Take a good look

Body image takes its toll as eating disorders continue to affect college students. “Eating disorders affect more than 10 million Americans, and they are the number one killer of young women when it comes to any mental health issue,” stated Gabriela Helfgott Sullivan, MPH, who has been the peer health programs director at Health Promotion Services at the UVM Center for Health & Wellbeing for the past four years. “The negative impact of the media on our body image affects us all,” she said.Sullivan made it clear that negative body image and eating disorders are a prevalent issue in today’s society. A study done by Global Market Insite, Inc. on behalf of the National Eating Disorders Association was done in the fall of 2006 on over 1,000 college students across the country, revealing some startling news. The study reported that 80.9 percent of females and 74.7 percent of males have dieted and avoided or skipped meals. Also, 19.6 percent of the participants admitted to having an eating disorder at one point in their lives. Poor body image has found it’s way onto college campuses across the nation. But where does UVM fall in this trend?Does the atmosphere at UVM breed negative body image? Or is it a supportive environment for positive body image?Hannah Lily Zaks, a freshman from New York City, stated, “People at UVM are far more laid back and less judgmental about body image than people in New York City.” Jesse Zastrow, a sophomore at UVM, commented on the atmosphere on campus, saying, “UVM is a very friendly and comfortable environment for good body image.” He also noted that he “doesn’t really feel affected by it either way.” Mara Weinberg, a freshman at UVM, agreed that UVM is a safe haven for body image. “The posters and pictures UVM puts up around campus show a diverse array of body size, shape, color and orientation,” Weinberg said. “Because of this, virtually anyone on campus can relate to the pictures and can feel accepted for whomever they might be,” Weinberg said. In addition, there are programs on campus that encourage positive body image, Sullivan said. Sullivan and the peer health educators of the Student Wellness Action Team (SWAT) held an event across campus during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (February 25 -29). This event involved activities such as screening films about eating disorders and passing out buttons and brochures to raise awareness about body image and eating disorders. During this week, they also hosted “A Day Without Mirrors,” where they posted flyers on mirrors in bathrooms across campus encouraging students to be comfortable in their bodies. UVM is aware that body image can be an issue and is trying to make a difference by making UVM a safe place for body image, Sullivan said. “We want UVM students to nourish their bodies mindfully & in moderation,” she said. “We also want UVM students to challenge the messages they get from the media, from society, from each other and from themselves, about what the ‘ideal’ body should look like, and what their motivation is behind their eating and exercise routines.”It seems certain that “with the pressures from mass media, no place is great for body image,” Dani Tompkins, a freshman at UVM, said.”But all things considered,” he said, “UVM is not too bad of a place to be when it comes to supporting good body image.”