UConn students walk the "Catwalk to End Fat Talk"

On Sunday, the UConn body-positivity peer education group Students Helping to Achieve Positive Esteem (S.H.A.P.E.) held their first annual “Catwalk to End Fat Talk” featuring a diverse group of models showing off their own unique identities.

The event served as the end to “Fat Talk Free Week,” an event based on a program originating at Trinity University in San Antonio.  The fashion show took that message a little bit further, incorporating other characteristics besides just body shape.

UConn S.H.A.P.E.'s "Catwalk to End Fat Talk" took place on Sunday in the Student Union Ballroom (Photo credit: Bonnie Deal)

“Catwalk goes above and beyond,” said Jenn Buden, a registered dietician and the group’s advisor.  “We’re trying to embrace diversity, different genders and sexualities.  We’re really trying to create an overall movement on our campus to really promote what people love about themselves that goes beyond physical.”

“That’s the premise of the show- celebrating who you are as an individual and being comfortable in your own skin,” said Stephanie Voytek, the show's main organizer.  “We have a bunch of personalities that are really different, and its cool seeing the contrast.”

Shanjida Jui, a junior at UConn, took a break from her constant studying as a pre-med student to model in the show to take advantage of the event’s mission by representing the culture of Bangladesh, where she moved from in high school.

Jui modeled a red and black dress with gold accents, traditional formal wear for weddings or parties.

Shanjida Jui models a traditional formal dress from Bangladesh (Photo credit: Bonnie Deal)

“It’s very nice to present my country,” she said. “This is one part of my identity that’s very important to me.”

Giuliana David, a sophomore S.H.A.P.E. member who was the MC of the event, shared an intense passion for the mission of the event, and the group in general.

“To me, this is the icing on the cake - if you didn’t get it [during Fat Talk Free Week], you’ll get it now,” she said.  “We can say a lot of things…but now we’re going to show you. Its what S.H.A.P.E. stands for- girls dressing in what they’re comfortable in, looking and feeling great.”

Giuliana David, a second year S.H.A.P.E. member, was the MC of the event. (Photo credit: Bonnie Deal)

Throughout the school year, S.H.A.P.E. members focus most of their efforts giving presentations to sororities and other on-campus groups.  Much of these presentations revolve around “The Body Project,” a cognitive dissonance training program to help females change the way they think about themselves. It was developed at the same Trinity University where Fat Talk Free Week originated.

“I would be lying if I said it didn’t change my life,” Buden said about the program.

The program involves two separate sessions, which include activities like standing in front of a mirror and listing at least ten positive things about yourself, and writing a letter to a fictitious younger girl warning them about the unrealistic body ideals portrayed in the media.  All S.H.A.P.E. peer facilitators have to go through the program training themselves to be able to teach it to others.

“It was really powerful,” said Cassie Hunter, a graduate student who worked with S.H.A.P.E. as an undergraduate and came back to model in the show. “The most powerful part about it was sitting in a room with 12 other girls and having the realization that everyone else was feeling the same insecurities or pressures that I was.”

Cassie Hunter (right) chose to represent her participation in Ultimate Frisbee for one of her outfits. (Photo credit: Bonnie Deal)

This is one of S.H.A.P.E.’s main missions: making sure students know they are not alone.  Almost all women feel societal pressures to conform to a certain body image.

“In my group of friends, our biggest fear was to come back for Thanksgiving break and be talked about,” said David about her and her friends’ fear of gaining the dreaded Freshman 15.

According to Hunter, S.H.A.P.E. tries to stress the fact that these thoughts, as well as body changes, are affecting everyone.

“We are bringing awareness to the fact that your body going through changes is normal and kind of shedding light on how much pressure the media, society puts on young women (as well as men) to fit into this standard that isn’t realistic,” she said.

Even Jonathan strutted his stuff at the event. (Photo credit: Bonnie Deal)

The fashion show definitely put an emphasis on this.  Models picked out their own clothes that demonstrated their own unique personalities. Different videos were shown that discussed positive body image, and David excelled as the MC, always purporting S.H.A.P.E.’s mission.

Many who participated definitely got the message.

“In today’s society there are so many mixed messages and it’s just nice to increase visibility of people who you don’t normally see in the mainstream media,” said Katie Speer, a junior who modeled in the show.  “I don’t see people who look like me and I’m OK with that, but it would be nice if someone could be inspired by what they see here to be comfortable being themselves.”

Katie Speer ('17) modeled a black formal dress at the Catwalk to End Fat Talk.