Betsy Sugar ‘21

Staff writer

According to a recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, 13.5% of undergraduate women in college are struggling with an eating disorder, a category that includes anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. In addition, the number of eating disorders continues to climb each year, among both men and women. In the age of self-care and body positivity, it is clear that our society is conscious of the prevalence of this medical threat, yet the numbers are continuing to rise.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to combating eating disorders through education, formed the Body Project in 2012 as a way to combat the onset of eating disorders by addressing negative body image. NEDA doctors Carolyn Becker and Eric Stice spearheaded the initiative. According to the Becker and Stice, the Body Project is a “dissonance-based body-acceptance program designed to help high school girls and college-age women resist cultural pressures to conform to the appearance ideal standard of female beauty and reduce the pursuit of unrealistic beauty.”

The NEDA put forth a list of six objectives for the Body Project: “Define the ‘appearance’ ideal and explore its origin. Examine the costs of pursuing this ideal. Explore ways to resist pressures to conform to unrealistic standards of beauty. Discuss how to challenge personal body-related concerns. Learn new ways to talk more positively about our bodies. Talk about how we can best respond to future pressures to conform to societal standards of beauty.” All of these aim to reduce body image concerns and thereby reduce the onset of eating disorders in women.

Elizabeth Allred, Davidson’s full-time campus dietician, initiated bringing the Body Project to campus after learning about it from local eating disorder recovery centers. She then worked alongside Julie Whittington, another staff dietician who focuses on eating disorders, and Lisa Labbon, a counselor on campus who specializes in eating disorder recovery. The Body Project entails either two two-hour sessions or one four-hour session for women. The sessions consist of peer facilitator-led discussions about beauty standards and how to overcome societal pressures on women to conform to a singular beauty ideal. The sessions will address multiple facets of beauty standards that society pushes onto women and how to overcome those pressures.

Allred explained that “funding from the Eating Recovery Center and Davidson Resiliency Committee through the Duke Endowment allowed us to bring this to Davidson.”

Some of the grant money was then used to bring a representative from the Body Project to train the staff, faculty, and student facilitators over a weekend in September.

Over the summer, Allred reached out to the student body offering the opportunity to apply to be a student facilitator. Out of many applicants, the eight staff and faculty facilitators on the Body Project chose thirteen women. Those thirteen student, staff, and faculty facilitators then went through a two-day training process with a representative from the Body Project. They practiced leading the discussions they will be conducting with their small groups during the upcoming sessions. Allred explained that “people walked away from [the training] feeling not only empowered but charged to just make some change and help us think more positively about ourselves.”

Both Allred and Whittington also unpacked why this program will be so important for an institution like Davidson. Whittington explained that, “as with other academically rigorous colleges that attract very intelligent and gifted students, the risk for disordered eating on campus is high.”

Allred also voiced concerns about the academic challenges students face exacerbating the risk of disordered eating, but she perceives Davidson’s atmosphere as a potential aid in addressing body image concerns. “Our students are so great about caring for others, but we’re not so great about caring for ourselves, and the standards that we hold for ourselves can be so different from what we hold to our peers and to our friends.”

Allred’s sentiment is exactly what the Body Project aims to achieve. Elizabeth Millar ‘19, a student facilitator for the Body Project, expressed her goal to establish a safe space for women to discuss these concerns. Millar hopes the Body Project succeeds in “forming a community amongst women because sometimes there can be a competitive environment surrounding females… the more that we can empower each other instead of competing against each other, the better results we’re going to have and the better we’re going to feel.”

Whittington expressed a similar outlook. “My goal is to reduce the onset of eating disorders on campus and foster an environment where anyone struggling with body dissatisfaction can learn to love his or her body and understand how to support one another,” she commented.

Overall, the thirteen student facilitators and those in the Health Center who have brought the Body Project to Davidson have an optimistic outlook on the implementation of the program. The sessions are listed on Wildcat Sync and open to any woman on campus to sign up and participate.