Carly Golden strives to take the weight off the common conversation about body image.

“It’s interesting because it’s usually a really uncomfortable conversation at first,” said Golden, a senior studying Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise. “But after you get started talking, it’s really refreshing to talk about.”

Golden is one of Hokie Wellness’ peer educators who facilitates the Body Project – a highly interactive workshop that focuses on body image, how it’s created, and how it influences action. In a small group setting, participants are taught skills to celebrate their bodies and behaviors that create a more positive self-image and a better overall state of well-being.

“Day in, day out, it’s so easy to get caught up in unhealthy conversations about our bodies,” Golden said. “We’re trying to tell people that you should care about your body, but you should think about it in a positive light. We want to help start the discussion about how we can have more healthy conversations about our bodies.”

The Body Matters Committee, led by Hokie Wellness, plans to expand those positive conversations across the entire Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg during its annual Body Matters Week. On April 6-9, the committee members and peer educators plan to host a variety of interactive in-person and virtual sessions on topics ranging from exploring general nutrition and disordered eating patterns to examining weight stigma and the concept of beauty.

The Body Matters Committee is a collaboration with Hokie Wellness, VT Women’s Center, VT Recreational Sports, Cook Counseling Center, Schiffert Health Center, SECL Perspective Gallery, Cultural and Community Centers LGBTQ+ Resource Center, VT Sports Nutrition, Dining Services, and The Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise.

The week will highlight just some of the multitude of wellness resources available to the entire Virginia Tech community in alignment with the university’s #VTBetterTogether campaign.

For Riley David, it wasn’t until she arrived at Virginia Tech and began having more genuinely positive conversations that she realized her previous relationship with her own appearance was a bit warped.

“I grew up doing competitive cheerleading and when you’re in that type of dance world or you’re an athlete, you’re sometimes pushed to look a certain way and you don’t even realize it until you’re out of it,” said David, a junior studying human development and public health.

Also a peer educator and Body Project facilitator with Hokie Wellness, David said she’s found it’s very common that her fellow Hokie have similar distorted views related to body image, especially when it comes to food.

“A lot of it revolved around what is and isn’t a healthy food, the value you place on food, and using food to justify actions, like going to the gym and working out because you ate a certain thing,” David said. “That can become a dangerous thing when people start restricting themselves or working out all the time and ignoring the science behind good nutrition and exercise.”

Helping bridge such education gaps and reframing conversations in a way that celebrates all bodies is the primary focus of all Hokie Wellness’ programing and Body Matters Week.

 “Thanks to peer educators, Hokie Wellness offers about 50 Body Project workshop series throughout the academic year,” said Laurie Fritsch, assistant director for Hokie Wellness who advises the Body Project Peer Educators and is chair of the Body Matters Committee.

“At its core, the Body Project is an evidence-based eating disorder prevention program that also increases a person’s body image,” Fritsch said. “Eating disorders are complex, multifaceted conditions, including biological, emotional, and psychological components. The collaborative approach of the Body Matters Committee allows us to highlight the great work many departments at Virginia Tech are doing and share their expertise, which includes deep dives into topics that can lead to disordered eating.”

Making such connections across campus helps illustrate the truly universal nature of these issues, as well as the common applications to addressing them.

“Everyone has their insecurities,” Golden said. “But it’s really empowering when we take the time to think about all the great things our bodies do for us.”

Written by Travis Williams