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New group on UI campus promotes healthy body imagery

BY CASSIDY RILEY | FEBRUARY 27, 2013 5:00 AM

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A new group on campus seeks to increase student awareness of eating disorders and negative body images.

On Monday, the University of Iowa Counseling Service officially launched the Eating Disorders Awareness Advocate Program. Five volunteers underwent training last semester, and they are now ready to execute outreach events to increase student awareness.

“It’s just a good way to encourage students to take care of their own health and how to address these eating concerns,” said Eva Schoen, the facilitator of the program. “I think it’s important to have students [as volunteers], because they can help us reach students who are struggling.”

Fewer than 1 percent of UI students reported being diagnosed or treated for anorexia in the past year, and 1.4 percent reported diagnoses or treatment for bulimia.

Schoen said the program is designed for student volunteers to interact in their social groups.

Volunteer and UI student Nina Aleksic, a member of the Pi Beta Phi sorority, is able to reach students in the greek community more easily than those outside the community.

“I just think it’s really useful to get a lot of diversity within the group [of volunteers],” she said. “It’s a good way to reach a lot of people.”

Her experience with an eating disorder motivated her to participate in the program, she said.

“I personally know what it feels like,” Aleksic said. “[And] because I’m over it, I can see other people struggling with it, and it just kills me. It’s killing the person inside every single day.”

Aleksic said her struggle with an eating disorder began in high school. She said she saw skinny girls in the media and noticed she didn’t look exactly like them.

“It was just uncomfortable because I wasn’t myself,” she said. “Right before I got to college, I just realized I didn’t want to live like this anymore, so I just kind of snapped out of it, which is kind of incredible.”

She said now that she is able to help others, she has become more comfortable with her past.

“It just kind of verified the fact that I’m done with it,” Aleksic said.

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and the new student group will host events on campus. On Monday, the members hosted a screening of America the Beautiful, a documentary about how media affect body image.

Volunteer Kaitlin Herring, a graduate student pursuing a master’s in public health, said her best friend once struggled with an eating disorder, prompting her to promote healthy body imagery.

“When you have anyone who you love and care about or is close to you [go through that], of course you’re motivated because you want to be a part of something that makes them feel better,” she said.

Today and Thursday, volunteers will host table events at the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center and the Burge Marketplace. There will be a life-size Barbie at the table events to demonstrate an unrealistic view of a woman’s body, and the members will encourage students to take pictures with it and post them to their Facebook pages.

“I’m really excited about that,” volunteer Samantha Hearn said. “Being able to stand next to Barbie and being like, ‘This is obviously not healthy.’ ”

She said she thinks being a volunteer with this group is an opportunity to spread awareness about positive body imagery.

“I think a healthy body image is being comfortable with every aspect of your body,” Hearn said. “[It’s] being able to look at yourself and seeing what you really look like and being OK with that.”


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