The Vermont Cynic

Self-care: a remedy for self and others

Libby Camp and Kailey Bates, Staff Writers

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October is Bullying Prevention Month, an important time to reflect not only on how people treat those around them, but also how they treat themselves.

People often treat others better than they treat themselves, and this can lead to poor self-image, depression and increased substance abuse, according to a 2002 study by the American Psychological Association.

The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that 58 percent of college-aged women feel pressured to be a certain weight. 95 percent of people with eating disorders are of ages 12-25.

Sophomore Noah Luis Rappel is one of many students working on his own body positivity.

“I struggle with self-esteem and my body image because it is so easy to compare myself to others,” Rappel said.

“Depending on my weight and how I look a particular day, [my body image] can dictate how much I eat.”

Though self-love is an internal practice, there are outside factors, such as the constraints of the fashion industry, that influence students’ abilities to feel good about their image.

“The biggest struggle with my personal body positivity is the lack of attractive clothing available in my size range,” junior Starrkeisha Cobb said.

The majority of clothing in the U.S. is available in a narrow size range, and “you’d be hard-pressed to find any brand that caters to anyone who wears above a [size] 12,” according to a Feb. 2014 Refinery29.

There are a variety of approaches students use to be more confident and comfortable in their bodies.

Cobb combats the lack of clothing options by finding shirts that fit and then cutting them in ways that flatter their particular figure, they said.

Sometimes the best self-love comes in the form of loving others, Rappel said.

“It makes me feel good to focus on issues that are bigger than myself,” he said.

“I can spend my time making a difference in the world instead of using my time being fixated on how I look.”

There are plenty of things the UVM community as a whole can do to promote body positivity, Cobb said.

“UVM students can support body positivity by coming to the Slut Walk and by complimenting everyone no matter what their style is,” Cobb said.

“Everyone dresses perfectly for them, not for anyone else. We all must embrace that.”

The UVM Slut Walk, hosted by the Womyn of Color Coalition took place Oct. 22 in front of the Waterman building, according to the UVM Program Board.

Likeminded women marched in aim to “put the power back in students’ hands and respect back in names, bodies and minds,” the event description said.

Rappel also supports the Naked Bike Ride tradition at the end of each semester, he said.

It’s a way of encouraging fellow students to embrace their bodies and to show how proud they are of their naked and vulnerable features, Rappel said.

Students have the power to change how people feel about themselves, and they can do so much to make people feel comfortable in their own skin, he said.

Building empathy with others helps to foster a positive attitude about the self, Rappel said.

“I know I am not alone with my inner conflict,” he said. Appearances of happiness don’t always mean a happy person, Rappel said.

Bullying doesn’t always occur within the self, said Jeffrey Rettew, associate director of the Wellness Environment and counselor at Counseling and Psychiatry Services on Redstone campus.

Relationships are important to one’s health and well-being, he said.

“We developed a new pillar in WE called ‘We Relate,’” Rettew said. “Through our events, we talk about how you can build up positive relationships with romantic interests, roommates [and] even professors.”

Bullying looks different in college compared to high school and middle school, he said.

“It most often occurs in roommate disputes,” Rettew said. “Conflict arises because roommates assume the other knows what they want out of the relationship.”

“People coming from different histories of relationships have different expectations, and these aren’t expressed.”

When disputes happen, ResLife aims to help roommates better understand what each party wants, he said.

“People want an opportunity to be heard,” Rettew said. “Given the political discourse of this country, cultivating positive relationship skills is more important now than it’s ever been.”

The Step-Up bystander intervention program teaches students what to do when they see bullying. The organization provides an online guide to facilitate conversations about bystander behavior.

“Oftentimes we see bullying, bias and injustice or alcohol abuse and we get stuck in groupthink,” program coordinator Anne Valentine said.

“We assume that because no one else is doing anything, we shouldn’t either. We’ll rationalize away any responsibility in it.”  

The Step-Up program is having a positive effect on the student body by helping students identify direct and indirect ways to interrupt harmful situations, Valentine said.

“People are recognizing why they didn’t do something in the past, and [they] have more information and self-awareness now to make a difference,” she said.

Both Rettew and Valentine said students should make use of counseling services on campus.  

“Going to counseling doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you,” Rettew said. “This is a resource that is beneficial to anybody, regardless if you have a huge, diagnosable problem or not.”

Students must practice self-care, Rettew said.

“Maybe instead of spending two hours at the gym, you go for a 30-minute walk,” he said. “Thirty minutes of exercise will do more for your mind and body than using that time to study for an exam.”

Self-care and self-love can be tough under stress, Valentine said.

“Loving yourself and taking care of yourself is not the easiest thing to do,” she said. “Understand that it’s work, but if you’re willing to do the work there’s freedom in it.”

Whether it’s by treating their own image harshly, getting into a dispute with someone or witnessing bullying on campus, there are many University resources students can use to help practice care for self and others.

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Self-care: a remedy for self and others