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Taking a swing at changing perceptions of body image

October 21, 2011 - NEWCOPE students asked passerby's to write down positive affirmations/compliments all week in the Curry Student Ballroom to put inside a pig pinata. As part of Fat Talk Free Week, they hung the pinata and invited passerby's to take a swing at it. Karan Assudani, sophomore, business major, finally broke the pinata. PHOTO: Christopher Huang / Northeastern University

On a cool, sunny Friday afternoon outside the Curry Student Center, third-year psychology major Michelle Marini snatched up a yellow wiffle ball bat with a clear purpose in mind.

“Let’s bash the fat talk!” Marini screamed, and then urged students to take a swing at a dangling pink piñata.

Several eager students stepped up to the plate until sophomore Karan Assudani burst open the piñata, which revealed dozens of tiny pieces of paper that fluttered to the ground.

They contained positive messages about body image that Marini’s student group, Northeastern’s Eating and Weight Concerns Project (NEWCOPE), had collected all week as part of an effort to take a more positive approach toward discussing the issue.

The event was one of several activities NEWCOPE hosted on campus in conjunction with Fat Talk Free Week, a nationwide campaign created by the sorority Delta Delta Delta. Northeastern does not have a Delta Delta Delta student chapter, but the campaign strongly aligns with NEWCOPE’s goals, said organization president Emily Haigney.

“We do a lot of outreach, and this is one way we can get the word out to students,” Haigney said.

NEWCOPE provides students with education, awareness and support on topics including problematic eating and exercise behaviors, eating disorders, self-esteem, body image and nutrition. The organization offers a drop-in center at 314 Ell Hall, referrals, a hotline, social networking web sites and other resources for students who are looking to help not only themselves but also family and friends. The group also provides anonymous and confidential peer counseling.

NEWCOPE was created in 1995 as an outgrowth of a project in Professor Emily Fox-Kales’ “Eating Disorders and Human Feeding Behavior” course at Northeastern. Fox-Kales, the group’s faculty advisor, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders and body image disturbances.

Her book, Body Shots, describes how movies and television create a physical ideal that viewers feel they must live up to.

“I think college-aged students, both male and female, are very vulnerable to not just their own body image struggles but also the media environment in which they grow up,” she said.

Fox-Kales will discuss Body Shots at the University Libraries’ Meet the Author series on Nov. 16 at noon.