Wouldn’t it be nice if every time we looked in a mirror, examining our flaws and insecurities, we received some sort of kind, affirming message back?
The Body Empowerment Peer Health Educators are a group of student activists led by Prevention and Wellness Services coordinator Janae Brewster. Their goal is to promote body positivity and acceptance to Western students.
“The Body Empowerment group has around 12 students,” Brewster said. “Our mission here on campus is to promote the ‘health at every size’ message, specifically focused on mindful eating, joyful movement and size diversity.”
“Your body is still changing and growing in college. There are going to be weight fluctuations that are totally normal.”
Janae Brewster, Prevention and Wellness Services coordinator
Though body image problems span across all age groups, college students seem to be disproportionately affected. Around 90 percent of college students struggle with body image, according to the Journal of American College Health.
For many students, college is a time of drastic change for many students. With students entering a new environment, there often comes changes in mind and body as well, Brewster said.
“Your body is still changing and growing in college. There are going to be weight fluctuations that are totally normal,” Brewster said. “Sleep habits and stress levels are also going to impact a student’s weight and body image.”
Nearly every college student is familiar with the dreaded ‘freshman 15,’ the sudden, seemingly inevitable weight gain seen in college freshmen due to stress and poor eating habits. However, Brewster warns this concept can be incredibly toxic.
“The ‘freshman 15’ is actually not a real thing,” Brewster said. “Seventeen magazine, back in the 80s, had a cover which mentioned the ‘freshman 15.’ This was not a scientific study at all. Current research suggests the average college woman gains only 2.3 pounds in comparison to the general public.”
According to the Multi-Service Eating Disorder Association, 20 percent of college students report suffering from eating disorders, compared to 10 percent in the general population.
Freshman Ally Duvall is no stranger to body image issues. She has spent most of her life on a journey to find self-love and acceptance of her body, and feels that she’s come a long way.
“Once I was labeled ‘the fat girl’ in first grade, I couldn’t come out of that,” Duvall said. “That was just who I was because they painted me as ‘the fat girl.’”
Duvall said the road to loving her body has not been an easy one. She struggled with bullying and fat-shaming throughout her childhood, which took a toll on her mental health.
“When did fat, a tissue, take on identity?” Duvall writes. “It greets strangers, making first impressions- all on my behalf. I am F.A.T., but is that me? Fat gross with stigma, stigma of hate and disgust. F.A.T., that’s all they see- everyone, anyone, F.A.T. equals me.”
Though her piece is dark and addresses some tough topics, Duvall has made great strides with her personal body image. She said she has grown more confident than she ever would have deemed possible five years ago.
“As I got older, I was starting to realize that I didn’t need other people to define who I am,” Duvall said. “That helped me to speak up more and realize that I am valued and I am relevant no matter how I look or how people interpret how I look.”
To Duvall, body positivity is a separation between worth as a human and physical appearance. She advocates for the celebration and respect of all people regardless of size.
This is precisely the attitude the Body Empowerment Peer Health Educators strive to create in students. The group discourages fad diets and negative self-talk, while encouraging mindful eating and self-love, Brewster said.
“We really try not moralize food. Pizza isn’t good or bad. Pizza is pizza,” Brewster said. “We just want to encourage people to listen to their body’s internal cues; what is going to fuel them?”
Junior Emily Marshall, a member of the group, considers herself to be a firm believer in the power of self-love.
“Before you can go out spreading love to other people and their bodies, you need to start with self-love. I don’t think anyone is immune [in college] to the standards that we have,” Marshall said.
Though finding body positivity and acceptance is not always easy, particularly in college, it is key to your overall well-being.
“Society will tell you that a number on a scale is important,” Brewster said. “But we would say, ‘Gosh no, you are worth every good and wonderful thing regardless of your weight.’”
The Body Empowerment Peer Health Educators group will be celebrating Love Your Body Week from April 24-28. Look out for body-positive posters hung around campus, as well as uplifting notes left on bathroom mirrors.