The Body Project, run by Project Heal, is a body-acceptance based program designed to promote positive body image, focus on healthy eating, and discuss cultural messages around body image. The project has helped 3.5 million girls in 25 countries and has been used by many colleges and high schools including Riverdale. Guidance counselor Ms. Christina Young explained Riverdale’s interest in the program when she said, “We wanted to bring it in because so many of us struggle with accepting our bodies and our body image in the face of all the cultural messages we get about appearance.” Riverdale started to offer the program when former counselor Ms. Cohen reached out to Project Heal three years ago and has offered it annually since then.
The organization provides the school with two group facilitators to offer the body positivity program for cis-gender girls. The group meets for four sessions in the second semester semester and asks girls to reflect on beauty standards in society and learn how to combat those messages. Through activities and group discussions, the program tries to reframe the way girls respond to body shaming in society. One student currently in the program who chose to remain anonymous explained the program’s structure: “ One of the activities asks the members to think of quick responses to everyday comments that support the constructed beauty standard such as ‘I look so fat’ or ‘She really shouldn’t be wearing that bikini with that body.’ This activity made me realize that the ability to counteract such a strong force in society is almost like a muscle that needs strengthening and attention.”
However, because some students view their bodies as a source of shame, it can be difficult to provide a comfortable space to give these issues the attention they deserve. “I think that members of the Riverdale community avoid talking about body positivity, eating disorders, and the personal effects of society’s conception of ideal beauty, but I think that the Body Project can be the first step in changing that ... I think that our community would benefit from creating more spaces for students and faculty to nourish the emotional, psychological, and social components of their identity,” said the anonymous student. By providing a confidential support group through an outside organization, the school hopes to take the first step in initiating conversation in the community. “It’s nice to offer spaces that feel a little separate from the school, where maybe students feel as though there is more confidentiality provided to them if they can dive a little deeper or be a little bit more vulnerable in that space,” added Ms. Young.
By starting dialogue around body positivity, the program has empowered many of the young women who have participated. However, to those still struggling with body image, the message is clear: the anonymous student, “The Body Project is an indispensable education for young girls who want to rid themselves of the shackles of negative body-consciousness and disordered thinking/eating and become the confident change-makers of the future.”
Ultimately, the Body Project takes the Riverdale community one step closer to a future where all girls can liberate themselves from societal beauty standards, embrace their bodies, and continue dialogue around body acceptance.