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Panel discusses body image and addiction

Madeline Miles | Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Loving your body can entail many things, as attendees of Tuesday’s panel “Where Do You Draw the Line?” learned. Panelists at the event discussed alcohol abuse, cultural influences within the community, body dissatisfaction and controlling and taming personal thoughts.

Held in Carroll Auditorium as part of “Love Your Body Week,” the panel included psychology professor Catherine Pittman, professor of religious studies Stacy Davis, Eating Disorder Recovery Services Coordinator Valerie Staples and alumna Maureen Barrett.

Barrett said she struggled with her body image during her time at Saint Mary’s.

“Loving my body is something I’ve been striving to do since I can remember,” she said. “From the outside, I looked completely normal. But the outside doesn’t always match the inside.”

Barrett said she turned to consuming alcohol excessively, because when she drank, she felt better.

“I loved the warmth of the alcohol going down my throat,” Barrett said. “When I drank, I felt taller, smarter, skinnier, prettier, powerful, even blonde.”

Barrett said her problem reached the point where she recognized the need for professional help.

“I hated myself. I didn’t care about anything anymore,” Barrett said. “I finally asked for help from the counseling center here on campus.”

Barrett left Saint Mary’s in April of 2006 and checked into a professional treatment center. She returned to campus this past fall and graduated in December.

Davis presented the ties between spirituality and alcohol by introducing the views of alcohol consumption in Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Hinduism. Davis said Buddhists have a positive mindset about the consumption of alcohol.

“There are four rules that the Buddhists follow,” Davis said. “One, know why you’re drinking. Two, taste what you’re drinking. Three, watch what happens to your mind when you drink. And four, find your own middle way.”

Staples said students’ perception of body image is influenced by the media, as well as the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s culture she referred to as the “bubble.”

“There are a lot of great things about the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s community,” Staples said. “But there are also a lot of challenges.”

Staples said the lack of diversity in race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and even body type contribute to the intensity of this “bubble.”

“There is a world outside of the bubble with people of all different sizes,” she said. “We don’t appreciate our body as this amazing machine. We focus on its appearance rather than its function.”

Pittman said internal thoughts are the reason behind the distortion of one’s self-perception.

“It’s not that you need to change your body,” Pittman said. “But you need to change your thoughts.”

Pittman said it is crucial to recognize the illusion the media, the “bubble” and other outside influences create.

“If we can change our thoughts, we’ll find it so much easier to love our bodies.”