Body Positivity and Empowerment (BE+) Club hosted a discussion about the relationships between body image, athletics, student life, and mental health last Friday, May 17. The discussion, which took place in the Underwood Room, was open to students and faculty.
Ray Shoemaker ’20, Head of Community Outreach for BE+, felt that listening to the stories of others provided him with a sense of support that helped reduce his own insecurities.
Shoemaker said, “I’ve once been a victim of fat shaming, and it both physically and mentally bruised me up to a point where I passed out. The opportunity to be on the panel and see people talk about their experiences comforts me, because I know I’m not going through this alone. Other members of the community are struggling with you, so we know we can all get through this together and combat this issue as a group.”
According to Dariana Guerrero, Teaching Fellow in English and faculty advisor of BE+, the discussion aimed to deconstruct the stigma surrounding body image.
Guerrero said, “BE+ serves the need as the first and only school club that addresses body positivity, empowerment, and fat phobia on campus. One of the things I see as a faculty member is just a really wide range of body dysmorphia issues, body image problems, and eating pattern issues with all different kinds of students, so the discussion was a way for us to actually talk about these things without it being stigmatized or being necessarily medicalized. We disseminate what it means to live in a world with a body and have all of these multitudes of identity with them.”
One discussion panel focused on the negative effects of standardized body images on athletes and their performances. According to Jake Jordan ’20, his previous football coaches would value bigger and taller athletes over others.
“I have faced coaches who think I’m too small to play certain positions, and I am put at a disadvantage because of my size. I know for a lot of other sports, there is a similar situation where there is a particular body type for that sport. Football is a sport where anyone can find a position, but if you are going to play the position you want to play, then you do have to fit that type. While I played quarterback up to 8th grade, I was discouraged by my coaches as I came to high school. I had to work extra-hard to combat these standards and eye testings,” said Jordan.
In addition, Jordan mentioned that the size of uniforms in sports such as swimming and crew often discouraged prospective young athletes from competing at a high level.
“I think body image can serve as a barrier for a lot of younger athletes from fulling enjoying their sport, especially for sports like swimming or crew, where a lot of the times uniforms can be more revealing, and I think that could take away some enjoyment from the sport. This is especially when an athlete feels uncomfortable just by their uniform. So I think sometimes body image can take away from the athletic and competitive aspects of the game,” said Jordan.
Karen Sun ’20 added that the tight and revealing suits often perpetuate the notion that body image should be part of the criteria that goes into judgement.
Sun said, “As you get into higher levels of swimming, less and less clothing becomes normalized in a sense, and you are assumed to be comfortable with it. When, in reality, high visibility does not lead to better records in the first place. Regardless of body type, if you’re fast, you’re fast. Your body type may affect to a small extent, but it is never the determining factor in how you actually are as a swimmer.”
In order to reduce the notion of an ideal body image and judgements on the physical aspects of athletes and students, Devin O’Reilly, Teaching Fellow in Athletics, believes that individuals should find solidarity in their community.
“If everyone on your team or everyone in your community understands that we are all special in our own way and we aren’t judging people on the way they look, it’s about your character, your emotions, and your input to the whole group. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s about how much you contribute to them for one main goal. I think this could be the direction of change we should be going,” said O’Reilly.
Guerrero said that the BE+ club will continue to foster body positivity and equality in different forms in the future.
“The BE+ community will put on more panel discussions about athletics and bodies, collaborating with the community engagement office on spread the love week, doing a lot of good work in collaboration with psyches, in collaboration with the residential life. As a group, all members will continue to promote the diversity of bodies, since all are equally important,” said Guerrero.