The media bombards the public every day with images of the “ideal” body type, placing immense value on physical appearance and little on inner characteristics. The message that a person’s individual worth is only skin-deep is reinforced on television and billboards, perpetuated in magazines and films. A new media campaign created by students at Ithaca College (IC) is looking to shift our focus away from physical attributes and toward conversations that go beyond the body.
IC Beyond Body aims to combat the language and behaviors that perpetuate negative body image through spreading positive thoughts. By harnessing the power of social media, offering educational resources on its website, and starting “empowerment circles,” the campaign aims to transform those positive thoughts into positive actions.
The project began to take shape a year ago during the Park School of Communications’ Media For Social Responsibility mini-course titled, “Media and Body Image: Does This Culture Make Me Look Fat?” A variety of experts in the fields of advertising, marketing, photography, health, psychology, and sociology, as well as creators of “body-positive” organizations, spoke to students about the negative implications of media messaging around body image. At the end of the course, students were tasked with creating their own idea for a social media campaign with the goal of promoting body-positivity. The “winning” team would have their idea developed by Park Productions, and that is when “The Body Project” began.
Creating the campaign
Park Productions is the Roy H. Park School of Communication’s student-operated professional production company. The company is supervised by Carol Jennings. Students on the Park Productions staff fulfill every role in the production process: scriptwriters, producers, cinematographers, editors, and strategic marketers.
Taking inspiration from projects like The Dove Campaign For Real Beauty and Always Like A Girl campaign, the IC Beyond Body team is hoping to extend the conversation nationally around body positivity through focusing on and celebrating non-physical traits. The team also took inspiration from “The Empowerment Project”, a documentary that aims to encourage young girls to pursue their career goals and whose creators visited Ithaca College in March. The IC Beyond Body “empowerment circles” will bring groups of men and women together to talk about their experiences and struggles with body image. Participants will gain communication skills and tools to tell their own stories in hopes to inspire others.
The goal is to create a network of people who are involved with body positivity through personal experience, interest, or expertise. The team also hopes to inspire students at other colleges and universities to form empowerment groups and spark conversations about media for social responsibility.
The Park Media Lab has created a website, social media campaign, and 20 videos for the project. The content on the IC Beyond Body youtube channel includes Ted-talk style videos of each expert’s presentation during the mini-course, behind-the-scenes footage of the class, an official launch video, and full-length interviews with students sharing their own stories about body image and why they now choose to see beyond the body.
Media plays an important role in perception of body image
Body image insecurities take root at a very young age and the media plays a significant role in this. These insecurities can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening illnesses like eating disorders, depression, and anxiety.
The increased prevalence of media in the lives of young children today means earlier and more saturated exposure to messages about the importance of appearance. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reported on a typical day, 8 – 18-year-olds engage with some form of media for nearly eight hours. According to about-face.org, the average size of the idealized woman portrayed in the media is 13%-19% below a healthy weight. The NEDA said “research is increasingly clear that exposure to and pressure exerted by media increase body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.”
As media creators in the Park School of Communications, members of the IC Beyond Body team feel a personal responsibility to produce content that challenges the harmful norms established by the mainstream media. They also hope to join efforts with other media figures who are working towards similar goals. The team has already gained strength from The Body Positive and from Geena Davis who created the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.
As media makers and future leaders of communication industries, the students of IC Beyond Body realize the profound social impact that media messages can have. They are taking responsibility for that impact and consciously shaping the messages they send to give viewers of all ages the tools to empower themselves and others.
For more information on the campaign or the IC Beyond Body team, visit www.icbeyondbody.org.