This Tuesday 11 October, I took it upon myself to attend IE Mental Health Week, sponsored by IEU Counseling.
I attended the seminar discussing body image, social media, and disordered eating. Whilst there, I was able to ask a few students for their thoughts on both the issue and the event.
I first spoke with Angela Salimero, a first-year BCDM student in Segovia, she expressed:
“I believe the seminar offered a safe space for students and encouraged discussion about these difficult experiences teenagers face every day.”
Another Segovia campus student, who chooses to remain anonymous, expressed the relevance of the topic:
“Very interesting, very relatable in our society today. The speaker went about it very well and spoke about topics relatable for people our age nowadays, so I think it was very helpful.”
To host this event, IE University invited speaker Victoria R. Kurland, a psychologist specializing in eating disorders, self-image, and family dynamics. Her expertise comes from years of experience in the field on a matter that men and women across generations, from different cultures and backgrounds, struggle with. These are body image, and its consequences on mental health and overall performance. With it comes socializing with others and with oneself.
Kurland began the conference with a kind smile that instantly shifted the environment in the entire classroom. Having worked with teenagers in the past in therapy groups, Kurland succeeded in making the space safe and comforting for a topic vulnerable to so many.
One would never realize how the people around you, even your closest friends or family members could be feeling about themselves. What do they say to the mirror whenever they take a daring glance at their reflection? What do you say when you are in the mirror every morning?
The speaker showed us a perfect example of this, first by making us write down which comments we constantly tell ourselves in our heads about our bodies, and what we usually criticize about ourselves.
Kurland then showed us a video to further allude to the subject. A social experiment originally posted on January 31, 2018, by BBC Three on YouTube, “What Happens When Strangers Get Real About Body Image.”
In the video, six strangers divided into pairs take a stand in front of their partner and say to the other what they say to themselves. Cruel and hurtful mockery and opinions were said, leaving the class in silence as we all processed the reality behind most of us.
Kurland then asks us, “Why we don’t talk to each other, the way we talk to ourselves?” That was a question that left us thinking, “Why must we be our worst enemies when it comes to our appearance?”
“I think it was really interesting […] because we realize that everyone thinks the same and that nobody cares about how you look,” said one anonymous student.
Kurland then went on to share the four aspects of body image: the way we see ourselves, the way we feel about the way we look, the thoughts and beliefs we have about our bodies, and the things we do concerning the way we look. Perception, affection, cognitive, and behavioral respectively.
“Why are these four aspects so important for a human being?” and “why constantly are they so tainted by self-hatred and judgment?”
As she asked out loud to the classroom, many ideas were shared as we were split into groups to discuss.
One of them is how we are constantly so focused on how we look, and why our society is always encouraging such damaging thoughts. How even in our own families, we have grown used to someone commenting on our weight, and our overall appearance. How nothing’s ever good enough. We are too big or too small and a compliment always must circle how we look, and anything beyond that means we are just not pretty enough to be regarded as more than just “funny” or “a nice person.”
Kurland went on to explain that a positive relationship with our self-image can be divided into three sections: self-esteem, self-acceptance, and a healthy outlook and behavior. She pointed out a key fact that we tend to forget as we only focus on what we deem as bad and not good enough, which is how we should be grateful for our bodies. How being content with how we look and understand, that we have the power and responsibility to be kinder to ourselves and our bodies, the way we are to those around us.
To conclude the conference, Kurland shared her thoughts on social media and the concept of filters and fitness influencers by showing a couple of videos where content creators express the reality of the product influencers are selling to their audience.
Altering one’s appearance with an Instagram filter to look “better,” taking pictures of oneself in certain angles to create the “perfect” silhouette, and covering up “flaws” with clothes, not showing the real way their body looks. We believe what we see, and we want what we see on our screens. We ignore the fact that it’s simply not the reality.
We don’t truly see what these people do to look a certain way that appears to be nearly perfect. We don’t know what’s real and what’s false. We can’t know, and for that, we need to assume responsibility to stop believing them.
“It’s toxic. It’s a product they are trying to sell to us,” Kurland replied when I asked after the conference what her thoughts were on social media trends such as “What I eat in a day?” and “Here’s how I lost ten pounds in two weeks”.
She believes it could spiral into once again trouble with our self-image and the pact of destructive methods and beliefs as we attempt to achieve the person we wish to be. An example is the constant and restrictive dieting I mentioned to which Kurland expressed, “Dieting is never going to work. Obsessing over a diet is usually what starts an eating disorder.”
Going back to the topics discussed during the conference, I asked her how one should deal with comments and even compliments when it comes to our bodies. And her answer was, “having boundaries.” Although it may be uncomfortable at first to say it out loud, once we do it, weight is thrown off our shoulders when it comes to social interactions with others.
As mentioned before comments on someone else’s body and their eating patterns, whether they are in a positive or concerning position, are never a good option according to Kurland.
“Instead of asking questions like why are you not eating? Or why do you eat that? Look for other ways to socially interact if you think a person could be struggling with an eating disorder.”
Beyond being informative, the seminar felt moving more than anything. Victoria R. Kurland was a wonderful speaker and created a safe space for those attending. She recommended the following list of books, movies, and social media accounts about self-image and eating disorders:
And for those who ever wish to speak to a professional about the topics mentioned in the seminar, or about any difficulty you may be experiencing and wish for some guidance, through this link ( https://ieucounseling.ie.edu/ ), you can have access to more information on mental health services and resources offered at IE University, as well as the My Well-Being site that you can also see on the link shown above. The IEU Counseling Department is always available to give you a hand with their services.