Coordinator Amy Chestnutt Works to Promote Body Positvity
The overhead lights were off in the Newcomb Hall Kaleidoscope Room; a podium was lit by a string of white lights. More than 40 people–mostly female college students, but also men and women of all ages–filled in the rows of seats. They listened attentively as individuals stood up and spoke bravely about struggles with eating disorders and the challenges of watching and helping those who suffer.
“It’s amazing how much courage one can gain from hearing others’ stories … Tonight we hope to open a dialogue,” the first speaker said, introducing the Perfect Illusions Vigil. “The hope is that as you listen to others, you will know you are not alone.”
The annual vigil is one important way the U.Va. Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns and the Women’s Center works to help students at the University of Virginia develop healthy relationships with food, exercise, and body image.
About 60 percent of college-aged women have disordered eating and, of women surveyed on a college campus, 91 percent have tried at one point to control their weight through dieting. Concern about body image impacts people even outside of eating habits. 67 percent of women aged 15 to 64 in some way have refrained from attending school, visiting the doctor, or expressing opinions on issues because of negative feelings about the way they look. Perhaps even more distressing, National College Health Assessment reports tell us that 1 in 5 college students have at one point believed their appearance to be traumatic or difficult to handle.
At the Women’s Center and around Grounds, Eating Disorders Education Initiative (EDEI) Coordinator Amy Chestnutt has played a key role in helping raise awareness about these issues. This past fall Chestnutt presented at two important national conferences. In October 2011 she spoke at the National Eating Disorders Association Conference in Los Angeles, CA, discussing “Reshaping College Culture: Body Positive Program at the University of Virginia.” She, along with Women’s Center intern Sarah Murphy and Director of Counseling Services Charlotte Chapman, presented a poster at the Renfrew Center Foundation Conference in Philadelphia, PA in November 2011. Both presentations highlighted the Women’s Center’s body positive, evidence-based approach, which has made the program an influential national model.
The on-Grounds work of Chestnutt, along with others involved in the U.Va. Coalition on Eating Disorders and Exercise Concerns, has made an impact at U.Va. Whereas only 28 percent of the national reference group of students said they had received information about eating disorders from their college or university, 54 percent of U.Va. students said they had.
Chestnutt will continue her body positive work this spring with Celebrate Every Body Week (occurring February 20-24) and other awareness efforts.
By Kat Raichlen.