March 20, 2018

Just because they're beautiful doesn't mean you aren't

The Body Project teaches participants to love the skin they’re in by recognizing and challenging unrealistic beauty standards
Amy Barron, student researcher for The Body Project, urges women to stop body shaming and instead practise body acceptance. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Amy Barron, student researcher for The Body Project, urges women to stop body shaming and instead pr

I feel fat. These jeans make me look huge. I hate my thighs. I’m ugly.

We’re all our own biggest critic, and unfortunately, body-shaming statements like these are common. Probably because between supermodels, airbrushed celebrities, and magazines offering strategies to lose weight and hide imperfections, we are bombarded with unhealthy messages about what our bodies should look like. Not only are these ideals harmful and often a source of anxiety, they’re also unrealistic.

Backed by over a decade of research and implemented in more than 100 campuses across North America, The Body Project helps women resist social pressures to conform to impossible beauty standards. By providing the tools and skills to challenge unrealistic ideals in daily life, the project encourages participants to accept their bodies and feel comfortable in their own skin.

New to the University of Calgary in 2017, The Body Project is a collaborative effort of the SU Wellness Centre, the Women’s Resource Centre and the Department of Psychology with financial support provided by Advanced Education Mental Health and Addiction funding as well as a grant from the Campus Mental Health Strategy.

The project consists of two two-hour sessions facilitated by trained peer leaders. Through numerous activities and group discussions, participants learn to identify and challenge unrealistic ideas about body image that stem from social media, pop culture, family and friends.

“Most students in university are still trying to figure out their own identity. It’s a major growth stage in life, so The Body Project is an important resource to have on campus to ensure we can grow in a healthy way with the tools we need to overcome social pressures,” says Amy Barron, fourth-year honours psychology student and research assistant for UCalgary’s Body Project.

“I started working with The Body Project because body acceptance is an issue we all struggle with to some extent. I came from an all-girls school where we had uniforms, so I never really had to worry about how I looked. When I went to high school, I had a tough time with body image,” Barron explains.

"It was challenging to navigate an environment where women competed with each other based on their appearance. Those who more closely approximated society’s unrealistic thin-ideal were treated better. It was difficult to accept that I don’t look like the ideal and to recognize that it’s impossible.”

Barron notes that although the project is only in its second year on campus, she already sees positive effects, including a more supportive, collective environment. “Even though we all experience body image issues, we tend to keep it personal. The Body Project changes that. Regardless of background, everyone establishes a collective group to support one another without judgment.”

Echoing Barron’s sentiments, Debbie Bruckner, senior director of Student Wellness, Access and Support, underscores the project’s value. “The Body Project addresses a very unique need on campus.  It is a highly recognized, evidence-based program — we know that it works! Having the program on campus also provides an opportunity for peer support and involvement.”

Consistent with the goals of the Campus Mental Health Strategy, The Body Project aims to cultivate a caring community and to provide the tools for female-identified individuals to excel. “The problem with body image issues is that when you’re constantly thinking about your appearance, you leave yourself less room to do things you love,” Barron explains.

“Pursuing the body ideal has consequences for things like happiness, relationships, work and school. When we’re busy tearing each other down or feeling guilty about not going to the gym, we aren’t reaching our full potential. Through self-acceptance we can foster an environment of happier women who see that they are so much more than their appearance.”

To learn more or to find out how you can get involved, visit The Body Project website.

Do you have a great idea to make our campus more caring? Applications are now open for the next cycle of funding from the Campus Mental Health Strategy grant program.

The Campus Mental Health Strategy Grants were created to get our community thinking about how they can foster positive mental health and wellness, and help build a supportive environment, through their own big ideas. Visit the CMHS website for more information on grants. 

The University of Calgary’s Campus Mental Health Strategy is a bold commitment to the importance of mental health and well-being of our university family. Our vision is to be a community where we care for each other, learn and talk about mental health and well-being, receive support as needed, and individually and collectively realize our full potential. If you think you need help, please visit resources here. If you think someone you know needs help, find more information here.