By Erica Connell
In a new initiative designed to help promote healthy discussions around eating disorders back at school, a group of students has been meeting monthly with psychiatrists Drs. Emily Gray and Lazaro Zayas at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
Sarah Dahl ’15, Maeve McNamara ’15, Chloe Tinagero ’15, and Sophie Taibl ’16 have been educating themselves about modern body image issues under the oversight of Upper School Counselor Sarah Vollmann, who said the girls’ meetings at MGH with experienced doctors have already sparked plans to gather data about these issues here on campus through a forthcoming survey.
Sophie said the survey will take the school’s temperature on body image, eating disorders, eating habits, and self-confidence, in turn allowing her group to “get an idea about what sort of advocacy project would actually benefit people.”
“The goal is to get the survey out sometime in February,” Chloe said. “We don’t want to do it online, so we’re thinking we will distribute them to advisory groups.”
Soon after collecting results, the group hopes to present the data to the school—if not by spring break, then by year’s end, Sarah said.
“We’re thinking about making a zine, a little booklet of pictures and the survey results, and distributing it,” she said, adding that she hopes this format will receive better reception than a mandatory X-block assembly.
Deciding whom to include in the survey has offered a new dimension to the girls’ discussions, added Sophie, who said gathering perspectives from all students, including boys, would help “look at BB&N as a whole.”
Chloe agreed that breadth of viewpoints matters so that any advocacy message about healthy body image resonates with the entire community. The MGH mentorship program solicited only girls’ applications this October, but on campus she hopes to broaden the audience for these discussions.
“[Body image] is an issue that I definitely see not only among my girl friends but also throughout the community at large,” Chloe said. “I think it’s present to some extent within everyone’s life, so I think this is a really cool way to get involved and hopefully make a difference.”
The group’s work follows sporadic efforts in recent years to raise awareness around body image health. In 2011, for instance, the school brought a one-woman show about eating disorders—The Thin Line—to all grades for mandatory viewing. And this past Tuesday, Kayla O’Neil (sister of Deven Catalano ’15) presented to an audience in the Community Room about her experience battling an eating disorder.
Ms. Vollmann said acknowledging the root of these problems—namely, the objectification of women in today’s media—is particularly important in a society that includes teenage girls.
“I’ve heard things in Women’s Issues Group, and we all heard Alicia Kaneb [’13] speak at assembly last year about how certain popular images have a detrimental impact on young women,” Ms. Vollmann said. “I really take this commentary seriously, so I’m hoping that [the girls’ advocacy] will open up more dialogue at the school.”
Sarah, Maeve, Chloe, and Sophie plan to continue their advocacy work at MGH through June.
“The sky’s the limit on what this particular group of girls wants to create,” Ms. Vollmann said. “It’s what they become invested in and what they want to bring back.”