UNH community discusses body image and higher education

Bret Belden

By Katie Beauregard, Contributing Writer

The need and want for a certain body image may always exist on college or university campuses, and students continue to feed the flame with negative discussion. To stop the spread. different groups at the University of New Hampshire work with students to help their self-image.

Full of students of all ages and genders, some sexually active and others not, the whispers and — concerns that fill — UNH’s Memorial Union Building, Stillings Dining Hall and Thompson Hall lawn — can highlight just how prominent these body image issues are.

Claire Cortese, a junior at UNH, has not only heard these issues around campus but also experienced them first hand. Asked about her insecurities, pertaining to sexual relationships and everyday life, she related herself to many other students who attend the university.

“I mean, I think all girls have some stuff that they don’t like about themselves,” Cortese said.  “You worry that you’re not attractive enough.  It’s definitely a concern because you are so exposed.”

Faculty members like Maria Caplan, UNH Health Services nutrition educator/counselor, take this issue of having a certain body type and how it affects students very seriously.  In order to create a campus where students feel welcome, no matter their shape, weight and overall physical appearance, Health Services offers an array of programs.

“We support students through offering services like mentoring support and also offer groups like ‘The Body Project,’ a discussion group around body image in the media,” Caplan said.

Caplan continued to discuss just how imperative these groups are to people who suffer from insecurities, both sexually and not.  As she spoke, she went on to explain how many of her patients connect their sexual relations with their doubts about body image — a common occurrence for college-aged students.

Faina Bukher, the assistant coordinator of the Women’s Studies Program here at UNH, spoke of the many courses offered in the department regarding this. She also made it clear how students who take these courses grow and that confidence is discovered on its own.

“By facilitating classes which empower people to be their true selves, that in itself might empower them to be confident in their role as sexual human beings,” Bukher said.  “Indirectly, what we hope is that a student leaving any Women Studies class will be confident in being who they are and feel good about themselves.”

Bukher went on to discuss how Health Services and the Women’s Studies Program work together to fight against the role of a certain body image on this campus. “We are actually co-sponsoring the Body Monologues [Oct. 27], and we will work with [Health Services] regarding other events similar to this one,” Bukher said.

Body Monologues is an event where UNH students can express their self-love, through forms of art such as music, dance and painting. Health Services, the MUB Current Lecture Series, Eating Concerns Mentors (ECMs), Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program, People Opposing Weightism and the Women’s Studies Program work together for the event. Programs like these help eliminate self-confidence insecurities around campus, regarding both personal and sexual feelings.  For Bukher, the Women’s Studies Program fits this description perfectly.

“I think a lot of students would say that they are looking for ways to transform society into a more equitable and fair one that allows for the expression of individuality,” Bukher said.  “Ones that aren’t so prescribed by how society thinks we should be.”