More than loving your body

Larisa Manescu

In conjunction with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, University Health Services (UHS) promoted its annual “Love your body week” campaign last week. The purpose of the UHS campaign is to stimulate discussion and raise awareness about body image, health and general nutrition through various events, workshops and exhibits. While UHS's week-long mission has good intentions, the scheduled programs are doing too little to bring meaningful attention to issues that are both important and widespread.

Little information about the real and complex nature of various eating disorders — anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, overeating and binge eating are among the most common — is transmitted when life-size Barbie and Ken mannequins are propped up to show the physically impossible proportions of their bodies, or when jean donations are asked for to encourage students to get rid of jeans that are too small for them. These methods send the same, oft-repeated message: people should focus on embracing their bodies, cast aside unrealistic expectations and engage in healthy activities to lose weight. Although the Barbie/Ken exhibit and jean donation are creative ideas that admittedly attract attention, the message broadcast across campus during this annual week needs to take a more nuanced approach than a simple admonishment to “Love your body.” A more effective message would recognize that permanently moving away from unhealthy habits is not easy or quick, and it doesn’t come about because of a sudden epiphany that one’s current actions are unhealthy or dangerous.

Telling people that having a negative body image is unrealistic doesn’t change minds overnight. That message doesn't aid someone with an eating disorder in confronting the underlying causes of his or her mental disorder, one of which may be that eating disorders often act as defense mechanisms. People don't pick up or drop eating disorders instantaneously, but rather develop them as a response to feeling overwhelmed. The disorder can often act as a method of controlling an aspect of one's life in circumstances where a sense of more general control may be lacking. In this sense, telling a person that struggles with an eating disorder that they are being “unrealistic” is futile, especially if they view that as a challenge for increased control.

Additionally, without the proper information, people who don't suffer from eating disorders cannot understand the intricate nature of them. With this knowledge, they would be better able to react and perhaps give comforting, informed and realistic advice when they realize a friend or acquaintance is struggling with an eating disorder.

“Love your body week” should leave a significant, memorable impact on the minds of students. Committing to fully exploring the issue and avoiding skimming the surface of it — by showing photos of photo-shopped models or explaining how rapid weight loss is unhealthy, for example — is critical to accomplish this goal. This type of exposure isn’t bad, considering that it covers the “body image” dimension of eating disorders. However, it propagates the misconception that eating disorders are entirely about weight loss, while ignoring the convoluted thought processes of the victim. To be more beneficial to students, “Love your body week” must expose all dimensions of eating disorders, addressing the foundation of negative body image.

Manescu is a journalism and international relations freshman