Thursday, February 20

Weeklong event aims to promote body positivity while taking on diet culture

Students smashed bathroom scales with baseball bats as part of the Body Image Task Force's "I Love My Body Week." The scale-smashing event was co-hosted by Southern Smash, a group that travels to college campuses across California to foster self-worth by inviting students to smash scales. (Lauren Man/Daily Bruin)

Buddy Al-Aydi, a second-year English student, threw his backpack to the side of the Bruin Walk stage and ran up to grab a metal baseball bat. He brought the bat down on a bathroom scale on the stage and the piercing sound of metal colliding rang through Bruin Plaza.

“By smashing that scale, it shows that it doesn’t matter if the (scale) numbers go down or not,” Al-Aydi said after climbing down. “It’s what you’re doing, in terms of how you take care of your body (that matters).”

A dozen scales were smashed by over 100 people during “I Love My Body Week,” which took place from Jan. 13 to Jan. 17. The week was hosted by the Undergraduate Students Association Council Student Wellness Commission’s Body Image Task Force.

Other events included a walk-in exhibition on international beauty standards, a dance class taught in high heels, a panel on boosting sexual confidence and a lecture about misconceptions surrounding dieting.

Body Image Task Force co-directors fourth-year sociology and gender studies student Helen Zhong and third-year financial actuarial mathematics student Lorena Palattao planned the week to create an open space to help students feel safe talking about their vulnerabilities and achieve self-love.

“I definitely think that a lot of people dismiss body image as a very niche topic, but the truth is we all live in such an intense diet culture,” Zhong said. “It’s really hard to find someone, especially a woman, who doesn’t exhibit some kind of disordered eating, and it’s really relevant to everyone.”

To encourage body positivity, many events focused on dispelling the effects of diet culture and weight loss efforts.

Students may feel pressure to diet because of social media or advertising influences, said presenters at a workshop called “Debunking Diet Myths,” which took place Jan. 14.

“At UCLA, there is extra pressure (to diet) because when you walk on campus, there seems to be a lot of people that fit the LA mold that are very concentrated on that little plot of land,” said Eve Lahijani, a nutrition therapist who spoke at the event. “Even when you look at the ads on UCLA campus, … they are all (of) athletes – people who are in excellent shape, all have a certain body type, totally athletic.”

However, diets perpetuate a cycle of self-hate, as failure to uphold dietary restrictions often leads dieters into guilt, shame and ultimately more binging, Lahijani said.

Instead of restricting certain foods from your diet, prioritizing the addition of healthy foods is more effective in maintaining mental and physical wellness, said Elena Eu, Body Image Task Force research director and fourth-year psychology student.

Eu researched common flaws in popular diets and presented them on poster boards for attendees to browse. For example, many diets teach dieters to ignore hunger, but by ignoring hunger, a dieter also teaches their body to ignore fullness, Lahijani said.

“At the end of the day, you’re going to eat thousands and thousands of meals in your life, and you don’t need to give each one so much weight,” Eu said. “It’s important to know that freedom from obsession with food is possible, and it’s definitely a journey, but self-educating like this is one way to start.”

Dongni Zheng, a second-year public health student who attended the event, said she was surprised to learn that all diets can be bad for one’s health.

“Before I came, I expected to learn some good diets from this event, but the nutritionist actually talked about why they don’t work,” Zheng said.

The scale-smashing event, hosted Jan. 15 on Bruin Walk, was intended to help release frustrations associated with dissatisfaction with weight standards. The event was co-hosted by the Body Image Task Force and Southern Smash, a nonprofit that travels to college campuses hoping to redefine self-worth by inviting students to smash scales.

Other events aimed to help students feel more comfortable using their bodies in sexual ways.

At an event called “Crafting Confidence in the Bedroom,” co-hosted by Sexperts at UCLA and the task force, speakers offered suggestions to overcome doubts and apprehensions about sex.

Students were provided handouts that asked questions such as, “What food would be your go-to sexy food?” Answers included multiple-choice options such as “whipped cream” and “lollipops, peaches, or other erotically shaped foods.”

Third-year political science student Yoyo Wong said she thought that the event helped to destigmatize sex as a topic.

“People might feel embarrassed to talk about (sex), but in this open forum it teaches you to be comfortable with talking about something that is really important to know about,” Wong said. “It’s really okay to let go of your worries in the bedroom.”

A heels dancing workshop held Jan. 15 also aimed to promote self-confidence. Students strapped on heels and joined instructor Shawna Pops on the dance floor to learn a short choreography that was recorded at the end of the class.

“Heels dancing is owning your body and embracing the beauty of it,” Palattao said. “A lot of people think it’s provocative, but it’s not, so we just wanted to have a class where people could use a form of art to embrace who they are and see the beauty of their bodies.”

The week finished off with a walk-in gallery in Kerckhoff Hall titled “Unfollowing Beauty Standards.” The artwork aimed to highlight and contrast the beauty standards of different cultures across the globe.

Awareness of worldwide beauty standards will foster a more accepting student body said Amirah Nathani, a fourth-year psychology student and Body Image Task Force membership co-director.

“We tend to fall into what we’re comfortable with, (which is) often what we’ve grown up around or what we see most often,” Nathani said. “I really want people to see that the world is so much more different than what you as an individual know.”

Despite the gravity of body image and its effect on mental health, Zhong said she hoped the week could be a joyous celebration of positivity and self-acceptance.

“I would want people who come to leave with a newfound appreciation for their bodies and for all that their body does for them,” Zhong said. “Hopefully, they will learn to not compare themselves to others or social media, to be kind to themselves and to show their bodies compassion, whether that’s eating when you’re hungry or not going to the gym if you’re tired.”

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Megan Mccallister

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  • Alie Thomas

    Ridiculous, especially the part about getting confidence from dancing in high heels. Yeah, right. I wonder how many foot doctors would endorse this. What next, HIKING in high heels? If u want confidence, pick up a damn barbell. The workshop on sex also encourages bad outcomes like unwanted pregnancy and STDs. This BP thing is out of hand. As for all the campus ads showing only athletic bodies? Solution: WORK OUT. Don’t anybody dare tell me something’s amiss with my mental processes just because I weigh myself daily. That takes 10 seconds. What about women who spend 30 MINUTES just on the eyeliner to look perfect?

    • Leah Pratley

      Hi Alie! I don’t attend UCLA but I’d like to address some of the things you mentioned in your rather hateful comment that only perpetuates the issue at hand. For starters, you should probably take out whatever frustrations you’re dealing with in a more healthy manner than ranting online and trying to prevent other women from enjoying whatever makes them feel good about themselves. Second, regarding the dancing in heels I can say that it’s quite fun, and I’m sure the podiatrists (foot doctors, as you call them) aren’t swamped with women who wear heels too much when dancing. Also, working out is certainly healthy both mentally and physically but some people have disabilities that do not allow them to lose their weight which is perfectly acceptable and does not make them any less healthy or less worthy of confidence. Your concern for other women’s weight need not persist, for number on the scale does not determine health in any way, BMI and other methods are far more telling. Women of all sizes and shapes are allowed to be confident and if you have a problem with that then you should probably work on your self confidence. The real kicker for me here is your ignorance on sexual education. The more sexual education that is taught, the less sex becomes stigmatized, and discussions about STI’s and safety are much more accessible. There is plenty of data to show this so I suggest you do your research before making claims without backup. Lastly, your thoughts on women who take 30 minutes to do their eyeliner has nothing to do with this, but to address it; makeup is artistic and fun and women who take the time to perfect their eyeliner are doing it because they enjoy the look that they have created and it has nothing to do with a lack of confidence or trying to impress men. Now before your spread your negative comments here or elsewhere, why don’t you go “pick up a damn barbell?”

      • Alie Thomas

        As a health blogger, I’ve corresponded with many podiatrists, and every single one has told me that women should avoid high heels (just for simple walking) as much as possible, and that they DO see a lot of patients with problems caused by high heels. I’m not shaming women who wear high heels. In fact, I myself wear them whenever I dress up, but I only WALK in them. Next, only a tiny percentage of the population under 50 has disabilities that prevent a kickass workout. The vast majority of critics of ads featuring “athletic” bodies, I’m sure, are quite able bodied. Why even bring up disabilities? This is SO irrelevant. But since you brought it up, I may as well point out that there are many competitive bodybuilders and powerlifters with disabilities and medical conditions.

        For instance Amy Warren overcame depression and a drinking problem to become a successful competitive bodybuilder. Her leg amputation at AGE NINE didn’t stop her. I personally know a man with scoliosis whose doctor warned him as a teen never to lift anything heavy. He ignored that and went on to set multiple world records in powerlifting. There are bodybuilders and powerlifters with Down syndrome, multiple sclerosis and even ONE-ARM powerlifters. Ever see Special Olympics and Paralympics? Yes, some people DO have conditions that prevent a hard workout, but again, the critics of athletic models in ads tend to be quite able bodied and free of disabling disease. I also never said anything about the weight on the scale determining health. Don’t make things up.

        You accuse me of having “concern for other women’s weight.” Show me in my first post where I’m critical or worried about other women’s weight. Don’t make things up.

        Lastly you accuse me of trying to prevent women from “doing whatever makes them feel good about themselves.” What about the women who feel good about themselves because they monitor their weight with a scale every day? Who are you or the scale-smashing camp to dictate that daily weigh-ins should be abolished and are bad for mental health or indicate poor self-esteem? For some women, that morning weigh-in kicks off their day before they then do an hour of yoga or 30 minutes of running.

        Re-read my first post. You invented too many things that I didn’t even touch the surface on.

  • Richard C

    Shallow people can only see beauty through the lens of pithy pop culture standards.

  • Gillian Thomas

    Great article, y’all! This is so cool+seems so liberating, I’m glad to hear about it!