When Scott Gratson initially approached Nichelle Brunner about applying for the DePauw National Undergraduate Honors Conference for Communication and Theatre, he assumed the senior communication studies major would be submitting her existing research from her time studying abroad in South Africa or India.
Instead, Brunner spent all of November and December developing a new research project on body image, and it paid off—she was accepted to present at the conference.
“It’s what we call a good problem to have, when you have a student with so much research that you’re not sure which project got accepted,” Gratson, the director of the Communications Studies program, said.
In her project “#ImNoAngel: Body Image and Analysis of Social Media Response to Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows and Lane Bryant’s Campaign,” Brunner analyzed how women view themselves based on reactions to models for Victoria’s Secret and Lane Bryant. She read through hundreds of tweets and reactions to both campaigns to assess the effects on women’s personal body images.
Brunner concluded that those who saw the Lane Bryant campaign, which had much more variety in body size, viewed themselves more positively than those who based their self assessment on the models in Victoria’s Secret fashion shows and campaigns. She also said clothing lines should try to merge body representation with racial representation.
“Lane Bryant’s campaign, it was a great first step, but it’s not the end-all-be-all of body image because even their models … all have flat stomachs, and hourglass figures,” Brunner said. “People have stomachs, people have cellulite, and they should show that.”
The drive to study body image comes from Brunner’s own experiences, the student said.
“Because it’s my life,” Brunner said. “I’m definitely not a size two. I love my body, but I don’t see my body being represented when I look at media, especially being a black woman at that. … So I don’t really see the models who look like me.”
Brunner also recently presented at the Temple Undergraduate Research Forum and Creative Works Symposium, or TURF-CreWS, on April 14. TURF-CreWS is an annual event at Temple where undergraduate students can present their research to fellow students, faculty, friends and family.
Brunner said she sees herself as an activist and an advocate, and her desire to pursue activism and nonprofit work was cemented after her time studying abroad in South Africa, where she researched rape culture and talked to women about their experiences.
She decided she wanted to change the world, or at least make a difference to one person or a community, which Brunner said is why she’s on the policy regulation and advocacy track within the communication studies department.
This desire to make change also explains Brunner’s favorite part about the entire experience with “#ImNoAngel”: the responses she’s been receiving to her work.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, I never thought about these campaigns,’ like people blindly see advertisements and they don’t really think about it,” Brunner said. “So when people say, ‘Oh, I never thought about it this way,’ or, ‘You gave me a new way to think,’ it’s super rewarding.”
After graduation, Brunner will participate in an AmeriCorps fellowship in Minnesota and doing nonprofit work. She hopes to work with kids or with underrepresented communities.
Co-president of Lambda Pi Eta, a communications honors society where Brunner serves as president, and sophomore communication studies major Tyler DeVice is close friends with Brunner. He said it was interesting to see her present at TURF-CreWS not only because of her research portion, but also to hear about her personal experiences with media and body image.
“Nichelle has always been one to promote positive body image, and everyone is beautiful in their own way,” DeVice said. “She said growing up, she never saw a plus-sized black woman as a model. Now she’s … talking about those experiences and exposing how it’s not OK to promote [through ad campaigns] that everyone has to be skinny and white.”
He also said working alongside Brunner in Lambda Pi Eta has been rewarding, and that she has taught him a lot about leadership and ambition.
“I want to say that I did everything while I was at Temple, and Nichelle did do everything” DeVice said. “She studied abroad twice, won all these awards, did all these things. The girl is somebody, and I want to be somebody, too.”
Editor’s Note: Tyler DeVice was a sportswriter for The Temple News last year. He did not contribute to any part of the editing process for this article.
Morgan Slutzky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.