Northwestern lab campaigns against negative body image in magazines

Annie Bruce, Reporter

Northwestern’s Body and Media Lab started an initiative last week encouraging individuals to flip over magazines with covers that are unhealthy for female body image.

Psychology Prof. Renee Engeln heads the Body and Media Lab, which focuses on research about the effects of culture on female body image. She said the initiative, called “Turn it Around,” allows members of the lab to take a more active role that would impact people on a regular basis.

“We wanted to give women an everyday act they could do that would give them a little more control over what types of images they’re exposed to,” Engeln said.

She said body image can have a big impact on women’s future behavior and emotional health, which is one of the reasons why Turn it Around is so important.

“Body dissatisfaction is a big predictor of eating disorder behavior,” she said. “It’s also related to depression and anxiety, so there are a lot of good reasons to want to try to reduce women’s body dissatisfaction.”

Research assistants at the lab encourage all participants to take pictures as they flip over different magazines, and they have set up a Facebook and Tumblr page for people to share the images. 

Engeln said turning over the magazines can also have an impact on others who are not directly participating in the initiative.

“In the end, it’s not really about posting your picture, it’s more about getting into the practice on a regular basis,” she said. “The idea is that if you turn some of these magazines around, you’re not just limiting your own exposure, but you’re probably helping out some of the people who are going to be in line behind you, too.”

Weinberg sophomore Margaret Shavlik, who has been working as a research assistant at the Body and Media Lab since the fall, said she is also concerned about younger children who see these magazines on a regular basis.

“We should do something to help the girls and boys of the future or the next generation not be as hurt by certain ideals and body dissatisfaction and self-objectification,” she said. “We don’t have to accept passive exposure to things that are going to hurt us.”

The Turn it Around Facebook page already has more than 250 likes, since it was created Thursday. Shavlik said she is excited by all of the support people have shown for Turn it Around and hopes it encourages individuals to take action on their own.

“It’s just a little thing you can do to cut back on negative body image exposure in somebody else’s day,” she said.

Weinberg junior Olivia Foster-Gimbel, another research assistant at the lab, said she hopes Turn it Around has long-term effects that impact magazine design in the future. 

“People who make these magazines will start seeing that we don’t want to see that anymore,” she said. “Ideally, in a perfect world, we won’t have to turn it around anymore.”

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