Peer Health Educators Launch Positive Body Image Campaign on Campusbruary

Lauren Shively

On Thursday, February 12, the new student group, Peer Health Educators, kicked off their “Be Comfortable in Your Genes” campaign, a series of events dedicated to raising awareness about issues of physical and mental health and promoting healthy body image.

To kick-start the campaign, the group held a panel discussion of “what it means to be beautiful in different cultures,” and brought together a group of students and professors from such diverse places as Zambia, Italy and South America. Many of the speakers initially explained the major differences between the ideal body types in their own culture versus those in American culture. In Columbia, for example, a curvaceous body with a small waist is highly valued, whereas in Portugal the ideal trait is light skin.

The conversation then turned to the difference between the acceptance and celebration experienced when eating a large, communal family meal, as opposed to the quiet judgment that often gets passed by peers in a dining hall environment. The panel shed light on the division between global (and perhaps healthier) perceptions of beauty and those perpetuated on the Colgate campus.

In fact, the main reason sophomore Brenda Boyle and senior Rebecca Gildiner, co-leaders of Peer Health Educators, wanted to start the group was to bring attention to this discrepancy.

“We both felt that on campus, people have lots of issues with eating, exercise and finding a balance between what’s healthy and what’s normal,” Boyle said.

Colgate Advocates of Responsible Eating Styles, a Colgate group that was once available to students struggling with body issues, is no longer functioning, and Boyle and Gildiner wanted to fill that void. After their first meeting at the Leadership Institute in August, the group officially started in October with the mission of spreading awareness about health issues, strengthening resources to the Colgate community and developing “caring helpers on the Colgate campus to facilitate and encourage the development of healthy lifestyles amongst our peers.”

The “Be Comfortable in Your Genes” campaign will continue throughout the month of February with a variety of events that focus on the overarching issue of body image. On Monday, February 16, a screening of the documentary America the Beautiful, which examines America’s apparent obsession with beauty, was shown on campus, followed by a brown bag on Tuesday with the film’s producer.

This Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. the African, Latin, Asian and Native American Cultural Center (ALANA) is hosting the “Make Your Own Bento Box” event, during which participants get to make their own Japanese-inspired takeout box complete with candy sushi and other goodies. Boyle thought that this event would be a great way for people to “play with their food,” and to bring back the fun and celebration of mealtime.

The campaign’s culminating event will be an activity fair on February 23 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the Hall of Presidents, featuring many activities focused on relaxation and giving back to one’s body and mind. There will be yoga classes, a “make your own tea bag” station and lessons about how to give massages, among other stations.

The Peer Health Educators plan to keep busy after the “Be Comfortable in Your Genes” events, as they hope to eventually tackle many issues, not simply those relating to body image. The group especially wants to address issues that they feel are not being talked about or addressed on the Colgate campus. One idea being considered as a possible project is providing pamphlets to freshmen during orientation, titled something like “What I Wish I Had Known,” about the transition to college.