Beyond The Image: The struggle for positive body image amongst college women
Fifty-eight percent of college women feel pressure to be a certain weight, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Maddie Donner, a junior at Elon University, said it can be difficult being a woman on Elon’s campus.
“You walk across campus and you see 10 people you know and every single one is better looking than the next,” Donner said. “Especially at Elon you’re surrounded by good-looking people so it’s very hard to not find yourself comparing.”
Many college women struggle with body image, and a constant pressure to look a certain way often results in unhealthy behaviors including eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.
Dean of Student Health and Wellness at Elon, Jana Lynn Patterson, said that she has noticed a more recent trend towards students wanting to be more fit than skinny.
“I have noticed within the last 5 years, folks being more fitness centered than skinny centered,” she said. “People are more in tune to wanting to be more strong and fit then just wanting to be skinny.”
With an obsession with social media among college students, many turn to Instagram for motivation to be healthy.
“Fitspiration” is defined by the U.S. Library of Medicine as, “an online trend designed to inspire viewers towards a healthier lifestyle by promoting exercise and healthy food.”
Dr. Stephanie Zerwas is a researcher and therapist at UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders. Zerwas has studied how social media affects body image and eating disorders and said that although fitspiration is meant to be motivating, it can be dangerous.
“Fitspiration can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” - Dr. Stephanie Zerwas
“It seems like it’s a safer outlet, but instead it helps you focus on all of the wrong things,” Zerwas said. “You’re focusing on what a body looks like and what your muscles look like rather than what your body can do.”
Donner noticed over the summer that she was using fitspiration in excess.
“I was following hundreds of random fitness accounts,” she said. “I want to say it’s because of motivation and that it motivates me, but looking at an unrealistic, at least in my standards and unrealistic body, isn’t really as motivating as I like to think it is.”
Watch Beyond The Image for the full story.
Brown University Health Promotion. “Body Image.” Accessed October 18, 2015, http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/Health_Services/Health_Education/nutrition_&_eating_concerns/body_image.php.
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. “Eating Disorders Statistics.” ANAD. Accessed October 18, 2015, http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.
Salk, R.H. & Maddox, R.E. (2011). If you’re fat, then I’m humongous! Frequency, content, and impact of fat talk among college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35 (1), 18-28.
Shisslak, C.M., Crago, M., & Estes, L.S. (1995). The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3), 209–219.
Sky Cowans is a senior broadcast journalism major. She is currently an evening news anchor for ELN. Originally from Beverly, Massachusetts, Sky is passionate about health and fitness. She is also a group exercise instructor for Elon Campus Recreation and enjoys teaching power yoga. Last fall, Sky lived in Copenhagen Denmark for four months where she studied cross-cultural communications. She also serves as a Global Ambassador for Elon. Sky hopes to pursue a career in either broadcast news or health and wellness journalism.