What do you think of when you look at yourself in the mirror? Is my nose a little wonky? Am I too chunky? Should I lose weight? Should I change my hair? Most of us have asked ourselves these questions at some point in our lives. In our course campaign for positive body image, we wanted to challenge these questions.
For the final project in our “Introduction to Public Health” class in Public Health at UT, we were asked to team up and present an issue in public health at the end of the semester. Teams needed to collaborate with organizations or professionals in an effort to create an impact within the community. For example, some teams presenting about healthier food choices reached out to local markets in an effort to create a farmer’s market stand on campus. Other teams chose to advertise and advocate health resources of which students on campus should be made aware, such as STI testing or mental health counseling.
Unfortunately, our team didn’t have a great start. We connected with our customer late in the project and were stuck in the brainstorming process, further delaying some needed tasks. These points are important to note. In addition to learning how to successfully work as a team, we also learned how to battle through frustrations and obstacles. After many hours brainstorming, we came across a topic we wanted to address.
Our inspiration for the project was the Dove Real Beauty campaign. With most teams tackling communicable diseases, we thought that having a conversation about body image and body positivity was as important as any other, especially on college campuses. We partnered with William Mupo from the Office of Health Promotion and created Twitter posts and Healthyhorns text messages that included reminders for everyone to really appreciate their bodies while spreading ideas of positivity to others.
Though the posts and messages were integral, the focus of our project was the short film we created. It documented student responses to the terms ‘Average’ and ‘Beautiful’. In a span of a week, our team set up cameras in libraries around campus and recorded student reactions. At one doorway we posted a simple sheet of paper with the word ‘AVERAGE’ while the only remaining exit doorway held the sign ‘BEAUTIFUL’. In the middle of the two, we posted a sign that read ‘CHOOSE ONE THAT REPRESENTS YOU.’ In essence, we wanted to capture student’s choices and reactions to having to choose between the two labeled doors. From uplifting reactions as well as a few flustered and honest reactions, the responses we received exceeded our expectations and gave us real insight into how students feel about themselves. Ultimately, our goal, beyond filming the responses, was to start conversations about body image. We believe that this generation of students can dispel the unattainable ideals that the media projects.
We feel that this project is just the beginning. Only a continuation of this conversation among our fellow Longhorns will help bring about the lasting change we hope to achieve. Negative ideals of body image demand to be challenged outside of our classrooms – in social media, in our friend groups, and in ourselves. We found that our classmates were very receptive towards the project and could relate to the theme we had explored. Everyone we met throughout the project opened our eyes to new perspectives and made us question our own perceptions of self-image and self-worth.
In our class, we were taught to address these very personal issues ethically. Through various guest speakers, we learned that public health issues are not just restricted to the classroom. These issues are applicable to many different aspects of our daily lives. This course and this project motivated us to stay inquisitive and curious, always seeking opportunities that would positively impact the world around us.
In the end, this experience was incredibly inspirational and an essential part of our understanding of the value of this course. We hope to have created a space of awareness and sparked lasting conversations among people in our class and those we met. We are optimistic that we can collectively help begin to destigmatize unrealistic ideals promoted by the media and help our fellow Longhorns declare, “yes, I am beaUTiful.”
The authors are Susan Yun (Nutrition Pre-PA), Rovianne Tindaan (Public Health Pre-Med), Viana Phan (Public Health Pre-Op), and Justine Nyquist (Public Health).
This course project employs many principles of experiential learning and inclusive teaching and learning. Please feel free to explore resources on the Faculty Innovation Center’s website for experiential learning and inclusive teaching and learning.