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Saint Mary’s professor writes body image book

Megan Loney | Monday, September 29, 2008

Ask any woman about her personal feelings towards her body and odds are that she is discontented about something. Body dissatisfaction is most commonly associated with eating disorders, but it encompasses much more, Bettina Spencer, associate professor of psychology said. Terri Russ, an associate professor at Saint Mary’s College set out to prove just that, she said.

Russ’s book “Bi***n’ Bodies; Young Women Talk About Body Dissatisfaction” started as a seminar essay for a class on friendship in the fall of 2000, she said. Thinking she would find a myriad of information about friendship and body dissatisfaction, she was surprised at the lack of available information, Russ said.

“There was information about ways the media affects how women view themselves and about eating disorders,” Russ said. “But there was nothing about how women live with body dissatisfaction, how they talk about it.”

Eight years later, her research has developed into her first solo publication, she said.

Russ’ book made its debut Thursday night at Saint Mary’s Student Center as the closing event of “Love Your Body Week,” put on by the campus’ Women’s Resource Center, Feminists United and the Women’s Studies Program.

Saint Mary’s Women’s Studies Program and Communications, Dance and Theatre Department also collaborated to put together the event. The event was free and open to the public.

The night’s events included a book reading and signing by the author and a student interpretive dance performance entitled “Because of Barbies and other Dumb Broads.” Members of the Saint Mary’s Dance Company performed the dance, choreographed by Saint Mary’s alumna Jaclyn Thompson. The dance illustrated how intense pressures can lead to body dissatisfaction and how this can become a competition between women – even to the point of downright fighting. Hannah Fischer, one of the performers, knows that the dance was not simply for entertainment; it shared an important message of body dissatisfaction that hits home for women of all ages.

“The dance was not designed and then handed to us,” Fischer said. “It was created to represent our own experiences. It’s something that every woman goes through and can relate to.”

Bi***n’ Bodies is a combination of Russ’ voice with the voices of the women she interviewed for her research, she said. Each chapter opens with one women’s story and all chapter titles are direct quotes from the women interviewed. Russ chose to publish her research in this format because she wanted to be able to share it with women of all backgrounds, not just those who are familiar with an academic tone.

“I wanted to extend the reach of academic research to make it accessible for a varied audience,” she said. “That’s why I’ve taken the voice that I have. I want to share information with them, not talk at them.”

Both the topic and the style in which the book is written appealed to students present at the book release. Lauren Toth, one of Russ’ students, is excited to read the book.

“I think that the coolest part about it is the stories at the beginning of all the chapters,” Toth said. “That’s why I want to read it. I like the kind of stories that make me feel like I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

The book is available at Saint Mary’s Bookstore. Russ has a blog by the same name as the book that deals with the same issues and has opportunities for discussion, she said. In addition to the blog, Russ is currently working on a complement to her first publication, a book titled “B***n’ Back,” an anthology of essays, stories, artwork, and poems about personal body dissatisfactions composed by men and women of all ages, she said.