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Celebrate Love Your Body Day

Celebrate “Love Your Body” Day October 19.

Health Matters

Everyone’s body is different, yet many of us picture the ideal woman as tall, beautiful, and thin. The celebrity and fashion worlds have reinforced this unattainable image of perfection, and some women risk their health to achieve it. To combat these influences, the National Organization for Women has designated October 19 as Love Your Body Day. Since such images are everywhere and are very powerful, it is important to counteract their message, says Heather Thompson-Brenner, a CAS research assistant professor of psychology and director of the eating disorders program at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders.

 

“Every time you walk into Campus Convenience to get lunch, a huge rack of magazines faces you, all with covers that put skinny forward as very important,” she says. “I think a lot of people change their minds about what they’re going to eat just standing there at the door. As a culture we associate being skinny with being disciplined, wealthy, healthy, and a lot of other things that we value.”

Eating disorders and eating issues in general are very common among college students, Thompson-Brenner says, because of recent adolescent body changes, being independent for the first time, and dealing with academic stress. For some women, food restriction and exercise can seem like an effective way of gaining control of their bodies during a stressful time, but in reality, she says, “it actually makes things become much more anxiety-provoking and stressful.”

Dating can contribute to eating issues. “It seems that when dating is prominently on your mind,” she says, “then what you look like and what you think is going to be valued by the person you are dating is very important.”

Living together in close quarters is another powerful factor leading to eating disorders in young people. “There can be a kind of homogeneity to the group that increases the pressure for everybody to look a certain way,” says Thompson-Brenner. “So many people with an eating disorder say that they know their roommate also has an eating disorder that is going untreated.”

If you think a friend or roommate may have an eating disorder, Thompson-Brenner recommends taking a supportive role by expressing concern without being judgmental. “One of the components of an eating disorder is to be in denial about how serious the problem is — it’s part of the disease for your friend not to be able to admit what’s going on,” she says. If someone is in serious physical danger, seek help from an RA or call the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, 648 Beacon St., in Kenmore Square, at 617-353-9610.