How S.H.A.P.E. is helping students navigate everything body image

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The University of Connecticut’s S.H.A.P.E. program works to spread the concept of body positivity across campus. S.H.A.P.E. is a peer education group through the Student Health and Wellness Nutrition and Physical Activity Offices, which stands for ‘Students Helping to Achieve Positive Esteem’. The program has been in existence for over 19 years. Photo courtesy of the UConn SHaW website.

With the presence of social media and unrealistic standards, body positivity can be something hard to achieve. The constant comparison to others, whether that be characters on TV or Instagram models that are bombarding your feed, can be damaging to one’s mental health. The University of Connecticut’s S.H.A.P.E. program works to spread the concept of body positivity across campus.  

S.H.A.P.E. stands for ‘Students Helping to Achieve Positive Esteem’ and has been in existence for over 19 years. It’s a peer education group through the Student Health and Wellness Nutrition and Physical Activity Office. Maia Smith, member and now intern for S.H.A.P.E., , explains the true mission of S.H.A.P.E. on our campus.  

“The group was put together to promote positive body image, as well as spread awareness of eating disorders, in order to encourage early intervention and more treatment for those who may be struggling,” she said.   

Smith goes on to explain how eating disorders can be both heavily stigmatized and glamorized in society, which can lead to people not knowing how to navigate their eating disorder. By bringing awareness to campus, S.H.A.P.E. hopes to inform individuals of eating disorder warning signs and how they can get help, to eventually receive the treatment they need.  

This mission is promoted across campus in a variety of different ways, one of their biggest being the annual fashion show “Cat Walk to End Fat Talk.” Usually when individuals think of runway shows, a thin model comes to mind. S.H.A.P.E. works to combat this notion by including all body types and all types of fashion.  

“We believe all people should be able to feel confident and beautiful in their own skin,” said Smith. “This fashion show combats weight stigma and allows students to express themselves in a supportive, accepting environment of all body sizes and identities.”  

Anyone is welcomed to register, and is of course permitted to wear whatever outfit they desired. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the fashion show was unable to happen this year, which motivated S.H.A.P.E. members to invent a new way to virtually host the show. It is now called “Fashion is for EveryBODY” and will consist of video submissions of “students showing off their favorite outfits and telling us what body acceptance/body positivity means to them personally,” said Smith. Not only does this still incorporate fashion, but now students are creating a more meaningful connection to body positivity and how it has impacted their very own lives.  

However, it doesn’t stop here. S.H.A.P.E. discusses a plethora of other important topics, including how to navigate negative thoughts.  

“We discuss often how social media and societal norms influence body image and how it is discussed in the media,” said Smith. “We want our members to have the skills to shut down negative body talk and be role models for [their] friends and peers.”  

The peer educators are informed and educated on these topics, allowing them to share their tips and knowledge on how to navigate body image struggles, eating disorders and most things self-love. An annual art show, The Body Project and National Eating Disorder Awareness Week activities are all events that S.H.A.P.E. hosts.  

If you are very passionate about these topics and wish to get involved, you can fill out an application on the UConn Student Health and Wellness website.  

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