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Speakers kick off Body Image week

Ann-Marie Woods | Tuesday, March 11, 2008

People feverishly working out on the elliptical machines, countless wannabe bodybuilders pumping iron, students running around the lakes in the middle of winter and the Subway line surpassing the few people at Burger King are scenes that may seem familiar to most here at Notre Dame.

The student government’s gender issues committee, however, is now raising the question of why this is the case. Is Notre Dame simply a healthy campus? Or are there deeper issues concerning health and body image that pervade the campus, as students obsess over a need to be thin, fit and “perfect”?

With millions of Americans, many on college campuses like Notre Dame, suffering with eating and body image disorders, the gender issues committee has organized “Live As You Are: 2008 Health and Body Image Conference,” in conjunction with National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

Promoting greater awareness and understanding of eating disorders, the “Live As You Are” conference is bringing these issues to the forefront of Notre Dame, hoping to provide support, education, and insight for professionals and students alike.

Sophomore Patrick Tighe, co-chair of the student government’s gender issues committee, has been a part of the planning and organization of the conference, along with senior co-chair Brenda Doyle. Modeled after last year’s Eating Disorder Conference, Tighe and Doyle “decided to change the conference to make it more gender neutral and attract as many people as possible,” Tighe said.

Started in the spring of 2007 by a Notre Dame student suffering with an eating disorder, the conference has taken on a new dimension this year by incorporating speakers addressing various topics related to eating, exercise, health and the influence of the media on body image. The keynote speaker, Ann Simonton, a former top fashion model and now one of the nation’s leading authorities on the effects of the media on body image, will speak tonight at 5 p.m. in the McKenna Center.

“We wanted someone who would have more appeal to a broader audience,” Tighe said.

Other speakers at the conference will include well-known doctors who have studied eating disorders and related psychological problems. In addition, several graduate students at the University will present papers on eating disorder and body image in what Tighe called the “call for papers.”

The University Counseling Center will give several presentations “addressing how to deal with these issues and what to do if you suffer with an eating disorder or know someone who might,” Tighe said. The conference will emphasize the resources and programs available for students struggling with various health and body image issues.

Furthermore, the provocative film Thin, which was also shown last year, can be viewed again Wednesday night at 8 p.m. This documentary about a prominent eating disorder treatment center reveals the emotional and physical effects of anorexia and bulimia on both the victim and their families.

With greater publicity and a more inclusive range of topics, Tighe hopes for a better turnout at the Health and Body Image Conference this year.

“Our biggest goal is to raise awareness and get people to realize this is a major problem on campus,” Tighe said.

Students can register for the conference online or can attend any of the events over the next three days without prior registration. For a list of the speakers and events at the conference or to register online, students can visit the student government website at nd.edu/~studegov/.