Courtney Weaver sits down with Taylor Allen, an advanced practicum student at the Carruth Center, to talk, once again, about body image. Taylor and Courtney chat about the different influences on body image, particularly for college students, but also discuss some strategies that students can use to help boost their own. Check out the “Embracing Your Body” workshop, led by Taylor, here: https://carruth.wvu.edu/services/group-counseling/current-groups.  

Transcription: 

Welcome everyone to Wellbeing Wednesdays. My name is Courtney Weaver. I am the host of this illustrious podcast. I'm also the director of WellWVU here at West Virginia University. Uh, with me today is Taylor Allen, and she is an advanced practicum student here at the Carruth Center for counseling and psychological services.

Uh, so welcome Taylor, how you doing today? I am doing really well. How are you doing, you know, just chugging along best again. So living in that post-election anxiety. Oh yeah. Uh, so, um, Taylor, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role here at the university? Yeah. So I am, um, an advanced practicum student at the Carruth Center.

Um, I've been there, there for about, this'll be about two and a half years now. Okay. I've done most of my practicum training here. I'm also a fourth year doctoral student in the counseling psychology program here at WVU. Um, so yeah, I see a lot of clients at the Carruth Center. Um, I actually run the embracing your body one-on-one group over at the Carruth Center as well.

Um, so yeah, that's, that's primarily my role here on campus. And, um, you know, I really take into disordered eating and body image as my area of focus with clients. So, so yeah, that's my role here at the university. Okay, great. So, and, and along those same lines, you know, we're going to be talking a little bit today about body image and the impact that it has on college students.

So to start us off, how would you define body image? Yeah. So I would really define it as the way that we view ourselves, whether that's in the mirror or how we view ourselves in our mind, um, you know, the beliefs about our own appearance, um, you know, how, how we view ourselves and also how we move in our own bodies and how we feel in our own skin.

Um, so that's how I would really define body image. And obviously body image does not exist in a vacuum. There are lots of different issues that are sort of interconnected with it. So what do you think some of those issues are? So I think, you know, um, really the number one thing that comes to my mind are the appearance ideals that are kind of out there from society.

You know, if there were these, uh, you know, ideals quote unquote, you know, we wouldn't be striving or we wouldn't have this negative body image, so to speak. Um, I think these ideals that are pervasive in our society are really huge and contributing to some of that poor body image because it's some of these unattainable things.

Um, that really can impact body image. Um, also, you know, looking at diet culture and how that's pervasive as well. You know, I feel like all of these things are interconnected, right? So we have these appearance ideals and to achieve that, we start doing diet culture and, you know, all of these different things that start to come into play, which can lead to eating disorders.

Um, and so all of these different things that are just so interconnected, um, and really one of the main things that I think is. Is kind of seen in our society is this being thin equals being healthy and being fat equals being unhealthy. And that's just not true. Um, but that's something that is just so pervasive in our culture and it's been that way for so long that it's really, it can really, really impact body image, especially in college students.

Right. So these are really, I mean, in some, I wouldn't want to say insurmountable because you can, we can all like, do that, the work and work in deconstruct, um, these issues and whatnot, but it's, it's a lot and it's really hard. And like, not everyone has the energy or the bandwidth to do that. Um, and it it's kind of terrible, but, um, what do you think for college students, particularly like it's.

It's a tough road out there. So what do you think the biggest influences on the college student body image is? Um, you know, just based on research and then also, um, just in my own, you know, experience with clients, social media plays such a huge role. Um, you know, whether that's Instagram or Facebook or whatever, and whether that's celebrities on these things, or even our F our own friends, you know, Social media.

I talk about this a lot with, with clients is that people are posting their happiest moments, right? You're not posting the times when you're sad or, you know, when you don't feel great about yourself. And then also, you know, just the, um, the capability to edit our own photos. Um, and you know, just all these different apps, excuse me, and filters.

That, you know, it's like, you can't just send a picture of yourself. You have to, you have to filter it, you have to edit it, you know? Um, and then if you don't, you're feeling bad because you start comparing yourself to others photos. Right. Um, and so, you know, and then on top of that, you see these. These influencers who are posting these edited photos and then promoting these things to make you feel better and doing these advertisements with their photos.

And it's the, to me, that's one of the main ones for college students, because college students are all about the social media. Oh, for sure. Um, and so we have a few statistics here, which is actually from the national eating disorders, associations, uh, body activism guide, uh, which is a free resource online.

Um, but according to them, 21% of teens actually feel worse about themselves after using social media, which isn't surprising to me at all. And that actually. Well, you're talking about filtering 70% of women and 50% of men aged 18 to 35, edit their images before posting them on social media, which is astounding.

I mean, I, I mean, to be honest, I've thrown my picture through a filter. I generally don't take pictures of myself though, but even if a landscape, like it needs a filter. Oh, it actually does it. But yeah. So it's, it's a really pervasive practice. Yeah. And I think that that's one thing that, um, You know, I talk about a lot in some of the groups and some of the clients that I work with, is it starting to bring that awareness to that and trying to reduce the social media that we're consuming?

Right. Like being an aware consumer and recognizing, Oh, these accounts that I follow, aren't making me feel great about myself. Um, and so, so trying to bring some awareness to that. Yeah. And then also sometimes we, you talked about like influencers and what they post, and sometimes they're posting practices that are really not healthy for you and your body.

So whether that's like a new cleanse or a really drastic maybe workout regime, like. Yeah, that's not great. I used to work with, um, a registered dietician in my office at my previous institution. And she would meet one-on-one with students to talk about nutrition. Um, and she would spend at least the first appointment with most of the students that she met with debunking all of the myths that they have seen on places like Instagram or Facebook or the like.

That's one of the things I try to do in the first session of my group as well is it's just knocking down those myths and, and really bringing awareness to these things. It's like the metaphor I use to describe this. Sometimes it's like, you know, the Claritin clear commercial where all of a sudden they can see now clearly because they've taken the clarity.

And that's, that's what we're trying to do is like lift that veil. Yes, that's excellent. Uh, so what else do you think has an influence on a college student's body image? Peer groups, definitely. Um, specifically a lot of body comparison, whether it's really overt or if it's more something that, you know, people do, you know, you know, from behind social media or whatever that is, you know, um, That can be a huge thing, is that social comparison in that body comparison within peer groups, but also, um, so fat talk.

So when I say that, I mean, you know, I always think of them. I always like to use metaphors and whatnot. Um, but. Looking at the scene in mean girls where they're all standing in front of the mirror, and they're just saying completely self-deprecating things about themselves. And that's something that, whether it's as obvious as that or not, you know, just the, Oh, I can't eat that.

I've been bad today or, Oh, these jeans don't make me look good. And it's just this, this culture of having really self-deprecating comments specifically with women about our bodies. And, um, you know, this is something that you don't even really realize it when you're talking about it in your friend group.

And if you're the one person that's not saying someone's something self-deprecating, then it's like, Oh wait, you're really confident. You know what I mean? It, it can be this almost. This weird interaction where it's like, I'm saying something positive about myself, and now I'm being judged by my friends for saying something positive, rather than saying something selfish.

Right. It's like a lose, lose situation either you are harming yourself or someone else is attacking you a little bit. Okay. Exactly. Um, I think also family expectations are a big one. Um, That's something where, you know, growing up, depending on, you know, what you're doing, family life looks like having that conditional love based on what you look like.

So if you have parents that are really focused on appearance, um, you know, not receiving that love and acceptance from them can be a huge, huge impact on body image. Um, And also one thing, you know, and I feel like a lot of people that I've talked to have experienced this as well. Um, hearing parents talk negatively about their own bodies, maybe not necessarily directing it towards their children, but hearing that from, you know, their Mo like daughters looking up to their mothers and their mothers being self-deprecating about their bodies or trying, you know, the 10,000 diet that they've tried and, and not, not feeling like it was successful in their eyes.

Um, You know, that can really impact. It's like, Oh, I'm not supposed to feel good about my body. Um, and that can really be harmful as well. Um, and one thing I always think about is like older relatives, like Thanksgiving is coming up and older relatives, making comments about. Oh, you know, this is how you look this time, whatever that might be.

And so that's something I know at least I've experienced that before. I know many other people have and just the, whether it's about body image or anything else, just knowing that the holidays are coming up. That's definitely something that happens. Right. And there's always that shame around food or on the holidays too.

Like if you're, you know, Thanksgiving is a holiday that really is about. Eating and family togetherness. I mean, but eating is the main attraction. Um, and to be like, Oh, I'm going to cheat today or I'm going to eat as much as possible. Or like just being like, do you really need that extra help and mashed potatoes?

And it's like back off. Yes, exactly. And being able to, whether it's you feel comfortable saying something to those relatives or being able to have your own boundaries in your mind of just like, you know what, that's on them. I know how I feel about myself and I feel good about myself and I'm just going to let you know aunt Karen say what you mean wants to say total aunt Karen.

She's a troublemaker. Well, I mean, with the pandemic, hopefully, actually family gatherings will be kept to a minimum cause true. Staying safe in that physical distance. Karen that's that's very, very true. Uh, and so let's talk maybe a little bit about the media. So again, from the national eating disorders association, They, they did a study and they found that American elementary school girls to read magazines, um, 69% say that the pictures influenced their concept of the ideal body shape and 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight.

Um, and then an interesting fact that actually about two thirds of American women wear a size 14 or larger, but only about 2% of the mainstream media images feature plus size. Women, it goes back to what you were talking about in the beginning with the images that folks see for sure. Exactly. And, and, um, one thing that I, I really that it, it just, it bothers me so much about the media is that, and you'll see celebrities coming out about it now, but, um, You know, the celebrities don't even look like that.

They, they get edited, you know, and you know, their skin, I know Zendaya talked about her skin being lightened and her thighs being like thinned out and, you know, just all these different people who post the originals of what the magazines actually took. And. It, I think that really sheds light on how much, one, how much this can impact people, but also how unrealistic it is.

Um, you know, you're, you're trying to, you're looking at something and wanting to achieve something that they don't even look like. Um, it's, you know, it's computer generated. Um, and so. You know, I think this just really ties in with how much this can influence, especially the 47% that it makes them want to lose weight, um, how this can lead to diet culture and potentially disordered eating.

Um, and just how much of that media influence really impacts, you know, students and whatnot, or just women in general and men. Yeah. I'm like reflecting and thinking about when was the first time I ever heard. Either like friends, my peer people in my peer group mentioned being on a diet. And I think my earliest recollection is seventh grade where I had friends who were like, well, if you suck in your stomach all day, it'll actually help you lose weight.

Yeah. And I think my, I don't know, my, my perception of that is a little skewed. I grew up as a competitive figure skater. So mine was even younger than that. First time I had heard about that, I was probably like, Eight or nine the first time, but that's a, that's a very different scenario, you know, but I think even seventh grade, that's still a very young age, you know, I think to be thinking at, you know, set seventh grade year, one, 11 or 12, 12, 13, 13, to be thinking about dieting at that age.

That's so young, so young and trying to also diet to look like. Oh, a fully grown woman, you know, when chances are, you might not have gone through puberty. Yes, exactly. Um, so what can individuals do to maybe help boost their personal body image? What are what's? What do you suggest? So, two of the things that I really like to talk about are one looking at.

Um, you know, your physical appearance doesn't define your worth. So looking at yourself as a whole person, rather than, you know, feeling poorly about yourself as a person and about your body, because of your physical appearance, really appreciating, you know, all the aspects of, you know, whether you're a daughter, a mother, a son, you know, a student, an athlete, whatever, all the different things that make up who you are.

Um, and really looking at yourself as a whole and your physical appearance is only one part of that. Um, the other thing is I like to look at function over form. So what your body does for you rather than the way that it looks. Um, so looking at I've had one person gave me this really great example of.

That you know, my, from the moment I'm born until the moment I die, my body breeds for me and I don't do anything about it. And just the gratitude that's there. And it's like, I can't believe my body does this for me. So looking at all the things your body allows you to do, like, I love going hiking around West Virginia.

I'm from Florida. So going to explore mountains is amazing to me. So that's one thing I love that my body allows me to do. Um, so looking at what your body can do for your, what it allows you to do rather than its form. Nice. Uh, and then you can also like ask, I guess, yourself some questions and answer them like it's along the same lines that you were just talking about.

So what has my body helped me to do in the last few days? And it could be as simple as all my buddies. Breathe for me for the past year, or it allowed me to go to class and take notes with my hands or what have you. Um, and then what's one way that I can celebrate my body today. And, you know, a great example is what you just did about hiking and be like, I was able to do, you know, a three mile hike through the wilderness of Western.

Virginia, and I'm really excited about it. Um, and then like, think about what does self-love mean to you? Um, what brings you joy? And then maybe what can I give myself permission for today? Um, so I, I do that quite frequently because. So I have one of like a fitness tracker. And so I feel guilty if I don't close all of my rings that I'm supposed to do.

And I actively say, no, you know what, today I'm really tired. I'm giving my body permission to rest because it's telling me that I need to. I'm okay with that. Yeah. And listening to your body's cues is huge. Um, you know, especially to just not strain yourself and not push yourself, like that's one of the biggest things.

And also the one that I really, really love as well as what does self-love mean to me? And also, I mean, even to just add onto that, how can I practice self-compassion because I feel like with negative body image, we judge ourselves so much. And so how can I practice the compassion that I give to others?

Right. That's for sure. Um, so then if we're, if folks are interested in learning more about this particular, like sort of body positive, um, acceptance appreciation type of mindset. Um, so I mentioned this earlier, but the national eating disorders association does have a body activism guide that's available for free online.

And it's actually like a work. Book that you can move through, you know, with friends or by yourself. Um, and it has things like a body acceptance baseline, which sort of, you know, takes that base measure of how you're feeling about your body. Um, but then has exercises like breaking down social media and critically thinking about what you're seeing, um, and like deconstructing ads.

Um, so those images that you might see in a magazine or, um, you know, advertise on television, things like that. And then, uh, do you want to talk a little bit about health at every size, which I'm a big fan of, so I'm glad that you brought it up. Yeah, definitely. So really quickly, just on two of those there, um, I actually, in the embracing your body one Oh one workshop I run at the Carruth Center, we actually do two of those in session.

And we, uh, yeah, so I was actually, when I saw that I was actually really funny, but that's something that I brought in because I felt, I find them really helpful for bringing awareness. So some of that. So that's something I do over at my group at Caruso, um, but health at every size. So this is a movement that I absolutely love because it embraces the natural diversity, you know, of all of our bodies.

And it really, really, um, recognizes the negative consequences of diet culture and the importance of, you know, listening to our body's cues, whether it's telling us to rest, whether it's telling us that we're hungry, you know, whether it's telling us that we're full, whatever it might be. Being very in tune with our own bodies.

And also it just encourages a more holistic approach that again, that physical appearance, isn't our self-worth right. It's, you know, looking at ourselves and our happiness as coming from social, emotional, mental, and some physical aspects. And it's just a really holistic way of looking at ourselves. And it really, um, deconstructs a lot of these appearance ideals and brings a lot of light to some of these, these really, really harmful things that can impact body image.

Right. All right. Well, uh, we always like to end the episode with kind of a wellbeing snapshot, which is basically saying, okay, we're talking about this today. How does it apply in the real world at the, at the current moment? Um, and you know, for the past. 10 months. We just keep talking about COVID. Um, cause we're still living in a pandemic, even though folks are tired of it.

It's not tired of us. Um, and so let's talk about body image and the time of COVID-19 because you know, the world's changed because. You know, the businesses have been shutting down, which includes gyms and restaurants and people, maybe aren't moving as much and their diets might've been changing. Um, so do you think the expectations of society have changed as well?

Or do you think they're just chugging along as they always have? Unfortunately, I think they're still chugging along. And the thing is with COVID-19 with us being a little more sedentary, not doing the things that we typically do that bring us happiness or that. You know, we're able to go see friends or we're able to go out and exercise or do whatever it is that's making us happy.

It's the one thing that I've seen is that it is contributing to more negative body image because these ideals and these expectations are still there. And so, unfortunately I, at least I haven't seen any, any shift in any of these, um, since COVID-19, um, Which, which can be really harmful because it was already contributing to negative body image.

So, you know, especially with our whole lives being changed, it hasn't changed with it. I don't, I at least I haven't seen that. Yeah. And so maybe it's important to remind our, all of our avid listeners, uh, to practice those compassion question that self-compassion and ask yourself those image booster questions, for sure.

But are you still running your, your group even though they're the pandemics happening? Yeah. So we actually, I'm about to wrap up my last session here. Um, it's a three weeks, uh, workshop. And so I'm about to finish up this last session. I'm not sure that we'll be able to run it again this semester with people going home for Thanksgiving and, you know, practicing across state lines and whatnot.

But that's definitely something I hope to do in the spring semester as well. Um, I, you know, I. I uh, developed this group and I brought it to some of the people at career. That's something I'm really passionate about. So I'm hoping to be able to do that next semester as well. All right. Well, Taylor, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to talk with us about body image and, and all that goes with it.

So we appreciate it. Oh, of course. And to all of our avid listeners, we really appreciate you as well. And we will catch you next time on Wellbeing, Wednesdays.