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Love Your Body Week 2018 Engages Intersectionality

The Boston College Women’s Center hosted its annual program “Love Your Body Week” November 5-9. The week was full of programming meant to promote body positivity and healthy body image, creating spaces for students to reflect on their relationships with their bodies. The programs are designed to educate students in general, but this year in particular, the Women’s Center wanted to focus on issues of intersectional body image.

Love Your Body Week 2018 built upon and expanded conversations from last year’s programming. In the fall of 2017, the center hosted an event with Kate Sweeney, the Campus Nutritionist from the Office of Health Promotion (OHP).

“This year, the event was expanded to incorporate the student group ‘I am that girl’ and the topics covered were more nuanced,” said Maggie Haesler, LSOE '19, an undergraduate student staff member at the Women’s Center.

“That’s one of the great things about having planning committee meetings each year; we have the opportunity to check in with past collaborators and find ways to develop deeper conversations,” explained Haesler.

On Wednesday, the center recreated an adaptive yoga event that successfully ran in 2017. The event’s instructor, Ling Beisecker, was previously a yoga instructor at Down Under Yoga. This year, she ran the adaptive yoga event in her new position as the Fitness and Wellness Coordinator for BC faculty and staff.

Although some of the week’s activities were developed in conjunction with the previous year’s programs, the majority of the events were new, bringing fresh perspectives and topics to the BC community. On Monday, the center kicked off the week by holding a film screening of “Occupying Space: Bodies & Narratives,” a documentary-style video portrait that featured several BC students sharing stories about identity, expression, and body image while removing layers of clothing. The film was directed by Franchesca Araujo, MCAS '20, and produced by Penny Hawthorne, a junior at Wellesley College.

On Tuesday, following the “Body Image: Feelings, Thoughts, Beliefs, & Behaviors” event earlier in the day, the Council for Students with Disabilities partnered with the Women’s Center to bring author Imani Barbarin to campus for the first time. Barbarin is an author and the creator of the website Crutches & Spice. She writes from the perspective of a black woman with cerebral palsy and specializes in blogging, science fiction, and memoir.

Thursday’s events included “This Is My Body,” a space for trans and non-binary students to discuss their relationships with their bodies, hosted in collaboration with GLC, and “Casting Off the Negative: Racial Representations of the Body” at the McMullen Museum. The latter event was “a gallery walk and talk with the curators, Robin Lydenberg and Ash Anderson, of the Carrie Mae Weems: Strategies of Engagement exhibit,” said Haesler. “Rachel Chamberlain, McMullen Museum’s Manager of Education Outreach and Digital Resources, worked throughout the summer and fall to help us develop the event,” continued Haesler, emphasizing the great amount of hard work and planning that went into the execution of the evening.

In past years, the the Women's Center has hosted a theatrical performance on the culminating Friday night of Love Your Body Week. This year, the center took the opportunity to renew the lineup, changing the performance from Eve Ensler’s “The Good Body” to Ntozake Shange's “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.” The performance, directed by Miya Coleman, MCAS '19, and Debbie Aboaba, MCAS '21, included a series of selected poems that collectively told a story of “love, empowerment, struggle, loss, and ultimately a celebration of sisterhood.”

The performance, which had not been done at BC in some time, was of particular importance this year. Directors Coleman and Aboaba elaborated on the show's significance, saying “This play meant a lot to us as women of color and also as artists who appreciate a beautiful piece of written work. Also, [in light of the playwright's recent death] we felt extremely honored to ensure that her work could live on and continue to inspire people. It was very important that we help carry on her legacy of empowering women of color and championing sisterhood.”

As the Women’s Center continues to hold events such as Love Your Body Week, feedback from student attendees and collaborators contributes greatly to the center's programming developments. This year’s Love Your Body Week exemplified the Women’s Center’s commitment to responding to the changing needs of the student body. “Creating space for people to speak for themselves and tell us, a sort of vessel through which programming can be developed, what they need and desire is perhaps the most important element of what we try to do with Love Your Body Week,” said Haesler. These discussions led to the deliberate prioritization of intersectionality for the 2018 programs.

“As an able-bodied, cis, white woman, I occupy a lot of privileged space. Finding a way to love my body is contextualized in those identities. Love Your Body Week is not just for me, and our programming has to reflect that in order for it to be worthwhile and meaningful. Intersectionality is the backbone to truly impactful work, and I hope that in the years to come it will be held as top priority in programming as directors collaborate with the community and create intentional spaces,” said Haesler.

Accountability is highly valued at the Women’s Center and members are held accountable “to practicing what [they] preach and to pushing [their] work to be truly inclusive and protective, not just performative.”

So then, what's the take away from Love Your Body Week 2018? Well, according to Haesler, the weeklong program is a chance to check in with oneself and reflect on important issues such as self-love and body image. The program is also a call to question how and which bodies are loved, not just in society as a whole but also on BC's own campus. In the opinion of Haesler and many others on campus, the BC community has particularly problematic views or norms when it comes to body image. “To be frank, the standards of desirability much of the Boston College community seeks to uphold are colonized, oppressive, and incomplete,” declared Haesler. This problematic view is not only damaging to the identities and experiences of many members of the BC community, but it creates a cycle that perpetuates negative body image, especially for BC women.

Haesler highlighted this point and expressed hope for change: “When we allow for such limited interpretations of what is loveable, we erase entire identities and experiences. In doing so, we do a huge disservice to our community. It is in all of Boston College’s best interest to create space for those who have been systematically silenced [simply because of their identity]. We have so much to listen to... In the future, I hope more collaboration is fostered throughout this week and that we are constantly promoting a love of ALL bodies.”