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The Body Project: Q&A on a body positivity afterschool program

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The Body Project: Q&A on a body positivity afterschool program

The Body Project is a group-based intervention program facilitated through NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) that provides young girls the forum to push back against the body ideal and engage in the development of healthy body images. This body acceptance education curriculum has proven effective in reducing body dissatisfaction, negative mood, unhealthy dieting, and disordered eating. NEDA’s Kristen Snow, MHR, senior director of strategic partnerships, offered her insight on the work this program is doing to educate and engage young women around the country in this important conversation.

1. How was the idea for the Body Project formed?

Researchers had found that internalization of a societal "appearance ideal" can be a risk factor for the onset of an eating disorder. The Body Project was created as a way to challenge this societal ideal, and reduce "appearance ideal" internalization. Engaging participants in voluntarily critiquing this ideal and practicing ways to resist "appearance ideal" pressures helps to increase body satisfaction and reduce eating disorder symptoms. 

2. How is the programming and curriculum of the Body Project structured? What makes this structure unique or especially effective in combatting the “appearance-ideal”?

Over the course of 4-6 weeks (typically one 1-hour session per week), participants engage in written, verbal and behavioral exercises that critique and challenge the "appearance ideal." Trained facilitators guide the participants through each exercise and facilitate the post-activity debrief. It is the participants who really bring about the powerful shift: instead of an adult lecturing on the negative consequences associated with pursuing the ideal and telling them what they can do to combat these social pressures, the students unpack the origins and costs of the "appearance ideal," practice clapping back at negative comments, and generate ways to resist "appearance ideal" pressures. They don't just talk about it, either; they go out into the world and spread messages of body acceptance.

3. What is the population demographic that your program services? What do you think makes the Body Project successful in all communities?

Currently, the bulk of the research on the Body Project has been with high school and college-aged young women. The program has a solid evidence-base in this demographic. NEDA is working closely with the researchers behind the Body Project to develop derivative programs to broaden the reach of this program. In fact, we will be involved in a pilot test of a version of the Body Project for high school young men next year. 

The Body Project has been impactful with many different communities because the program allows the participants to define what their "appearance ideal" is. What we've found is that it doesn't necessarily matter what the standard of appearance looks like. Whenever there is an expectation that we are supposed to measure ourselves against some outside standard appearance or beauty, that is problematic and can have a harmful effect on our body image. 

Generally, our society doesn't allow for many opportunities to discuss "appearance ideal" pressures and the effects they have. The Body Project offers space to have those conversations, to become empowered to speak out, and to practice radical self-acceptance for themselves just as they are. 

4. What tangible impacts has the Body Project had in the communities it serves?

The Body Project has been delivered to more than 1 million young women. Multiple independent studies have found the program to increase body satisfaction and to reduce negative mood, unhealthy weight control behaviors, and disordered eating. It has also been found to reduce the risk for future onset of some eating disorders. 

5. How can other afterschool programs play a role in prevention and early intervention efforts to increase body positivity? Do you have any tools or resources you want to highlight for other programs to use?

Afterschool programs have a unique opportunity to bring programs like the Body Project to the communities they serve. Visit our website to learn how to bring the Body Project to your community. Additionally, NEDA offers a host of useful resources on our website, many relevant to students can be found in our Student Life round-up, including tips for cultivating body confidence, shareable compliment cards, a guide to Body Activism all about spreading these messages forward, and so much more.

And of course, if you suspect that you or a loved one might be struggling, NEDA's Helpline is available to offer support, resources and treatment options. If you are wondering whether it might be time to seek professional help, the NEDA screening tool is a great place to start.   

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