Monday 13 May 2019

Universities need to do more to promote positive body image

Lorna shares her experience of body image at university and calls for universities to do more to promote body positivity. 
- Lorna

University can be a really scary time. You leave all you have ever known and trek halfway across the country to live with strangers and work harder than you ever have before.

It’s not surprising therefore it’s a particularly risky time for the development of mental health disorders. Whilst universities are becoming increasingly sensitive to the need to reduce stress and support those facing depression and anxiety, I feel they continue to fail in regards to promoting positive body image.

I went to a particularly sporty university in the South West. Millions was spent on campus gym facilities, and the university prided itself on pumping out a significant number of Olympic athletes. This was great, as it brought huge funding to campus, and there was always a sense of pride when one of our own did well in national and international competitions.

A side effect of this focus on sport however was what I considered an institutionally warped sense of body image. All promotional images for campus contained individuals who looked like they had walked off the cover of a fitness magazine. I rarely saw people across campus who weren’t in sporting gear – at times it felt like skin tight leggings and running tops were some form of uniform!

Every single food outlet on campus served some sort of protein fuelled food, including shakes, bakes and meals. All menus contained calorific content, and some cafĂ©’s even added protein to hot drinks at your request!

It was standard for people to spend long periods of time in the gym, pushing themselves way beyond any norms, and no one batted an eyelid. I know loads of people who continued to work out when injured, desperate to push themselves and maintain their place on their sporting team of choice. The gym staff never questioned anyone on their extreme workout habits, and were not trained in spotting the signs of dysmorphic or eating disordered behaviour – to the contrary, I feel they often promoted it.

To me, it came as no surprise to hear eating disorder rates at this university are extremely high, according to a recent survey. I too developed anorexia whilst studying here, having been left feeling inadequate whilst walking across campus alongside in what felt like a sea of models. I had never wanted to join a gym, but during my time at university not only did I join one, I became obsessed; going often and pushing myself even when exhausted.

I feel universities could do so much more to promote body positivity or a less dysmorphic way of thinking about body image. From educating students of the dangers of excessive exercise to helping gym staff spot the signs of disordered behaviours. They should be always willing to put the wellbeing and safety of their students above their sporting accomplishments.

I'm Lorna, a psychology graduate from the University of Bath. I love spending time with my two dogs, Poppy and Pippa! I'm passionate about challenging mental health stigma, particularly relating to Eating Disorders and Personality Disorders.

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