A person’s worth is tied to their physical appearance. At least, that’s the message people are bombarded with every day – on television, in magazines, the Internet and virtually everywhere else. Women must be thin but curvy, while men must be masculine and muscular. Those who don’t meet these criteria are often left with negative perceptions of themselves.
A group of Ithaca College students and faculty aim to disrupt this media-driven focus on body image and replace it with a more positive message: You are more than how you look.
The IC Beyond Body campaign intends to address negative body images through social media and discussion groups that focus on qualities beyond physical appearance, like intelligence and creativity.
According to About-face.org, the body type idealized by the media is typically between 13 and 19 percent below healthy body weight. Over 40 percent of women and 20 percent of men say that they would consider cosmetic surgery, says DoSomething.org. For many, thinness has come to represent overall success and status. Those with a negative body image can suffer from low self-esteem and depression.
“Thoughts and struggles with body image can be real obstacles to getting good work done,” said Carol Jennings, director of the Park Media Lab and supervising producer of IC Beyond Body. “The more we can do as a group, as a community, to remove those obstacles, the more good gets done.”
The campaign features social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram inviting students and others on and off campus to share their own stories, with the aim of fostering a discussion around body image. The campaign’s website includes video of experts discussing the impact of negative body image from different perspectives. There is also an introductory video featuring IC students.
Another component of the campaign is a series of discussion groups called “empowerment circles.” These on-campus meetings were inspired by the “Empowerment Project,” a documentary that seeks to encourage young women to pursue their career goals. A screening and Q&A with the filmmakers was held at IC last month. The circles bring groups of men and women together to talk about how body image has affected them personally.
“Your image of yourself can really stop you from achieving certain goals,” said Kaitlyn Watson, one of the campaign’s social media associates. “I think that with these circles, reaffirming positivity with your self-image can be a really powerful thing.”
Those involved with the project hope that it will become a long-lasting campaign that reaches beyond the IC campus.
“Body image is a concern everywhere, especially in the media, and not just for girls, but for boys as well,” said Watson. “It’s not even just on college campuses, it’s broader than that. It’s everywhere you look. It touches everyone.”
“We have a lot of very strong partners and they’re ready and willing to get this out on their networks, and their networks are very far-reaching,” said Jennings.
The seed of the campaign was planted during the Park School of Communications’ 2015 Media for Social Responsibility mini-course, which focused on how media shapes ideas about body image. The course was funded by IC alum Carl Daikeler, founder and CEO of the fitness company Beachbody, who expressed concern about the effects of negative body image.
As part of the course, students prepared proposals for media companies to address the issue. One of those proposals was IC Beyond Body, which was then implemented by Park Productions, the Park School’s professional media company, with the assistance of students from the mini-course.
For some of the students involved, working on the campaign was itself an eye-opening experience.
“I’ve known the influence that the media has on the way that people perceive themselves, but I’d never had a conversation about it with anyone,” said Eric Flandrau, an IC Beyond Body editor. “Going through and editing all of the different interviews really opened my eyes to the different perspectives on how people see media influencing them.”
“Looking back on it now, it’s like, ‘Wow, I’m seeing beyond body for myself,’” said Viktoria Schultz, an associate producer for the campaign. “I felt empowered by working on the project.”