The Body Peace Corps held a group presentation and discussion in the Michigan Union Thursday evening to discuss the positives and negatives of body image associated with eating disorders.
“Riots Not Diets” was one part of a week-long event, held in conjunction with Active Minds and the University of Michigan’s Counseling and Psychological Services for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The series of events focused on promoting positive body image through online articles, poster making, sharing experiences about eating disorder recovery, clothing drives, events and fundraisers.
Throughout the presentation, event coordinators Traci Ayub, a first-year master’s student at the School of Public Health, and LSA senior Rachael Ankley encouraged the audience to talk about current issues society is facing regarding the portrayal of body image and eating disorders.
One student commented on the large volume of body image stories focused around adolescent girls and younger women and the lack of stories about the transition to adulthood and beyond, where she said these issues remain a major concern. Another student highlighted the sensationalized way losing weight is treated, which they said leaves out the emotional struggle that those affected by eating disorders might go through.
Ayub and Ankley emphasized those issues in their presentation, along with several other topics, such as the prevalence eating disorders in marginalized social and ethnic groups. In particular, Ayub discussed the feeling of being alone that she said members of this group may experience, along with fears about being accepted by their peers.
“We started mentioning stories about men, stories about people of color, stories about those in the LGBT community… anything that wasn’t that typical story about the white woman,” Ayub said. “That is an important story, but it is being told already. It’s just that there are not a lot of identities talked about in terms of eating disorders.”
The presentation also explained several underlying concerns in the treatment of eating disorders. One of the most common ways individuals with eating disorders suffer in everyday life is from the comments of others about their image, presenters said.
“You can’t tell if somebody is healthy looking at them,” Ayub said. “And a lot of times, we try to police people of a certain weight. You’re not really helping them. They are aware of their health status. They have seen a doctor; they know whether they are healthy or not.”
The coordinators also presented facts about eating disorders. Approximately 28 percent of women and 10 percent of men at the University who were screened in a U-SHAPE survey were found to have an eating disorder, and over 70 percent of all students screened were somewhat dissatisfied with their bodies.
Ayub emphasized the need for more resources to help combat the prevalence of such disorders on campus.
“We saw a need that there wasn’t enough conversation of how to turn awareness into activism,” Ayub said. “We wanted something that talked about all the different issues that surround eating disorders such as body image disturbances, different communities that are affected by eating disorders.”
Ankley also stressed the importance of events like these specifically on college campuses, because college students are among the most susceptible groups to eating disorders.
“Eating disorders and distortive body image are especially prevalent on college campuses,” Ankley said. “When you are thrown into a group of new people, you’re prone to social comparison, and how you can fit in with them.”