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UIHC advertisement 'sickening'

BY GUEST OPINION | OCTOBER 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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The recent ad sponsored by the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics both appalled and sickened me.

It depicts a shirtless young woman looking over her shoulder at the camera. She doesn't have the "come hither" look of romance or the proud look of a woman comfortable in her own skin. Instead, insecurity is painted on her face.

At first glance, I thought it was a sex-trafficking-awareness ad. Beneath this tableau of exploitation, students are encouraged to register online for an opportunity to "meet and mingle" with the physicians from UIHC's Plastic Surgery Department during consultations at the hotelVetro. Beneath these sordid details, emblazoned with pride, was UIHC's logo.

It is always painful to have an institution you respect fall short of your expectations, but to do so in such an ignorant manner was shocking. An ad that pointedly targets female perceptions of body image represents a breach of judgment, trust, and responsibility by the university and UIHC.

If you're familiar with Iowa, you know that we have some of the most beautiful and accomplished women in the country. Each year, incoming freshmen are given impassioned speeches extolling the characteristics Iowa will bestow upon them. Unfortunately, the university has rescinded that promise to half of the students. This event says to our young women, "You are inadequate, and your only value lies in your skin."

The university has been aware of the tremendous disparity between college-age women versus men when it comes to body image for some time.

In 2006, the UI reported that of female students, 80 percent said that they would like to lose weight. Thirty-seven percent of women responded to have gone on binges, and 15 percent reported to have vomited or used laxatives after eating (as opposed to 40, 21, and 4 percent for men, respectively).

To put it in perspective, only one of five women on campus believes she is at a healthy weight. The regular onslaught from the media that portrays Barbie doll ideals with Photoshopped images of celebrities has a deleterious effect on the majority of young women's self-esteem. The responsibility to support a culture that nurtures young women's self-image and self-worth lies with the university — it should never actively subvert it.

UIHC is, first and foremost, a teaching hospital. It teaches its doctors to "do no harm," how to judge benefits and risks involved in treatment," and to responsibly inform patients. Hosting such an event off-campus and advertising a "mingle" session with doctors trivializes the seriousness of the risks and consequences of elective surgery to both patients and doctors. The message to future medical professionals is that drumming up business takes precedence over patient well-being or ethics.

Our university should never be involved in anything that targets any demographic with a message of "you're not good enough." When the UI promotes these attitudes, tacitly or otherwise, it not only creates an atmosphere of distrust, it threatens the safety of patients as well. It signals that Iowa is willing to ignore dangers to safety for increased revenue.

The university has forgotten its responsibility to foster an atmosphere of learning and risks alienating current and prospective students. The UIHC and the university need to issue a formal apology for this ad and the event.

In conjunction with that, a formal ethics inquiry at the university level should be made to verify if antidiscrimination policies were violated. This will begin to regain the trust between the university and its students. In addition, the Iowa Medical Ethics Board should be asked by UIHC to examine the event, thereby ensuring that future events are planned with better deliberation and forethought.

If the university fails to take these steps, it signals a clear message to all women on campus that the intent was deliberate and calculated.

David Welch is a University of Iowa alumnus with master's degree in biomedical engineering.


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