has.

There were other events during the week as well. Stjern articulated the importance of a week of events like this, saying that “Body image is something that crosses everyone’s mind. Whether they realize it or not, more people have issues with their body than they’re willing to admit.”

On Sunday, Nov. 17 there was an event addressing how to help your friend who may have an eating disorder, followed by the dinner discussion on Monday, Nov. 18. Tuesday, Nov. 19 offered an event on male body image, a topic that generally receives less attention. Other events included a talk on self-worth in Skoglund, followed by a guided tour of the facility’s equipment and a presentation called Body and Soul. The week closed with a hip-hop dance party on Friday evening.

These events aimed to bring the internal negative conversations people have about themselves into the open and address these recurring issues.

As the few members who were participating in the dinner discussion peeled away to dash on to other commitments, thoughts about themselves and their bodies were pushed to the background. Hopefully, though, the evening’s conversation inspired an ongoing dialogue about body image expectations and all they entail.