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Body Week: Imagine Positive Body Images

Undergraduate women face many pressures affecting their body image and Harvard women are no exception. Even among some of the most brilliant and strong women I’ve ever met, there are still many persisting sources of insecurity and low self-esteem. In such a rigorous academic environment, in which it seems like that girl in your math class always gets better grades without even trying and the guy from your biochemistry class already landed a summer internship before you even struggled through your first midterm, it can be easy to start lacking self-confidence. The pressure to be perfect, or at least to appear so, is heavy at top universities. For this reason, the importance of reaching out to students and peers about body image issues before they begin or get worse is just as important as offering the resources for getting better.

 

Harvard’s Women’s Center provides a community to celebrate women, promote women leadership, and discuss gender equity by addressing issues that women face. Each year, the Women’s Center puts on Women’s Week to focus on empowering undergraduate women while celebrating and discussing women and gender by addressing many gender issues. This year’s theme, “I am… telling my own story,” encourages undergraduates to share their experiences with others and express self-pride. One event, Body Image for Women of Color, promotes girl-love and expressing how our backgrounds influence our present body image. At the end of the event, each attendee drew what they considered the ideal body type in small groups, then explained what influenced their ideas and how their own body image has been impacted by societal and cultural norms. Creating a safe atmosphere for the large group let the undergrad women share personal experiences and encounters here at Harvard.

One resonating idea is that, in college, you can feel like you have your act together even when stressed and feeling academic strain, as long as you feel confident about your body. Going to the gym is a symbol of taking care of yourself and being skinny is seen as having yourself figured out. However, these attitudes aren’t always healthy as they’re often taken to extremes and the actions can become personal abuse. It’s easy to fall into a harmful way of thinking when under stress and feeling like standards are too high. On the first week as an undergraduate, proctors and advising fellows introduce resources for getting help with eating disorders and other health concerns. By introducing situations that may happen, Harvard helped explain not only what signs of negative body image are, but also helped make students feel more comfortable reaching out for help if they or a friend was in need. Fostering a sense of community among freshmen and their entryways develops a strong support system that gives confidence and trust.

In order to embrace positive body image, we must redefine what is beautiful and find what makes each woman fierce and radiant. Harvard’s Rugby team released a powerful set of photos embracing their body images and women-empowering-women last year that explored the many different things that makes each team member beautiful. The takeaway message from this project is that beauty is more than physical appearance and it is important to celebrate one another for the amazing personality traits that make all of us unique and special.

 

Although Women’s Week is a great chance for undergrads to come out and find support, Harvard has many other helpful resources concerning body image and eating issues to anyone seeking them. Eating Concerns Hotline and Outreach (ECHO) is an undergraduate peer-counseling group with a hotline available every day from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and office hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday. ECHO also hosts events as outreach as well as referring students that come to them to other available resources that may be helpful. With Harvard’s Health Services (HUHS) and Mental Health Services being easily accessible and explained to undergraduates during orientation week, students are less intimidated by reaching out for help and can even find workshops and therapy for body image issues. The Wellness Proctors and Tutors for the freshman and each of the upperclassmen houses also introduced themselves to the undergraduates at the beginning of the school year and welcome anyone reaching out to them. Room 13, located in the basement of Thayer, has drop-in hours Monday through Saturday from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for anyone looking for a non-judgmental place to speak about their concerns without any pressure and with confidentiality. No appointment is needed.

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