Body Positivity

Sobczak, the founder of The Body Positive, is the author of Embody, which explains the main themes of Body Positive. // Photo courtesy of Amazon

The truth of BMI, politicization of bodies, intuitive eating and diet culture were just a few of the topics discussed during Love Your Body Week, held from Oct. 12-16 by Body Positive GT, Health Initiatives and Women’s Resource Center.

Leah Roper, MS, RDN, LD and Amber Johnson, MS, RDN, LD, both nutritionists at Health Initiatives, brought the Body Positive program to Tech after receiving funding from the Mental Health Joint Allocation Committee (JAC) in November 2019.

Johnson explains the main takeaways from the program.

“Body size, body weight, body dimensions, BMI, none of those things really tell the story of your health, but society and just a lot of things have made these things attached, but when you are taking care of yourself in the best way possible, feeling good in your body, that is health,” said Johnson. “And it’s not dictated by anyone else, it’s dictated by how you feel in yourself.”

This is the first semester Body Positive has launched programming.

The program involves multiple areas on campus, including Stamps Health Services, the Counseling Center, CARE, CRC, Housing, Athletics, Women’s Resource Center, LGBTQIA Resource Center and APPH Instructors. Around 40 staff and faculty have either started or completed their training to become facilitators.

“We’ve been meeting as a group of facilitators, which spans all those departments … since about July and starting to talk about different ideas and then we had a specific subcommittee that was working on outreach and activism,” said Roper.

“And we did initial ideating there but then opened it up to the wider group so that we could touch all those different communities and make sure there’s different involvement throughout campus.” The goal is to create spaces to discuss body positivity for everyone.

“People are more comfortable having these conversations, maybe more specifically in those areas that they’re already comfortable, or in those communities that they’re already comfortable,” said Roper. Black Women’s Body Positive Program, Body Positivity in Queer and Trans Communities and VOICE Message Thursday were some events held during Love Your Body Week.

Additionally, @gthealthinitiatives posted several “Let’s Talk About” posts on their Instagram, including posts on the history of the fat activism movement, flaws in using BMI for measuring an individual’s health and how the politicization of bodies has been influenced by racism and cultural bias.

“That’s where I think we got even some of our most engagement for the whole week, just because it was a way to passively participate and people could share it out on their different pages and things like that, so we had a lot of engagement there, which was awesome,” said Roper.

All events were held virtually, which posed some challenges but also had some benefits.

“It’s definitely been a little more challenging to create that sense of community when we’re not all in the same room sharing that same space,” said Johnson. “That said, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of creating a solid group dynamic.”

This especially applies to Body Positive GT’s weekly discussion group.

“It’s been more accessible to the students who are out of state right now or not on campus or even the folks who just might not have been able to physically show up,” said Johnson.

The discussion group, which began on Sep. 23 and will run until Nov. 11 is an eight week program for students focused on the curriculum provided by the Body Positive non-profit organization.

Several universities, including Stanford, Cornell and California State University, Long Beach have used this curriculum.

“It’s correlated with better mental health, lower stress levels, lower risk taking behavior, a lot of great things that kind of span a lot of what affects college students,” said Johnson.

Research done by California State University, Long Beach showed that after each of the four weeks of the program, student participants consistently rated their body positive embodiment, empowerment and body
acceptance higher.

Roper explains how she hopes this program will apply to Tech.

“Our overarching goal for the program is more of a cultural shift at Georgia Tech, and then even springing from there, if we are able to shift that culture … of health being not related to weight and body size and body shapes and things like that,” said Roper.

“If we can do that on Georgia Tech’s campus and then all the students are leaving and then we’re all actually affecting an even wider spread community across the world, because we have such a diverse and international population.”

Moving forward this semester, Johnson and Roper are working to spread the message of body positivity in as many communities as possible.

“One of our student facilitators is actually going to be hosting a group within a sorority, so that’s the benefit of having multiple trained facilitators, is that Amber and I are facilitating this one group on campus but we have the opportunity to have groups in lots of different spaces,” said Roper.

“That makes it seem more welcoming or comfortable for any particular student.”

In late February of 2021, Body Positive will be hosting another outreach and activism week. There will also be more group discussion sessions run in the Spring semester.

Students interested in getting involved, either through training to be a facilitator or participating in a discussion group can contact [email protected].

There are also opportunities to participate in online programming so that people can explore this topic in their own time.

Even if community members do not directly participate, there are ways to create a more supportive space for all.

“I would say thinking about the messaging that we see and hear or even say out loud related to the bodies and questioning where that comes from and if it’s rooted in reality versus a myth, potentially, so just questioning the messages that we receive about bodies or see on a regular basis,” said Roper.

Johnson emphasizes the individual power we have.

“It’s become all too easy to criticize ourselves and find criticisms in others,” said Johnson.

“We try to reframe that and appreciate the good things that your body is doing for you, appreciate the good things that are happening with other people’s bodies and just try and look more positively on it, because without our bodies, we don’t exist in this world.” and we can’t do all the things that we’re here to do.”