The Body Project

by Cyna Mirzai-

Blacksburg, Va., Jan. 27 – The Body Project Faculty Advisor Laurie Fritsch observes her facilitators before their monthly meeting begins. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

A typical college student is often balancing rigorous classes, extracurricular activities and a hectic social life. But what is also looming in the background for some, especially women, is a struggle with self-image and disordered eating. 

A study by the Washington University School of Medicine estimated that 11% to 17% of women on college campuses in the United States have eating disorders. While there is no immediate remedy for self-esteem and disordered eating issues, a program at Virginia Tech is working to transform the culture.

The Body Project is an evidence-based eating disorder prevention program that promotes positive body image to college students through workshops taught by facilitators. The program was created by a group of psychologists and, after four hours of the program, it has been shown to reduce the onset of eating disorders by 60%. The program includes two, two-hour workshops held one week apart.

A national program, The Body Project is found in universities across the country. The program’s journey at Virginia Tech, however, began in 2014. Laurie Fritsch, the faculty advisor for The Body Project, said that during this time, there was pressure for women to achieve the “thin ideal”.

“For many years, the aesthetic of the media and society, in general, was around being very skinny,” Fritsch said. “Society has had to continually change the script to reflect what the appearance ideal is at the current time. It used to be centered around a thin appearance ideal, then it shifted to a curvy appearance ideal, and now the norm is this fit and toned appearance ideal.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, The Body Project’s goals are to define the “appearance” ideal, examine the costs of pursuing this ideal and exploring ways to resist pressures to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty.

The same study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine found that participation in The Body Project is also associated with short- and long-term reductions in core eating disorder factors and the prevention of future onset of eating disorders. This program has helped people think more critically about how the things they desire often do not bring that outcome of happiness they think it will, Fritsch said.

Blacksburg, Va., Jan. 27 – The Body Project facilitators meet in small groups to discuss how to teach an activity for future workshops. Photo credit: Cyna Mirzai

“We are fighting a very predominant ideal culture,” Fritsch said. “It’s always an uphill battle because it’s difficult to retrain people to think in such a different direction when they are learning about appearance ideals that have been pushed to them through the media and their childhood for ages.” 

Olivia Rummel, a student facilitator for The Body Project, believes the program is necessary for understanding what causes negative self-image and changing the discourse around body-related concerns.

“I have seen a lot of positive changes in my own life, both in my own journey with my body acceptance and in the ways that I interact with others,” Rummel said.

Any student who is struggling with self-image or disordered eating can sign up for The Body Project workshops on the Hokie Wellness website.

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