We think about it when we get dressed, eat lunch, watch movies and walk down the street. Everyday we are bombarded with messages from social media, television, advertisements, peers and family members about how our bodies should look.
The William Jewell College campus came together to say enough is enough at the “You are More Than a Number: The Detrimental Effects of Weight Stigma” presentation and discussion Feb. 27. Panhellenic Council and the Office of Counseling Services sponsored the event, which was prompted by the annual speaker from EDCare, a group that offers eating disorder treatment, during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
Dr. Tricia Hager, Director of Counseling Services at WJC, was involved in hosting the event. She said that the presentation on body image is applicable to the Jewell campus.
“Weight stigma is commonplace in our current society and often has a negative impact on individuals,” Hager said. “Jewell is not an exception to this, and many of the individuals on campus face this negative impact on a daily basis.”
Lydia TerHaar, sophomore nonprofit leadership and Spanish major, publicized the event on campus. Along with Freja Ingelstam, senior international relations and history major, TerHaar set up an interactive “What do you like about your body?” board in the Union. TerHaar and Ingelstam’s efforts made it evident that Jewell students must make a conscious effort to reduce weight stigma.
“This topic is especially pertinent to Jewell’s campus because it is really hard to take care of yourself and make sure you are showing love and kindness to yourself in this phase of life,” TerHaar said. “Everyone is so busy, with homework, friends, school activities, etc. that self-care is put on the back burner. Furthermore, we are dead in the middle of a culture that is so body-focused and extremely critical, especially towards young women, so weight stigma issues must not go ignored.”
To tease out the issues associated with body image, the event featured guest speaker JesseLee McKee, a National Outreach representative from EDCare Kansas City.
“Some of McKee’s main points included trying to identify what words we associate with different people’s looks/weights and how we can change our perceptions to be kinder to both others and ourselves,” TerHaar said. “I would say the most crucial takeaway from the whole event is that ‘healthy’ is not a certain number of pounds or a certain appearance—‘healthy’ is about feeling, not looking.”
Micaela Lynch, junior nursing and ACT-in major, attended the event through prompting from her sorority and through interest due to her prospective career in the health industry. Before attending the presentation, she did realize the social injustice surrounding body image. Now she knows what to look for and to be open-minded.
“We always need to focus on how we interact with one another as well as understand that we do not know everyone’s individual stories and histories,” Lynch said.
McKee’s discussion at the weight stigma event has lasting effects for Jewell students and staff who attended and heard about the message of the presentation. These impacts come in the form of life changing advice on how to live a happy and healthy life.
Dr. Hager proposed some tips for individuals to help improve their body image.
“Look at our own bias and attitudes toward weight and size,” she said. “Challenge and change our perception of weight and health. Reject comparisons to external standards that are not realistic. Promote self-care – loving yourself as you are. Learn to care for yourself, instead of comparing yourself. Reduce use of body-shaming language and conversation. Recognize your body for what it can do and appreciate it. Embrace health at every size. Take good care of your body.”
TerHaar also gives advice learned from the presentation to help everyone accept themselves as they are.
“Do what makes your body happy and healthy,” TerHarr said. “That doesn’t mean only doing healthy activities or eating healthy foods—in fact, I think it is healthy to let yourself eat some junk food or have a super lazy day. It’s all about balance and paying attention to what you need. As far as body image goes, fighting against culture’s ridiculous body standards is so, so challenging for young people today, but I think my best advice would be to try to surround yourself with people who treat you and your body with respect. No one has time or space in their life to have others criticize or belittle their bodies, so I would encourage every person to strive to surround themselves with those who lift them up and also be uplifting to others.”
TerHaar’s guiding words help individuals on a day to day basis be thankful and content with their bodies. She is already looking towards next year to plan a similar event that is more comprehensive and allows more time for discussion.
For more information on weight stigma, body image and eating disorders, or if you find that you or a friend need further help, consult the below resources provided by Dr. Hager.
Contact Office of Counseling Services to schedule an appointment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Utilize the free mental health self-evaluation (for self or a friend) on Counseling Services webpage http://www.jewell.edu/student-life/counseling-center.