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Let’s talk about body image

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Ella McCarville
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Body Positive Arizona is an on-campus initiative that consists of both students and University of Arizona staff members who are committed to promoting body positivity through in-person and virtual discussions and tabling events.

In recognition of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Body Positive Arizona hosted a Body Positive week from Feb. 21-25. They invited students to discuss and participate in courageous conversations about self-worth and body image.   

Lisa MacDonald is the coordinator of nutritional services at Campus Health. She also oversees the dietitians, co-chairs the eating disorder assessment team and co-facilitates the Campus Eating Disorder Awareness and Recovery Group and Body Positive Arizona. 

“Body Positive Arizona has been in place since spring 2018. … Prior to that, it went through other body-image programming like Body Smart, Love Your Body day, Body Brilliance,” MacDonald said. “We landed on Body Positive because it’s got a bit more depth to it – looking at social justice issues, equality, weight neutral perspective and health at every size perspective.”

Body Positive Arizona hosts discussion sessions called Courageous Conversations to allow students and faculty to engage with one another and talk about vital issues related to eating disorders, self-worth, body image etc.

They are hosting two of these courageous conversations in the near future. On Thursday, March 24 from 6-7 p.m., the conversation is called “Are You Hungry? What Kind of Hungry Are You?” And in addition to this discussion, Body Positive is hosting another courageous conversation called “The Secret Behind the Beach Body” on Thursday, April 21 from 6-7 p.m. 

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“It’s National Nutrition Month starting [March 1], so we wanted to do more of a food-focused conversation,” MacDonald said. “So we are going to explore physiological hunger, emotional hunger, mouth hunger and brain hunger, all these different things that contribute to our desire to eat.”

MacDonald mentioned that many teenagers and college students experience body image distress. With a rise in diet culture and the use of social media, eating disorders are becoming normalized, and people are encouraged to enhance and manipulate their bodies. 

On Thursday, Feb. 24 during Body Positivity week, Ashley Smith, a licensed clinical mental health counselor and professional relations manager, spoke about eating disorders.

“Body image directly affects your self esteem and how you interact with others and your general life functioning. [Body image] is learned; it is from our culture, our environment, our parents, our family members, friends and it is shaped from a really early age,” Smith explained.

Smith also mentioned that although there is not one single cause for eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction, research has found that media and subliminal messages have contributed to body dissatisfaction and eating disorders. Thus, she emphasized the importance of being a smart consumer who is aware and cautious of subliminal messaging when the media edits images for the sake of trying to persuade consumers to buy products.

“We are all different and cannot compare ourselves to each other … we all have different genetic and cultural traits that [influence how our bodies are shaped as well],” Smith said. “Even if everyone started eating the same things and did the same amount of exercise for a whole year, we would not all look the same at the end of the year. This is because of the genetic influences, bone structure, body size, shape and weight that are all different in each one of us.” 

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Smith then discussed that having a negative perception of our bodies as a result of being unable to accept our differences can lead to low self-esteem, self-isolation, mood changes and even dangerous extremes like eating disorders – e.g., extreme restrictions, binging, purging, laxative use, over-exercise etc. 

Smith said that eating disorders tend to start in adolescence but can also occur during transition periods. Examples that Smith gave included transitioning into college, getting married and experiencing empty nest syndrome. 

To reiterate her main message, Smith emphasized that because eating disorders and body image dissatisfaction affect everyone, it is important to be mindful of the words you use to describe yourself and others. Additionally, try to promote positive self-talk, take the focus away from food, be aware of media messages and respect every person’s differences. 

If you know someone with an eating disorder or you yourself struggle with one, talk to a loved one and seek counsel and help. 

“Eating disorders do not get better on their own and they require professional help,” Smith said.

Want more information or resources? Look into movements like Body Positive, Body Neutral, Health at Every Size and Anti-Diet. Make sure to attend Body Positive’s Courageous Conversation discussion sessions and look into following Jameela Jamil, Ashley Graham, Dana Falsetti, Tess Holliday, Gabi Fresh and BodyPosiPanda on social media. 


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