Activism in Body Image through Community Health

bod·y im·age
noun 1. The subjective picture or mental image of one's own body2. The awareness and perception of one's own body in relation to both appearance and function.

This definition of the term 'Body image' is the general consensus in medical and psychological disciples. The subject of body image is often discussed in terms of psychological satisfaction one has with ones own body and is frequently related to eating disorders and psychological wellbeing. Awareness of the impacts of having a negative body image is becoming more and more pervasive in today’s society. In fact, many activist organizations and a number of occupational and academic institutions have initiated a number of social movements (via bylaws, policy change and event coordination) to promote positive body image across the nation, including our very own CU.
In recent years the University of Colorado at Boulder has been affiliated with a number of events, workshops and student groups dedicated to social movement around the promotion of positive body image on campus. Organizations such as the Women’s Resource Center, The Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Community Health Resource Center, the public health department at CU, are the predominant organizations supporting the growing body image campaign at CU Boulder. However, when body image becomes the topic of casual conversation most students talk about diets, eating disorders, extreme exercise regimes and plastic surgery. The assumption that body image is strictly related to weight and size dissatisfaction is inaccurate. While weight and size are a part of body image, as a body activist and student I would strongly argue they are not the only factors attributing to body dissatisfaction in students and society today. This case study will be an examination of what work has been done on campus around body image, specifically through Community Health's approach and activist events, and explore changes to be made in the future.


The Community Health Resource Center, the public health division of Wardenburg, is a resource center for CU students dedicated to the promotion of both student academic success and campus-wide health. Some of the topics addressed include cold care, gender, gender violence, interpersonal relationships, nutrition, sexual health, stress management and relaxation. The center originated within Wardenburg Health Center for students as three separate programs--Wellness, CU Rape and Gender Education or COURAGE, and Sexual Health. Each program was dedicated to its own self-titled portion of public health, but were all overseen by the same program director and had open commuication between eachother. In 2007 the programs united to connect and give exposure to the overlapping disparities within these previously separated realms of public health. For the remainder of this paper the Wellness, Courage and Sexual Health programs will collectively be address as
An illustration of the Travis's 11 energies that guides Community Health's holistic approach to health

Community Health.
The program is heavily based in the holistic approaches to health developed by M.D. John W Travis in his "Wellness Workbook", which suggests that health should not be constructed around illness care, but rather around managing eleven forms of energy that move in and out of an individual's body to promote good, eduring health. These energies include Self-Responsibility and Love, Breathing, Sensing, Eating, Moving, Feeling, Thinking, Playing/Working, Communicationg, Sex, and Meaning Making. It is purposes that finding balance across these energies is the best way to promote physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well-being in one's life (Travis,xxv). This is the doctrine that has shaped most of the programming that has come out of Community Health.

Introduction of Body Image to Community Health

Body Image became one of the many issues addressed within the realm of Community Health when awareness was brought to the topic of what appeared to be growing body dissatisfaction among students. In the early 2000's Counseling and Psychological Services, another resource center partnered with Community Health that offers free counseling sessions to students, conducted a number of anonymous evaluation of eating disorders on campus. Statistical analyisis of this data showed evidence that the prevalence of anorexia on CU’s campus was twice that of the national average in the 18-25 year age range. There appeared to be growing need for student resources around preventing body dissatisfaction. Community Health decided to address this concern with a Health At Every Size approach rather than an eating disorder prevention approach, which was already managed in Counseling and Psychological Services. Health At Every Size or HAES was becoming an increasingly popular concept among body activists. This approach to health is independent of Body Mass Index or weight considerations but rather promotes the practices of self-acceptance, joyful movement, and intuitive eating. It is a direct challenge to the Surgeon General’s annual warnings against obesity, which in recent years had started to recieve backlash from body acitivists and health physicians. After conducting research, Community Health adopted the Health at Every Size approach to body image problems because it was very aligned with their traditional holistic model to health.They developed programming and
Rock your Body, one of the interactive body positive events offered by Community Health in 2011

educational tools around nutrition to combat the dieting and extreme exercise models that had become so prevalent in health ideologies of students.

In the years 1999-2001 Community Health hosted an annual Love Your Body Week in conjunction with the National Organization for Women, which later became Love Your Body Month in 2002-2004, and eventually simply Love Your Body Day in 2005-2009. The event was created to increase awareness of body size and weight dissatisfaction problems on campus as well promote positive body image by providing students with resources to combat the extreme thin ideals often embraced in Western cultures.

Problems with the Size Based Approach

While Community Healths Love Your Body Day and Health at Every Size campaigns were successful approaches to size dissatisfaction on campus, they were not completely satisfactory in addressing all components of body image. Community Health frequently addressed the media and product placement as a source of body dissatisfaction in society. However, the emphasis was always on the thin ideal and dieting industry; rarely were any of the white, heterosexual ideals in the media addressed in the discussions of body image. The lack of conversation around these topics in body image ignored a problem that many nonwhite and/or non-heterosexual students faced on a daily basis, and excluded them from the helpful resources a public health center should have had available to them. This lopsided ideology became staggeringly apparent in 2010 when the CU student body was disrupted by a series of race-based assaults which brought light to the issue of CU’s ongoing reputation of being one of the “whitest” public universities in the US. The question of who was benefiting from the thin, white, heterosexual, able-body ideals within Western Society were finally starting to be contextualized as a bigger issue on CU’s campus. In response, a number of student groups took action, hosting workshops, lectures and events that emphasized the importance of diversity and the impacts of prejudices. Until this point Community Health had always recognized the influence race can play in health disparities, but offered very little information to the public on the increasingly popular topic. After the 2010 assaults on CU’s campus and an increasing number of GLBT teen suicides across the nation, Community Health increased their efforts to include race and gender into their framework. For guidance, they turned to other programs such as AdiosBarbie, About-Face and The Beautiful Project which addressed body image from race and age perspectives. Student staff members were trained in a new approach to activism in body image that included acknowledgment of body dissatisfaction beyond just an issues of size and shape, but also an issue of race, skin color, gender expression, and disabilities.

Beyond internal training of its peer educators, Community Health has develop a number of student outreach programs to promote its new body image ideology. First was an hour long body image workshop that included an informational presentation and a viewing of videos in current media that challenge the thin, white, heterosexual ideals students face. (see below: 'A Girl Like Me', one of the informational videos Community Health presents in their current Body Image workshops). This presentation is followed by an open discussion around the impacts of having negative views of ones body size, skin color, hair texture, muscle mass, ability and gender expression mean in regards to overall health for students.

The workshop is currently offered to a multitude of student groups on campus, including the Center for Multicultural Affairs, the Student Academic Services Center, The GLBTRC, The Women's Resource Center, Sororities, Fraternities and Wardenburg Volunteers and staff. IN 2011 Community Health hosted its first all- day interactive Rock Your Body event, which was similar to the Love Your Body Day events but with an emphasis on activity, celebration and overall body satisfaction rather than the size based event. Whereas Community Healths previous size-based approachto body image emphasized individuals and individual health, the new approach is an acknowledgment that body image is a matter of pubic health, not just an individual concern; it is a struggle for all people, often related to societal expectations about the body.


It is hard to get a proper analysis of the current Body Image program within Community Health because it is so new in its development and delivery that few have had a chance to properly critique it. The changes to the program did not go without some push back. Many individuals have questioned how realistic is is for Community Health to attempt to address all aspects of Body Image, assuming that such a big topic can not be properly dealt with in one discussion. While it has proven difficult to get beyond surface level disscussions in just one hour, development of longer discussions or workshop installments is currently underway.

Comm Health in media:

M.D. Travis, John W., and Regina S. Ryan. Wellness Workbook. 2nd ed. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 1988. Print