Having the one-on-one

Image issues: A Grand Valley student examines her reflection. Conversations on Loving Your
Body event will focus on the body image issues that plague many students, faculty, and staff.

Kate Kaurich

Image issues: A Grand Valley student examines her reflection. Conversations on Loving Your Body event will focus on the body image issues that plague many students, faculty, and staff.

Marc Maycroft

Women today are bombarded with media images of beauty ideals and what it means to be a woman. While not a new phenomenon, body issues, particularly women’s body issues, have become a central topic among advocacy groups.

The Women’s Center, in coordination with several departments on campus, is sponsoring Conversations on Loving Your Body, a series of events to bring attention to the issues of a woman’s beauty in the world today.

Ashley Nickels, assistant director of the Women’s Center and coordinator of the event, said while issues such as eating disorders and self-esteem are important, Conversations on Loving Your Body goes beyond.

“We recognize that for us, the conversation is bigger,” she said.

Nickels added the event will not only have discussions on women’s issues but also provide resources for dealing with them.

“Historically, a woman’s way to achieve success was with her looks,” said Kathleen Underwood, director of women and gender studies at Grand Valley State University. “Body image issues are not new.”

The series will feature several events aimed at “raising awareness of body image issues, how to address them, and how to feel empowered through recognizing personal beauty,” accordin to the Women’s Center website. Events include information on eating disorders, documentary films about body image issues today and a keynote address from Stacy Nadeau, a model for the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.

Dove, one of the most prominent beauty product manufacturers in the country, began the Real Beauty campaign with the goal of creating a world where confidence and self-esteem were not hindered by issues of conventional beauty. The Dove website contains tools for women of all ages to focus on remaining healthy and happy with their bodies instead of developing destructive behaviors for the sake of self-image.

“It’s important to realize that while the Dove campaign should be lauded for their actions, it is still a marketing campaign,” said Julia Mason, assistant professor of Women and Gender Studies at GVSU. “The key is media literacy and recognizing that it is still marketing, no matter how the campaign appears.”

Mason praised Dove and other companies who have embraced the idea of changing the ideals of beauty from a restrictive culture to one that offers more options for women.

“Studies have shown that the economy shifts the ‘ideal body type,’” she said. “When times are good, like in the 1950s, you get a curvy ideal like Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield. When the economy is bad, a slimmer body becomes the higher ideal.”

Underwood said she wants the Conversations to spark discussions.

“We want to expand the ideas of the possible, to critique popular culture and help women claim an identity that isn’t so determined,” she added.

Women in the U.S. spent $7 billion on beauty products in 2008, according to a study by the YWCA.

“We’ve seen it in history,” Underwood said. “With the advent of advertising in the 1920s, the men’s ads were, ‘Go to college.’ The women’s ads were, ‘How will you look when he brings you to meet his mother?’”

Underwood added while women’s body issues are more publicized, men have just as many negative ideals, including problems in their diet and over-exercising to achieve the ideal of “manhood.”

According to Mason, Hollywood has not played a helpful role in establishing identities for young women. Characters like the Disney princesses have given young girls ideas that revolve around things like love at first sight and a male-dominant society.

“I try to make sure my four-year-old sees that there are good things about the princesses that don’t involve being pretty,” she said.

The Women’s Center will host events throughout the month in conjunction with National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Students are encouraged to attend the events to both learn about the dangers of a negative body image and learn to deal with body issues in a constructive way. For more information about this and other events sponsored by the Women’s Center, visit www.gvsu.edu/women_cen/.

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