In college, your experiences are shaped by the wide intersection of people you come into contact with and the unique societal pressures put on university students in this day and age. This fact only further permeates into the topic of body image awareness. Four women of different backgrounds comprised the panel at the “Come As You Are: Body Image Awareness” event, aptly demonstrating the necessity to discuss the issue from different perspectives. They shared their thoughts on topics from dieting to different body types to the effect of social media.
“I liked that this event concentrated on that you can be healthy at any size,” Jackie Seras, a second-semester management major, said. “This is an important sentiment that is often missed when talking about body image. It’s not just about finding confidence, it is about understanding that every body is beautiful and every body is different.”
The event, which was held last night in the Student Union, was hosted by the Student Services committee, which is part of the Undergraduate Student Government’s (USG) Student Services Committee. Dennis Mema, a sixth-semester political science major and chairperson of the subcommittee, moderated the panel, which included presentations from the panelists, moderated questions and student-submitted questions.
“The reason I came to this event today is because I am in eating disorder recovery,” Cynthia Dias, a fourth-semester psychology major, said. She shared some inspiring words about her experience and offered support to others who may be facing eating disorder issues. “… I think it’s extremely important to support these events because it’s something that should be talked about more often … It was great to see other people’s opinions on things because depending on your generation … whatever it may be, you have different views for everything that’s going on nowadays … It’s important to get all of those different aspects and opinion to verify your own opinion and come up with new ideas for yourself.”
Katherine Aristi, a sixth-semester animal science major and wildlife conservation minor, started off the event with simple yet powerful exercise that called attention to the heart of the matter: How you view yourself is important and surrounding yourself with people who support you is crucial. As President of CHAARG, which is a national program about “Changing Health Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls,” Aristi and her members are surrounded by UConn women that aim to uplift other women.
“There’s no way our generation avoids social media,” Aristi said. In CHAARG, the women all have their own social media accounts geared toward health and fitness. “My social media feed is full of women empowering women. We celebrate each other’s accomplishments instead of tearing each other down.”
Former USG President Ama Appiah was the first to draw attention to the need to approach the topic of body image from a generational standpoint.
“My interest in body image awareness began in high school, when I started a self-perception campaign on Twitter, which aimed to change the culture within my school and create positive messages,” Appiah said. “It’s important to have these conversations now more than ever, body awareness is very intersectional. There are so many people here with race and religion. We need to understand how different stereotypes that lead to altered self-perception and how other minority groups perceive themselves.
Throughout the event, the panel expressed the desire to keep the discussion open to all students. When prompted by audience members about inclusivity and acceptance with demographics that are not often discussed with body image, not just with men but also with those identifying as gender non-conforming, the panel members acknowledged the need to be informed about body image pertaining to all.
Amy Dunham, the nutrition coordinator at Student Health and Wellness, as well as oversees of SHAPE and the Body Project, shared the wide array of resources available to students, such as the Counseling and Mental Health Services in Arjona.
“What we could do for ourselves is the starting point,” Dunham said. “What are we grateful for about ourselves? How many times are we stopping and checking inward? We need to find avenues to combat negativity.”
Dr. Nancy Rodriguez, a Professor of Nutritional Sciences at UConn, focused on acceptance of yourself and understanding the importance of different body types and how that may impact one’s image and health.
“We need to understand the context of being healthy and happy,” Rodriguez said. “Keep in mind that there are all types of healthy, all types of fit. If we can wrap our brains around that and associate yourself with people that don’t make you feel badly about how you are, you’re on your way. You are who you are, embrace and love that.”
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.