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Love your body

On October 26, 2009 at 8 p.m. the Alpha Kappa chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and the University of Massachusetts section of the Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority hosted an event in the Malcolm X center entitled “Love Your Body.” The event addressed body image issues that affect both sexes in modern society in the context of a college campus.

Love Your Body began with some light mingling of those in attendance, mostly UMass students. The socializing went on until about 8:30 p.m., with the discussion that followed beginning with an anonymous survey of five yes or no questions pertaining to one’s personal body image. These surveys were collected and tallied to be discussed at the end of the discussion.

The discussion began with conversation about the physical characteristics that people look for in the opposite sex. After listing traits on a large sheet of paper, people started to talk about the list and questioned its significance.

Jason Burrell, a junior at UMass and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, said that the list in its entirety is “impossible,” but that having at least some of the characteristics listed is nice.

Another UMass student and a member of Phi Beta Sigma, Corey Smith, implied that some people look beyond looks, saying that he looks at “how ‘she’ is, how ‘she’ carries herself.” Smith also said that women need to be happy with the bodies they are given.

Carolina Davila, a member of Sigma Lambda Gamma, said that looks only go so far, and that ultimately she would want a relationship with “intellectual conversation and an emotional connection.”

The next question brought up was if the list ultimately did not matter and personality was what people were looking for, why even have lists at all?

Most people said that it was due to media portrayals of both sexes.

Harold Turner, junior at UMass and president of Alpha Phi Alpha, also brought up the point that these ideas are internalized and thus become a social norm.

Then the audience began to put this idea in the perspective of relationships versus “casual hook-ups.”

One student said that looks matter more when it is just a hook-up, since personality is not as much of a factor. In regards to a relationship, people were more willing to accept and look past flaws.

Maria Payano, a junior at UMass, elaborated from there, stating that relationships may develop with people one might not initially find attractive due to a growing friendship and falling for that person’s personality as the friendship grows.

The discussion continued with the topic of bad hair versus good hair, and what it really means. Some identified the issue as merely using good hair products, and that once used, anyone’s hair will be just as good. Others associated good hair as longer hair, which is something that has been implied in society for as long as most can remember.

Kethia Joseph, a junior at UMass and a member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, mentioned that texture is a factor in distinguishing good hair and bad hair.

Photos of ideal and not so ideal bodies were passed around for the students to observe and to be observed by the facilitators. Many people had their share of side comments, critiquing the photos of those who were supposed to be good-looking. The images were also compared and contrasted with each other.

After this, students in attendance made a collage of good images versus bad images. There were glue sticks, scissors and magazines provided for the students to use to make this collage within about 15 minutes. Many students chose to be involved in making the collage, while others opted instead to mingle with those around them.

The collage was soon presented and the photos displayed were discussed briefly and summarized. Basically, the bad images were photos of people that were either too skinny, too fat, skanky, or even “tacky,” as one student said.

The good images, of course, were associated with the ideals posted on the previous list of good physical characteristics of men and women.

The event concluded with a discussion of the survey questions given at the beginning of the event. It turned out that 38 out of 44 people, 86 percent, said that they love their bodies, but 40 out of 44, or 91 percent, said that if they could change their bodies they would. Another interesting statistic was that the majority of students also said that they often compare their bodies to others, 41 out of 44, or 93 percent.

Joseph thought that the event “…was a great discussion, and [it had] a good turnout, as far as the audience and the audience participation.”

“The questions really enabled people to dig deep within ourselves and also to confront ourselves,” she said. “And, the discussions gave us all a chance to encourage others to feel good about themselves and to accept ourselves.”

Netha Gill can be reached at nmgill@student.umass.edu.

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