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Body acceptance class to start this spring

Published: March 3, 2014, 9:32 pm ET
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Westhampton College women will have the chance to be part of the university’s first body acceptance class starting this spring to fight body dissatisfaction and the pressures surrounding young women to pursue an unattainable, unhealthy body.

Two Counseling and Psychological Services staff members, Jan McMillan, licensed professional counselor, and Charlynn Small, licensed psychologist, are on the CAPS eating disorders team and have worked to develop the class. If a student comes to CAPS with a severe disordered eating issue, staff will strongly recommend off-campus treatment, which include outpatient resources in Richmond or inpatient facilities across the country, McMillan said.

“We know from anonymous surveys of the overall UR student population that many of our students, especially women, have body image and eating concerns,” Peter LeViness, director of CAPS, wrote in an email. “Body image includes how you feel about your body and what you believe about your appearance. It also tends to include how you feel in your body as you go about your daily life.”

The Healthy Minds Survey, conducted in spring 2009, found that 59.9 percent of WC students said, “Body shape and weight are among the most important things to me”; 18.9 percent said, “I need to be very thin to feel good about myself”; and 37.3 percent said, “I feel fat even though others say I am thin.”

“As much as people would like to say no, our campus is no different than any other in the fact that students here do face serious body image and acceptance issues,” said Moira Lachance, sophomore and vice president of publicity for IMAGES, a club that works to foster positive self-esteem and body image on the Richmond campus. “It’s our goal as a club to let these people, and friends of these people, know how valuable they really are.”

McMillan brought the idea of the class back to campus after attending a National Eating Disorders Association conference in October, she said. The NEDA conference meets yearly to share treatment options, research, knowledge and programmatic information to improve interventions, she said.

“The body acceptance class sounded like a really neat idea,” McMillan said. “So I came back and did my own research, followed up and presented it to the staff here and decided to give it a go.”

The class, which will meet from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Richmond Hall on four consecutive Wednesdays beginning March 26, is meant to encourage women to fight body image issues, McMillan said. The class will look at the impact of the media and other societal influences that encourage young women to develop disordered eating in order to change their body, she said. The program was developed to combat the negative impact of these influences.

“It is not a therapy program but it is in an educational format, done in a small group so there is a lot of interaction,” McMillan said. “It is a preventative class, and the research has been really quite good that it does work as a preventative measure.”

The class size will be limited to between eight and ten women in order to provide a safe, interactive group setting, McMillan said. Participation is on a first-come first-serve basis and anyone who struggles with body image issues and who will commit to coming to all four classes and doing the exercises can attend if there is room, she said.

This semester will serve as the pilot round, and both LeViness and McMillan agreed that they are pleased with the interest so far and hope to see the class continue in some way.

“I think this class will be a fantastic addition to the resources and education that the University of Richmond offers,” Mimi Mudd, senior and president of Westhampton College Government Association, said. “I am very excited to see that there is an initiative to start a dialogue, to educate and to spread awareness about these relevant topics on the University of Richmond’s campus.”

Contact staff writer Meghan Cummings at meghan.cummings@richmond.edu

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