Students Re-envision Eating Disorder Awareness Program with Focus on Body Positivity
Posted 03/31/2017 10:00AM


In support of February’s National Eating Disorder Month, members of Westridge’s Peer-to-Peer class, which helps students build skills to become conflict mediators, peer educators, and peer helpers, staged a week of events and activities designed to help promote positive body image among Westridge students.  

During the “Love Your Body Week,” the main hall was a sea of affirmations for and from girls of all divisions.  On the “Take What You Need, Give What You Can” wall, messages including “BE YOU (tiful),” “I care about you,” and “Numbers Don’t Define You,” were written on a rainbow of sticky notes.  Any student could take the message they “needed,” filling that space with a note for another student.  Just down the hall was the “Lower School Takes on #Love your Body” exhibit, with life-size paper dolls decorated with messages about what students love about themselves and their bodies.  Middle Schoolers voices were present in garlands of paper hearts featuring messages of support.

“I’m so proud with how everything went and how the event grew from last year,” said Peer-to-Peer member Micaela M. ’19. “It was encouraging to see the affirmation sticky notes across campus, especially when we found some written by alumnae.

“I really think Westridge creates a safe, inclusive, and mature environment to talk about the issues we face with each other,” continued Micaela. “It’s so important and helps destigmatize those issues and helps us realize that we aren’t alone. It's important that we, as students, don't feel alone, especially during our high school experience.”

At the heart of the event were the student-led conversations about loving one’s self.

The week culminated with an Upper School Town Meeting led by students in the Peer-to-Peer III class, during which results from a student body awareness survey were presented and students gave testimony on struggles with body images, after which the microphone was open to any student who wished to speak. The conversation continued at an optional but packed lunchtime discussion in the amphitheater.

Though the discussions did touch on loving and accepting the physical body, and dealing with feelings of being too fat, too skinny, too whatever, much of the conversation circled around the mental component of loving yourself, particularly when depression and anxiety are present factors.

“The Love Your Body event was completely student driven and Peer to Peer did a tremendous job creating something meaningful for the school,” said Judy McCleese, Westridge’s counselor and faculty leader of Peer to Peer. “My hope is that Love Your Body becomes an annual event and a legacy project for Peer to Peer. This event not only addresses broader topics on what it means to grow up female, but also evolves year to year to touch on current needs and issues that our students are experiencing.”

The anonymous student survey, which included such questions as “Have body anxieties ever impacted your life?”, “Have you ever felt pressure to lose weight?”, and “What do you think Westridge could do to promote better body confidence?”, found that 30% of respondent think they are too overweight, 80% have a favorite body part, and 90% have struggled with feeling insecure about their bodies.

The most prominent request the students made on the Body Image Survey was to have more information and adult resources available to them about nutrition. As a follow-up to Love Your Body week, nutritionist Nancy King came to campus this past Monday to speak to students about how nutrition relates to body image and answer questions during another lunch-time session.

This was the school’s second annual Love Your Body event. Last year’s events focused on issues of eating disorders and the influence of media on female body image.  Based on feedback from students, this year the focus shifted away from pathology and on to body positivity.  The program was inspired by the National Eating Disorder Association call for schools to host educational programs for students in February.  While many colleges take part, Westridge is one of the only high schools to launch their own body awareness program.

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