“Does this make me look fat?” Most guys hear this question and end up mumbling something along the lines of, “Honey, when I see your face, there’s not a thing that I would change, ‘cuz girl you’re amazing just the way you are.” Most girls hear that response and either melt on the inside or doubt the sincerity in the sentiment since it’s the standard response. Ultimately, a vicious cycle ensues where the guy is perpetually convincing the girl that she is indeed beautiful, and the girl is eternally on a quest for that elusive 36-26-36. In this society of aesthetic regulations, it seems like we’ve become more concerned about outfits and societal images speaking to our personalities instead of the other way around.
There are multiple resources offered by MIT to help inspire a healthier body image. One resource offered to a small group of women is the Making Peace with Food and Body Image group. Conducted by Susanna Barry, senior program manager at MIT Medical, the group helps MIT students discuss food- and weight-related issues including self-esteem, stress management, and letting go of perfectionism.
“We take in the images of the official body [the stereotyped body image that all men and women are supposed to aspire to], and never question or deconstruct it. We walk around with some myth that has also been airbrushed, Photoshopped, and has had clothing tailored to fit her physique so perfectly. It’s really important that we don’t just absorb these images without truly comprehending what they are comprised of,” Barry said.
A ten-week program that runs every semester, the Making Peace with Food and Body Image group is a safe, supportive, and consistent space where women can discuss where they are on their various paths to self-realization. The group, which usually consists of five to 12 women, meets Fridays, 3:30–5 p.m. Barry says that follow-up feedback collected from past participants has been appreciative. Many women who were part of this seminar relate that they feel more flexible, that their lives are more enjoyable, and that they are more at peace with themselves after the discussion group.
Though body image concerns are generally stereotyped as female problems, these issues often affect men as well. A number of MIT’s resources are available for everyone who is affected by body image or eating troubles.
There are three branches of resources available at MIT for students with body image concerns. As always, Mental Health and Counseling services are available at MIT Medical for students who would like to talk to a professional about any psychological pressures contributing to their body-image problems. Additionally, students can consult their primary care providers to ensure that they are maintaining a healthy diet. Finally, there are nutritionists at MIT Medical who can help students set up food plans to ensure proper vitamin and nutrient intake.
Issues of self-image and eating tend to be heavily stigmatized, so it can sometimes be difficult for people to address body-image concerns. However, there is a lot we can do to help our friends who are going through self-image crises. Here’s a mini-list of dos and don’ts when trying to help a friend get through such a problem.
• Make a special time to talk with your friend — perhaps a walk or a coffee date. Give your friend a heads-up so that he or she doesn’t feel attacked.
• When speaking with a friend about the issues he or she is facing, approach the topic from a perspective of concern. Focus the discussion on productive ways to deal with the problem; ensure that he or she doesn’t feel accused, but cared for.
• Your friend may not feel comfortable opening up to you when you first initiate the conversation, but letting him or her know you care will allow your friend to approach you when he or she is ready to discuss the topic.
• Don’t ambush your friend or team up with a group of friends. One-on-one conversations will make your friend feel more secure. Being one against many causes most people to clam up, and any subsequent attempts at engagement may not work.
So tomorrow, when you’re walking out the door, own that outfit you’re wearing and hold your head up high. Let Lady Gaga resonate in your head — don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and you’re set. Toss out that mirror and eat that delicious Subway sandwich, because after all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
If you’re interested in the Making Peace with Food and Body Image program, send an e-mail to Zan Barry at email@example.com. Sign-ups are open until March 4.