What is Ideal? What is Real? JMU Explores Body Image

From: Public Affairs

Artist Larry Kirkwood body image display includes casts of real men and women.

Sculptor Larry Kirkwood challenged James Madison University students to see people as "real" and not compare them to ideal versions portrayed in the media during his presentation, “The Body Image Project – Beauty as a Relative Concept” Wednesday, Nov. 3, in the Festival Conference and Student Center Ballroom.

Kirkwood discussed body image, weight prejudices, racism and how the media influences what society deems to be “ideal." The artist displayed 20 body casts of men and women in various shapes and sizes.

Veronica Jones, outreach educator for University Health Center's Student Wellness and Outreach, recently presented on body image issues in several General Education health classes. Her office sponsored Kirkwood's presentation at JMU.

Dr. Debra Sutton, associate professor of health sciences, said that weight management and eating disorders are very important college health topics that are addressed in both Personal Wellness and Lifetime Fitness and Wellness courses.

"Mr. Kirkwood's presentation, through an interesting and creative way, serves as a reinforcement of information all classes in cluster five of JMU's General Education program address in order to promote health and wellness among our student community," said Sutton.

Kirkwood's motto is “Change the way you see, not how you look.” His body casts are meant to provoke discussion of the disconnect between real bodies and the body image the media pushes the public to believe is real.

Dr. Todd Sabato, assistant professor of health sciences, says it is troubling to consider the impact of the media in portraying weight and health.

"We are told that if we're too heavy, we must lose weight," said Sabato. "Even if we're at a healthy weight, we're further told to lose more. It's as if we're being told that, regardless of how we look, there's always a better option."

According to Kirkwood, the point of the body casts and his presentation is to change the way we look at ourselves and the way we perceive others. "The way we look physically is 'okay,'" said Kirkwood. "If change needs to occur, it is from the inside out and not the reverse."

Student Wellness and Outreach: http://www.jmu.edu/healthctr/swo/
Kirkwood Studios: http://www.kirkwoodstudios.com

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November 4, 2010