Although the Wellness Resource Center has hosted the Body Project before, Allison Herman, a program coordinator at WRC, called this year’s project a sort of “revival.”
The program, which wasn’t held last year due to staff changes, will be offered to female-identifying students who are 17 or older, and is designed to help students challenge ideas about the “ideal” body.
This year, there will be three groups meeting once a week for four weeks on different weekdays.
In the hour-long meetings, which will include discussions, roleplays and at-home exercises to better apply the project’s message into students’ lives, will be led by WRC staff members and Lori Lorditch, the nutritionist for Student Health Services.
“It’s built around the idea of this theory of cognitive dissonance,” Herman said. “We experience dissonance if our beliefs and actions don’t align.”
Herman said the Body Project, which was developed by Stanford University, the University of Texas at Austin and the Oregon Research Institute, is a preventative program meant to reduce the risk of negative self-image and eating disorders. By creating cognitive dissonance in the discussion-based groups, students will be better prepared to reject those distorted perspectives, she added.
“The idea is that if we can produce a little dissonance around some of the values that society tries to put onto individuals about how their bodies should look, then maybe students will start to change their beliefs about that and then start to change their actions,” she added.
Herman said the “thin ideal” is a major focus of the Body Project, but she added many body image issues facing college students aren’t necessarily about being “rail thin.” There are “all different aspects to your appearance,” she said.
“In every body type, there’s some kind of unrealistic expectation that it’s supposed to be perfect in some kind of way,” Herman said.
Herman said nearly 150 female-identifying students responded with interest in the program during the first day the invitation was sent out via email. They have kept the groups limited to eight people, so only 24 students can participate in the Body Project.
She added that the Wellness Resource Center has seen that body image is a “salient issue” for students and they wanted to try to begin giving students an outlet to talk about it.
Amanda Czerniawski, a sociology professor and former plus-size model, said college students make up a “pivotal age group” for body image, making programs like the Body Project important.
“It’s a time of exploration, stress, uncertainty,” she said. “[They] don’t need the extra stress of worrying about one’s looks. There’s enough stress on college students right now.”
College students are the group that commercial advertisers are targeting, she said.
“Ultimately we see all these images that are impossible to achieve and yet we are supposed to try,” she added. “We are doomed to fail. Do [they] need any more sources of failure? [They’re] worried about grades.”
Czerniawski said she estimates 60 to 70 percent of women wear a size 12 or larger, but those same women only make up approximately two percent of media images. The “invisible majority” often receives “distorted perceptions” of what their bodies should look like, she said.
Body positivity isn’t just about size, she added. Embracing other facets of body diversity, like disabilities and different races and ethnicities, all go into the body positivity movement.
“We have to remember our bodies have a function,” she added. “We live in our bodies, we use our bodies. They’re not just these things to be passively looked at.”
Erin Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ernmrntweets.