A group of students was concerned about body imaging on campus last fall when a sign posted in a South Hall kitchen requested an end to vomiting in a garbage can there.
The Feminist Majority, a student organization that began last fall, is now sponsoring a weekly discussion and support group that deals with body imaging and eating disorders. Since the South Hall incident, the group has moved from reaction to discussion and education.
Correne Spero, a college sophomore and one of the co-facilitators of the support group, said the memo in South "awakened us to how ignorant people are here about eating disorders."
After the memo went up in South, Spero and others though that whoever was vomiting in the garbage - nearly 40 pounds a day - may have a serious eating disorder, Feminist Majority members wrote in a letter they sent to the Review, and in their letter denounced the memo as insensitive.
In the letter, Feminist Majority members stated: "We urge everyone to think about the ignored issue of body image on this campus and to realize that when so many people are hating and harming themselves and their bodies due to sex stereotypes and other societal factors, it effects us all."
The new group is an attempt to educate the community on body imaging issues.
Lindsay Knisely, a college first-year and co-facilitator of the discussion group, said, "[Students] are concerned about being concerned about body image."
Knisely, along with co-facilitators Spero and Karyn Brownson, a college junior, feels that Oberlin students do not realize there are people with eating disorders on campus.
Spero said some people are shocked to learn of the problem on campus. "We're all supposed to be really comfortable with ourselves and free and open about that kind of thing," she said. Brownson said that it is a common misconception on campus that eating disorders do not happen here.
A main goal of the newly-founded group is to open discussion on campus about eating disorders and body image, as well as to give people a place to, according to Knisely, "have their feelings be said."
Currently the group, which has only met a few times, has about 20 participants. The discussion is not focused and the facilitators are attempting to raise the comfort level of the group. Knisely feels such efforts have been successful so far. "We're happy with the way the group has been going," she said.
Spero said that the group isn't therapy, but "just a place for people to talk." She said she believes that students are more comfortable talking to their peers than to authority figures.
Discussions so far, Knisely said, have been more related to body image, especially the media and the role of society, than eating disorders.
Both Knisely and Brownson are peer counselors. Brownson works with the Sexual Assault Support Team (SAST) and Knisely with the Sexual Information Center (SIC). According to Knisely, they are not professionals, but they do know where the appropriate area resources are.
Spero said that the group could get people professional help if they requested it, but that it is "definitely not our goal to turn them in."
Britt Friedman, a psychologist at the Counseling Center, thinks the group is a good idea. "Any kind of support is good," she said.
There have been similar groups in the past, according to Friedman. The most recent was one formed two or three years ago and only lasted about a semester. Friedman said, "People had a lot of problems, in addition to eating problems, that were quite severe."
Friedman said she believes the success of the new group will depend on how ready the people involved are to recover.
Brownson, Knisely and Spero expressed interest in being trained as peer counselors who specifically deal with eating disorders and body image.
Friedman said the administration is concerned about the problem of eating disorders. She mentioned a possible future women's health center which would deal with many women's health issues and might include peer counselors and other informational resources.
Al Porterfield, associate professor of psychology, said, "We don't know why eating disorders come about." He said one of the leading explanations deals with the social pressures on women to be extremely thin. The media, Porterfield said, constantly projects images of successful women who are thin.
Porterfield also mentioned that the public body images of men are changing as well, and eating disorders are increasing among men. There is no concrete research data to support that yet, he said.
According to Porterfield, anorexia and bulimia are still considered women's diseases. Porterfield said women are at least 10 times more likely than men to suffer from either disease.
"It's quite a tough problem to deal with … People who have them don't want it to be known," said Friedman.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 21; April 19, 1996
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