With the abundant array of colorful posters lining the stairs up to Mac or O’Neill, it can be easy to ignore them altogether, and in effect miss out on an empowering program that the Boston College Office of Health Promotion conducts.
The Body Project Collaborative was created in 2012 by Drs. Eric Stice and Carolyn Becker. The Body Project Collaborative website describes the project as a “a dissonance-based body-acceptance program designed to help high school girls and college-age women resist cultural pressures to conform to the appearance ideal standard of female beauty and reduce their pursuit of unrealistic bodies.” The cognitive dissonance model works to challenge one's thoughts with one’s behaviors and explore whether there is actual truth in one's thoughts or if the thoughts are based off societal constructs.
Although the Body Project has been around for a couple of years, this is BC’s first year running the program on campus. BC's program involves seven student facilitators and six staff advisors. Each student facilitator has attended approximately 12-14 hours of training and has their own unique and passionate reason for wanting to facilitate these difficult conversations. A common theme for wanting to get involved is their own struggle to find body confidence and the desire to help students embrace their own bodies. Each individual program includes two two-hour sessions with an intimate group of six to 12 students and two to three student facilitators who guide the conversation.
When asked about her goals for the BC Body Project, Kathryn Sweeney, BC’s Administrative Dietitian and leader of the Body Project, responded that she hopes to provide female-identifying students with “tools and practical skills they can use to challenge the appearance ideals in the culture, in themselves, and in their own behaviors.”
The Oct. 15 Body Project session made it clear that students do develop these skills within the sessions. With the help of numerous eye-opening activities, the sessions focused on breaking down what constitutes the “appearance ideal” or “perfect woman.” The group discussed the individual, campus wide, and societal costs of pursuing this unattainable ideal. All group members were open to sharing and reflecting on their own body struggles, which made the session extremely powerful.
At the conclusion of the session, participants are assigned three tasks before meeting with the group again the following week. The first is to write a letter to a younger girl who is struggling with body image. The second is to stand in the mirror, and write down at least 15 positive qualities about yourself: physical, emotional, intellectual, or social. The third is to tackle one behavior goal you have for yourself, such as working out, looking in the mirror less, or not avoiding certain “unhealthy” foods altogether. These tasks will help to guide the second session and build on the skills and great conversation in the first session.
Looking to the future, the Body Project Collaborative is hoping to include a program for male-identifying students. Kathryn Sweeney expressed that she hopes within the next year, BC will be running the male program as well.
For now, the program will continue to remain only for female-identifying students. So, for any woman that is struggling with body image or would simply like to continue to maintain body positivity and discuss everyday difficulties with an amazing group of peers, this program is for you.
Students can get involved by becoming a member of the Body Project or by becoming a student facilitator. The Office of Health Promotion will begin to look for new student facilitators in the spring. Stay tuned and look out for that email!