In a society that’s aggressively image-driven and sexualized, it’s difficult to ignore society’s common projections of what is attractive and unattractive.
With the pressure of wanting to be liked and accepted, individuals have become more concerned about their own physical attributes, resulting in a greater need for student health resources nationwide to address the issue.
“You’d be surprised at how many people go through these body image issues,” said Sara Burchfiel, primary therapist at Shoreline Center for Eating Disorder Treatment in Long Beach.
According to Eating Disorder Hope — an organization that offer information and resources to individuals with eating disorders, their families and treatment providers — 95 percent of schools report an increase in students using mental health services.
“Let’s face it, most people are hung up on how they look,” said Angela Girard, the director of The Body Positive @ The Beach.
The Body Positive is a national organization whose mission is to offer a variety of resources and programming to teach youth and adults to “value their health, unique beauty and identity.”
Cal State Long Beach has recently joined the self-love movement with the addition of The Body Positive @ The Beach. According to the program’s website, The Body Positive consists of 8 sessions that “teach[es] people how to overcome conflicts with their bodies so they can lead happier, more productive lives.”
The eight sessions will follow the Be Body Positive Model.
According to 2014 study on the Be Body Positive Leadership Program conducted by researchers at Stanford University, 76 percent of participants said that the groups helped them effectively deal with a problem related to body image, and/or eating and exercise, and 71 percent said they would recommend the program to a friend.
“The program came about after I attended the annual American College Health Association conference in 2015,” Girard said. “It was about different body types and how students may feel about body issues. It made me think, ‘What are we doing?’”
Despite any personal issues that an individual may be going through, Girard wanted to create a space where students felt that there’s always someone willing to listen, support and help them through their toughest times.
The Body Positive was officially launched on campus in 2016 mainly due to a donation by Craig Brown, the CEO of Center for Discovery, an eating disorder treatment center, and a graduate of CSULB. The Body Positive quickly become a haven for students looking to learn more about themselves and others.
According to Kristen Fabizewski, one of the CSULB Body Positive Facilitators, the groups are limited to ten students in order to create intimacy and build a trust network. Since their launch, they’ve helped approximately 35-40 students learn about body positivity and self-acceptance.
“Students come in with many different types of body issues,” said Fabiszewski. “Of course a lot of them have issues with body size — wanting to be smaller or bigger. We also have students who come in who are just absolutely obsessed with thigh gaps, students who hate their own voices, or even students who have issues with body hair. It’s not just one type.”
According to Burchfiel these distorted body issues often go hand-in-hand with mental or self-esteem issues.
Mental issues are still a topic that is sometimes taboo in our society today, despite the fact that approximately one in five adults in the U.S. — 18.5 percent or 43.8 million people — experiences mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Sylvia Desantos, an architecture major at CSULB, is one of the many people who suffered from body issues. Desantos, who grew up with a sister who practiced ballet, constantly felt like she was being compared to her taller, thinner sibling.
“I grew up thinking I was too fat, too short, too this, too that,” said Desantos. “I’ve gone days without eating to feel or look thin like [my sister]… It messed me up mentally, emotionally, physically… It’s stupid looking back at it, but I let my own issues affect my relationship with food, my family and friends.”
Desantos, who found help through a personal therapist several years ago, feels like her body image issues are still an ongoing battle, but she’s not giving up.
“I think it’s important for people to support each other,” said Desantos. “The people closest to me helped me a lot, but it’s equally important to learn to love and help yourself… No one can help you if you don’t want to be helped.”
It’s not just school campuses and therapists who offer guidance and support for those with body image issues. Jordan Daniels, a student at CSULB, launched his own project #ThisIsMe to elevate his idea of self-worth, self-love and overall human positivity.
“I was always bigger, and I saw nobody was tackling body issues that men face,” said Daniels. “So instead of waiting for someone to represent me, I thought ‘Why don’t I do it myself?’”
The project, which is currently a photo series but will soon evolve into video compilations and a docuseries, revolves around the idea of taking membership of your body, accepting your physical appearance and that of others.
Daniels says that for him and those involved with #ThisIsMe, finding compassion in others while learning to empathize with those on a similar self-love journey is one of the greatest gifts to help them endure their battle.
“This is a journey that I will never end,” said Daniels. “I can now look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I love you.’”
Burchfiel says it can be hard to begin taking steps toward self-love, but that it’s important to try to do so.
“It’s extremely complicated, but there’s so much shame that comes with disordered eating or any sort of distorted body images,” said Burchfiel. “That’s why it’s so difficult for people to step up and say, ‘Hey, I’m not happy. I’m having a hard time. I can’t do this alone, and I want some help.’ Society and media taught us that it’s okay to make fun of these people. It’s not.”
With the intimacy that The Body Positive promotes, and the open community of #ThisIsMe, there are opportunities for even the shyest students to take control of any personal issues they would like to tackle.
“That’s why there’s so much love and strength in healing and going into a community of like-minded people… I’m truly loving this movement of confidence and acceptance.”