In the spirit of spreading awareness and fostering discussions, Skyler Spaulding ’20 and Charlotte Toogood ’20 are heading an Eating Disorder Education and Awareness Initiative at Andover.
In an email to students this past week, Spaulding and Toogood wrote, “Our mission is to promote healthy relationships with food and enhance body kindness for everyone… Eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect all communities, especially Andover.”
They continued, “We are looking for students who have a passion for debunking diet culture, breaking down our culture’s obsession with thinness, and questioning societal standards of beauty. Our society often defines ‘healthy’ as ‘thin,’ which is not only highly problematic, but also medically inaccurate. Our purpose is to redefine ‘health’ as feeling happy and empowered by treating your body with love and respect.”
The group is in the midst of accepting applications for their initiative, and they aim to train and certify a group of twelve to fifteen individuals, according to Toogood.
Toogood and Spaulding hope to address issues of eating disorder awareness and body positivity, topics they feel should be discussed more in at Andover.
Toogood said in an interview with The Phillipian, “Skyler and I wanted to start this initiative because throughout our time at Andover, we’ve seen a lot of people that we know suffer from eating disorders, and we felt that it was generally a taboo topic at Andover. And we felt that the administration and certain adults [prefer] to look away from the issue rather than address it because it’s a hard reality to face.”
In their email, Toogood and Spaulding included statistics from the 2018 State of the Academy survey. According to the data, “89 students reported having an eating disorder since coming to Andover, and nearly 90 [percent] of female and 60 [percent] of male students reported feeling insecure about their appearance.”
Faculty advisors Agatha Kip, Nutritionist and Registered Dietician, and Susan Esty, Director of Wellness Education, have helped Spaulding and Toogood organize their initiative. Esty commended Spaulding and Toogood for recognizing a community-wide issue and trying to create ways to address it.
“I think Skyler and Charlotte came at this from a great starting point, which was their own experiences as students at Andover, and it’s our ideal scenario that students identify student needs instead of adults trying to identify student needs,” said Esty.
Esty, taking on the role of a “bridge builder,” helped tie the Eating Disorder Education and Awareness initiative in with other existing spaces on campus.
“I was able to connect them with the body positive (BE+) group on campus and so they came to a meeting with Ms. [Dariana] Guerrero [Fellow in English]. We also connected with Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center before we even went to Be Positive because we knew that [with] their interest in eating disorders awareness, we would need the expertise of Sykes… We partner now with Ms. Kip as well as Dr. [Amy] Patel [Medical Director] and Dr. [Suzanne] Heon [Psychological Counselor and Wellness Educator] and others,” said Esty.
Spaulding and Toogood have applied for an Abbot Grant to fund training by The Body Positive, a body positivity group based in northern California.
According to its website, The Body Positive’s “ultimate goal is to end the harmful consequences of negative body image: eating disorders, depression, anxiety, cutting, suicide, substance abuse, and relationship violence,” and to promote individuals to “value their health, unique beauty, and identity.”
Spaulding hopes that with training from Body Positive, the group can visit Junior dorms to facilitate conversations on the matter, similar to that of the Mentors in Violence program offered to Lowers.
Toogood reiterated the group’s goals to challenge the pre-existing notions of what it means to be healthy or beautiful.
“It’s basically just an initiative to try to get everyone to be kinder to themselves, redefine what it means to be healthy. We’re trying to stray away from what our culture and society defines as beautiful, and kind of bring more awareness about what health truly is,” said Toogood.
Esty hopes that the group can encourage Andover to rethink how it addresses body positivity.
“More body kindness is really our ultimate goal. I think we all have enough ways in which we challenge ourselves here academically, athletically, artistically, socially. We do a lot of stretching and putting ourselves out there… and I think the body kindness movement is just one aspect of that, but one that I hope will help people be happier on this campus with themselves,” said Esty.