By: Maison Tran
Photography by: Sahil Jagad
UCI was invited in spring 2019 to participate in the Peer Body Project, an ongoing nationwide research study focused on reducing eating disorder risk factors such as “thin” body ideals and body dissatisfaction. Evidence of the research shows that the program has been effective for participants both at UCI and colleges across the country.
The Peer Body Project, which originated from the Oregon Research Institute, aims to help students overcome body image concerns through the implementation of body positivity workshops, and to collect data regarding the efficacy of the program through surveys and voice recordings.
As a part of the study, the workshops were offered by The Center for Student Wellness and Health Promotion and were facilitated by trained peer educators. Participants who interviewed with the New U said that these workshops were beneficial to their lifestyle and self-image.
“I wasn’t in a very good mental state my first two years because of my body issues,” fourth-year Velia Acosta said. “After I joined the Body Project it made me realize that I’m not alone… and there’s much more to a person than just their body.”
Participants of the study met once a week for four weeks to discuss the potential negative effects of trying to reach the “ideal” body type portrayed by advertisements and media. According to the Body Project, only 5% of women fit this ideal, which includes being tall, genetically thin, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped and long-legged.
Through these workshops, students were encouraged to challenge body ideals in both themselves and others and to appreciate what their bodies do for them. The workshops also placed emphasis on creating a healthier lifestyle as opposed to fulfilling a norm.
“I’m not aiming to be a certain type. I’m aiming to be healthy, whatever that is for me,” fourth-year Stephanie Palafox said. “We don’t want to be small, we don’t want to be skinny. We want to be healthy.”
Students also said that having peers as both co-participants and facilitators of the workshops made it possible for them to have authentic discussions. The students expressed appreciation that they were not alone in their problems and that they had people to share these problems with.
“I’m usually a more shy person, but being able to talk about body image in a safe environment for the first time was amazing,” alumna Ashley Dalby said. “Everyone has doubts and worries, but when we walked into the room together it felt like it was us against the problem, not me alone.”
The Oregon Research Institute has invited UCI to participate in the study again for the 2019-2020 school year. 78 students have applied for the quarter as of Oct. 8, compared to the 40 who applied last spring.
Registered dietitian Jody Margolis and Wellness and Peer Education Programs Manager Natalie D’Azzo, who both co-facilitate training for new peer facilitators, plan to continue the program and potentially extend it to co-ed or male-identified groups.
“It’s definitely something that we value and we find really powerful and helpful to students,” D’azzo said. “It’s something we definitely want to continue, so it’s not going anywhere. We’re definitely going to keep this program even if they don’t need our data anymore.”
To contact Margolis or D’Azzo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. To learn more about the Peer Body Project, visit here.