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Conference tackles body image

Katie Carlisle | Friday, April 29, 2011

Students presented research and engaged in dialogue about female body image Thursday during the third annual Bold Beauty Conference at Saint Mary’s College, but one of the most interesting exhibits at the conference involved popular high-fashion dolls.

“Barbies on Parade” displayed several Barbie dolls dressed as stereotypes of women today, such as Jersey Shore Barbie and Homewrecker Barbie. Student conference coordinator Hannah Fischer said the exhibit is a major draw for the conference.

“‘Barbies on Parade’ has gotten really popular, so that’s our pull,” Fischer said.

But the primary event of the conference involved a lecture by senior Christina Grasso, who discussed the misconceptions surrounding eating disorders and her personal struggle with the issue.

“I believe it is imperative to address this topic because people really need to hear the truth,” Grasso said. “[Eating disorders] are such a stereotyped issue, and we rarely get accurate information because it is such a sensitive topic. But I am able to overcome this hardship and spread awareness for others.”

The conference, which took place in the Student Center conference rooms, included projects about female body image, including an exhibit called “The Price of Beauty,” which displayed beauty products and their prices.

The idea for the student-run conference stemmed from assistant professor of communications Terri Russ’s Female Beauty class, which is only open to juniors and seniors, student conference coordinator Molly Gahagan said.

“The course is only open to certain students because you need to be mature to take the class and be able to talk about sensitive subjects and argue your opinions,” Gahagan said.

Fischer said her participation in the Female Beauty course allowed her to take a proactive role in planning the conference, which allows students to present their own research while running the conference themselves.

“Molly [Gahagan] and I are alums of the Female Beauty class, so we were asked to help run the conference,” Fischer said. “It gives us a chance to work on the other side of event planning.”

Fischer said she thought the greatest achievement of the conference was giving students the chance to share their projects.

“Students have a chance to work on a project all semester so it’s interesting to watch them interact with the people attending the conference,” Fischer said. “It gives you a chance to see what students can really do.”

In addition to providing an arena for sharing research and facilitating discussion, Gahagan said one of the primary goals of the conference is simply becoming more aware of the issues surrounding female body image.

“The issues in the conference are really important because they bring a lot to your attention,” she said. “I think the most important thing is just becoming more aware.”

Fischer agreed that awareness about female body image is an important factor in young women’s decisions.

“Be aware of how you’re being pulled in different directions and all the effects media has on you,” she said. “You should always know why you’re making the decisions you make.”