By Kelley Freund ('07)
It's no secret that many college students are not happy with their physical appearance. The norm is to get together and talk about what imperfections exist and how it would be better to lose weight, go on a diet, or look like a celebrity. But…what if instead of bonding over self-criticism, we created a JMU culture of bonding over self-love?
February is designated as Eating Disorders Awareness month through the National Eating Disorders Association. This year multiple groups on campus are collaborating to promote awareness and self-acceptance. The University Health Center's Student Wellness and Outreach coordinates university-wide health programs and initiatives on a variety of health and wellness topics.
Last year, SWO created a campaign for body image called Absolute Value. Students were filmed for a video and photographed wearing as much or little clothing as they preferred with a piece of poster board in front of them; on the poster board was written how that student valued herself or himself, outside of appearance. For example, one student wrote, "I measure myself based on personal progress." Another wrote, "I weigh myself by the choices I make."
Ron and Sally George lost their daughter Leslie, a JMU student and member of the Tri-Sigma sorority, to an eating disorder in 2000. Her battle with an eating disorder has been the catalyst for awareness and prevention of eating disorders at JMU. Her parents founded the Leslie George Memorial Fund for Eating Disorder Awareness, which has been essential for efforts to educate others about body image acceptance and eating disorders prevention.
Cali Allen is a member of Peers Reaching Others through Motion, or PROmotion, a peer education group that promotes self-esteem and a healthy lifestyle through physical and educational activities. "The students in PROmotion are all employees of UREC working in fitness or group fitness and we want our participants working out for the 'right' reasons ... to maintain health, increase strength, etc." says Allen.
PROmotion is a firm believer in the mission of the Absolute Value Campaign. "A campaign like that is highly important in today's society as the media and culture influence perceptions of many young men and women [in terms of] how they should look," says Allen. "They teach people they must look a certain way and be 'skinny' when in reality everyone looks different and has their own amazing features, inside and out."
Allen believes Absolute Value is such a powerful campaign because the messages and expressions people portray in the video make it easier for other students to relate to. "They see real people who are not photo-shopped and people that are comfortable with themselves. When someone accepts and is comfortable with how they look and feel, that happiness can be seen from the outside as well. The videos are powerful in themselves because the messages they send are not complex, but they focus on non-physical attributes, which people tend to forget about at times. It brought smiles to people's faces when they came up with their expression on how they valued themselves in a non-physical way," says Allen.
Allen hopes campaigns like Absolute Value will increase confidence among young adults across college campuses. She hopes that individuals with unhealthy behaviors and perceptions about their bodies will see the groups and campaigns like the ones at JMU and start to change their behaviors and attitudes about themselves.
For students who are experiencing problems with eating and exercise, there is help at JMU. HOPE, Help Overcoming Problems with Eating & Exercise, is a collaborative team involving the University Health Center, Counseling and Student Development Center, UREC, and Sports Medicine. Contact a member of the HOPE team for help. More information can be found at www.jmu.edu/healthctr/eatingdisorder.