Body Image Task Force: Making UCLA More Body Positive

April 24, 2017

Tate LeBlanc, 22, was born and raised in southern California and currently lives in Los Angeles. He studies psychology at UCLA and will graduate this June. Tate has worked as a youth mentor for underserved children and co-directed Sexperts, a peer-to-peer sexual health education organization. As an undergraduate researcher, he has interests in factors that enable bullying, gender-based violence, and bystander intervention among young people. In his free time, Tate enjoys playing League of Legends, lifting weights, and spending time with friends and family.

Danielle de Bruin, a fourth-year sociology student at UCLA, is leading the fight for body positivity as director of Body Image Task Force (or BITF, for short).

Just this past February, BITF launched a photo series using the hashtag #bodytalks to highlight students’ journeys in overcoming eating disorders and learning to embrace a body positive mindset. One student used the metaphor of an abusive relationship to describe the process of overcoming bulimia nervosa, while another described how forgiving and capable their body is. The #bodytalks photo series can be viewed on BITF’s Facebook.

In the same month, they coordinated a week-long, campus-wide event called I Love My Body Week, dedicated to promoting acceptance of and kindness towards one’s own body through art, activities, and panel discussions.

Mallorie Dunn, founder of the body positive fashion line SmartGlamour, defines body positivity as “accepting the body you have as well as the changes in shape, size, and ability it may undergo due to nature, age, or your own personal choices throughout your lifetime.”

BITF’s use of events, images, and social media to push a more body positive narrative comes at a critical period in our increasingly visual culture. Constantly bombarded with images of the “ideal” body type, we are told that women ought to be thin and men ought to be muscular. Although innocuous on the surface, the problem is that the body images depicted in advertisements, magazines, and films are an unrealistic standard to which many viewers compare themselves, leading them to feel ashamed of their own bodies. Consequently, bodies who fail to meet these unrealistic standards are deemed ugly, lazy, or worthless.

These negative feelings are not confined to adults. One study found that children as young as 8 years-old report feelings of lower self-esteem related to body dissatisfaction.

BITF is pushing back against this narrative of shame and stigma.

“Our goal is to spread positive and healthy body image on campus,” said de Bruin, “and to give students the tools in order to develop their own self-image and to cultivate their own self-worth. Because everyone has a body, everyone has body image. It affects people of all races, sizes, genders, sexual orientations.”

While body image dissatisfaction tends to be framed as a women’s issue, de Bruin noted that, although less common, she has seen more men start to join the dialogue about body positivity.

“The body positivity movement has been around longer for women. We haven’t seen something for men as much. I think that we’re starting to see something because as we see women start to talk about it more…a dialogue [is] opened up. I think that’s an opening to start talking about male body image too.”

In the various photo series published on BITF’s Facebook page, both men and women are featured.

Fortunately, the efforts of the body positivity movement have made some progress shifting cultural norms, leading to more common portrayals of more realistic body types.

In 2016, Ashley Graham, a plus-sized model, was featured on the cover of the Swimsuit edition in Sports Illustrated. This past March, Nike launched their first plus-sized line of women’s clothing.

When asked how she knew if she was making a positive impact through her work, de Bruin said it was by watching her own members grow and develop.

“I’ve had one of my members who was featured in #bodytalks who shared their experience with eating disorder. They said they never talked about it before in public, and now I’ve seen them go on and share it on multiple different platforms and I feel like, in that sense, I’ve made an impact.”

Sharing your personal story can be a powerful tool for social change, and can inspire others around you to do the same. But this begs the question: do you have to love your body in order to spread body positivity?

“If you think about any relationship you have with any person, any thing, any institution, any type of relationship, there is no relationship that exists that is always happy. Having a positive body image is…having a positive relationship with yourself and learning how to navigate those parts that are not so positive,” de Bruin noted.

On April 17th, BITF unveiled its latest photo series entitled “The Beauty in You,” which will feature UCLA students describing their favorite part of their bodies.

Although not everyone can be a part of BITF, anyone can promote body positivity. Just as it is important to be kind to others, it is important that we be kind to our bodies and love it for all of its (im)perfections.