AuthenticallyU: Promoting positive body image

Disordered eating and other concerns associated with a negative body image have become more widely understood as serious and pervasive, but it can still be hard to find support from sympathetic voices on campus.

Dani Keren, a fourth-year life sciences student, is seeking to change that reality. She’s the founder of AuthenticallyU, a group on campus that seeks to improve eating disorder awareness and body image positivity on campus.

Keren sat down to talk about the club (which has since changed its name from Authentically Me) and the importance of body positive conversation on campus at Queen’s.

Can you explain the club’s name?

It’s called Authentically[U] because we basically decided that the best way to encourage body positivity and a general celebration of self-esteem on campus would be to centre the club around celebrating our uniqueness. So all of the club’s campaigns and events and workshops and whatnot are going to be focused around celebrating who we are and not shying away from that.

What will those events be like?

We’re going to be doing our first campaign in November and it’s just going to be a little burst of body positivity and general encouragement. It’s going to be largely social media focused. We’ve created this hashtag called … #thisisme and we’re going to be doing a couple of things. One thing is we’re going to be posting post-it notes all over the school, including in the change rooms, where the scales are in the ARC and in the washrooms and they’re going to say things, just sort of encouraging body image type quotes … and taking away focusing on numbers and weights and shapes and sizes and celebrating who we are as people.

Why does Queen’s need a club like AuthenticallyU?

I just think that the culture that we live in today is very focused on having this sort of “perfect” body image and that looks different for males and females. Typically for males it’s chiselled and buff and for females it’s slim as can be and at Queen’s I find that that’s just pervasive and it doesn’t even go noticed, but it’s just the general conversation and Authentically[U] is really going to change the tone of the conversation.

Why are you passionate about body image positivity and eating disorder awareness?

I have personal experience with an eating disorder, so that is what has driven this club for me, but also that was bolstered by the fact that I know a lot of people that have either struggled with disordered eating or just body image issues and I realize that it’s not just myself that has struggled with this. I think it affects everyone because everyone has a body image, and therefore we’re all susceptible to that being skewed by the environment that we’re in. So I just became passionate about trying to kind of save other people from having that sort of experience of becoming really vulnerable with regards to their body image.

Body image insecurities and eating disorders are often seen as “women’s issues”. How do you plan to engage men with the cause?

I think that we all know that men struggle with this, I would say equally as women, it’s just not spoken about as much and it looks different. For example, the post-it notes that we’re creating with the slogans and messages that we’re trying to advertise, we’ve been trying to actually get input from males about what kind of slogans and phrases would resonate with them. We ended up approaching all the men on the boys hockey team and asking them to write a compliment about themselves so we could get some sense of the way that guys see these kind of body image issues.

How can people who don’t have personal experience with eating disorders or body image negativity engage with the club?

I think that they’re people who are generally more comfortable in their own skin and I think that that’s rare and for those people, you’re extremely lucky. But I think that those who do have positive body image can benefit from the club and engage with it by just celebrating that and making … them aware and conscious of the fact that there are a lot of people who aren’t. They can engage in the conversation in a really healthy way and show people who might not have that same confidence with regards to their body image that it does exist and that our bodies really should be celebrated.

AuthenticallyU’s first awareness week kicks off next week from Nov. 5-7. Drop by the ARC and Mac-Corry to check out their booth for more information.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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