On April 14, a group of women settled into the comfortable chairs and couches at the Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment (SCORE) office, and introduced themselves. They had gathered for an informal discussion on eating disorders, a product of the growing concern about unhealthy body image at Scripps. Many women feel that this issue is prevalent and pressing, but has yet to be constructively addressed.
The event was organized by Laurel Benz ('09) SAS Vice President, and was attended by President-elect Anna Salem ('10), who hopes to continue the dialogue on this issue next year. "I've noticed eating disorders and their pervasiveness on campus since freshman year," Benz explained, "and after reading Zoe Larkins' ('09) article in voice this semester, I decided I wanted to do something about it."
The discussion was kicked off by Jen Mares from Health Education Outreach and Dr. Elizabeth Gayed from Monsour Counseling Services, who hoped to foster a safe space for students to speak their minds.
Once the ice was broken, students began opening up about a variety of issues, from general to very personal. Some women recounted that their body image and eating habits worsened when they arrived at Scripps, while some felt the Scripps community was neutral, or even a better environment, than home.
The former groups felt that various aspects of their Scripps life contributed to their eating problems, including first year isolation, difficulty making friends and a general deficiency of emotional connection and fulfillment. Many women reached a consensus about the lack of a supportive community at Scripps, and agreed that this problem needed to be addressed in order to repair the larger issues regarding eating disorders.
Several students also expressed a certain anxiety regarding going to the gym, which they felt was a competitive space rather than a supportive one. Some women felt uncomfortable about the copious amounts of mirrors surrounding the cardio equipment, or that women were judging their bodies and workout habits against one another. Some argued that the emphasis on cardio workouts at the gym is too heavy, and noted that the cardio equipment is usually packed while the weight machines are often empty; this emphasis on pure calorie burning, rather than a well-balanced toning and cardio workout, troubled many.
The concern about exercise also extended to eating habits. Most students agreed that the line between health conscious and disordered eating is difficult to discern, but they were still concerned about the amount of women who seem to live off the salad bar. They also conceded, however, that addressing the issue can be very touchy. Simply hearing "you need to eat more" is too offhand for many women, and makes them feel as if they're being monitored rather than aided.
A discussion ensued about the best way to approach a friend you are concerned about, and everyone agreed it should be done in a comfortable and private setting, rather than in a group. Dr. Gayed also suggested that an approach should be personal rather than confrontational, clearly coming out of your own concern. It is better to say, for example: "I'm worried about how quickly you're losing weight," rather than simply: "you look too skinny."
The issue goes beyond body image and eating disorders. Some students at the discussion argued that the empowerment necessary to encourage positive body image should come from not only a nurturing community, but a stronger feminist emphasis in our academics as well. Many expressed a disparity between the empowerment they are supposed to feel at a women's college, and the strong image consciousness they observe on campus. This might reflect, some students suggested, a lack of basic feminist education. Why, someone suggested, didn't we study feminist theory in Core I?
Everyone at the discussion felt optimistic, however, in seeing this new revival of body-conscious discourse on campus, beginning with Larkins' editorial in voice. Love Your Body Week may provide a positive spin on Eating Disorder Week, but eating disorders also must be addressed directly, no matter how depressing, shameful or difficult it may initially feel.
"Even if some people didn't come tonight," Benz concluded, "hopefully they'll notice these events are happening, and more awareness will be raised." This discussion is, we all hope, the first of many forums in which eating disorders will be drawn from the shadows, and illuminated as a genuine campus issue, a problem that affects real women: our Scripps sisters.