Illustrated by Liz Cornell

Embracing body positivity in a culture of disordered eating


The Women’s Center hosted a talk on body positivity Monday evening in an effort to raise awareness and support for those struggling with negative body image.

“(Body positivity is) looking at your body and not seeing its flaws but seeing where you shine,” Danielle Schiraldi, ’17, said. “Just seeing your whole picture and being positive about it. Another big part of it is looking at other people and not seeing their flaws.”

The panel was made up of students who have struggled with eating disorders, counselors and assistant English professor Suzanne Edwards. The search for the right group of panelists began in October.

“A lot of work went into finding the right group of people that could talk about the culture here at Lehigh, body positivity and eating disorders that had personal or clinical experience,” Schiraldi said.

Panelists shared their own struggles as well as becoming more body positive and standing up for oneself.

The discussion brought up common behaviors at Lehigh such as going to the gym every day or skipping dinner to fit into an attractive outfit to go out to parties. While skipping lunch to have a flat stomach may not necessarily be an eating disorder, it is a disordered-eating pattern. People may see their friends engage in disordered-eating behaviors which may cause them to do it, and then more are seen doing it, causing a campus-wide issue.

After struggling with anorexia during her first year, Schiraldi was inspired to promote body positivity on Lehigh’s campus. She believes Lehigh’s culture feeds into the over-exercising, dietary mindset.

“I was obsessed with being skinny and looking great in that crop top and mini skirt that I wanted to wear that Friday night, and I wouldn’t eat that much,” Schiraldi said.

Had someone spoken to her about her behavior, she feels her issues would have been less severe.

“Guys don’t have the look of having an eating disorder, but they have the mindset of having to look a certain ways, like their happiness will come from being bigger at the gym,” Michael Horgan, ’16, said.

“How do I be a better athlete?” Horgan, a distance runner who wanted to perform at his best, asked himself. In addition to not eating, he took his exercise routines to an extreme.

Lehigh has increased rates of eating disorders compared to the national average. According to the Lehigh Office of Health Advancement & Prevention Strategies, data from the Spring 2014 National College Health Assessment showed that 8.4 percent of Lehigh undergraduates report having an eating disorder, compared to 6.1 percent of undergraduates nationally.

Discussing these topics negatively can trigger someone who is on the verge of an eating disorder, has one or is in recovery.

“If they’re not positive about food and body, they can trigger people that are on the edge,” Schiraldi said.

Events such as these and others held by the Women’s Center are trying to change the way people converse about the issue. The center want members of the community to reflect on the way they discuss food and bodies.

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