Northwestern’s Body Acceptance Week promotes authentic lives over social media


Daily file illustration by Olivia Abeyta

This year’s Body Acceptance Week is focused on social media’s harmful effects on body image.

Laura Simmons, Reporter

Content warning: This story contains mentions of eating disorders.

Northwestern’s Body Acceptance Week, organized by Health Promotion and Wellness, offers programming every year during the last week of February to raise awareness of body acceptance and help students foster body acceptance. This year’s theme is “Live Your Reel Real Life,” focusing on how social media is a highlight reel that can have harmful effects on body image.

Each day of Body Acceptance Week features events related to the main theme: Self-Compassion and Social Media Monday, “Beauty Sickness” and Social Media Tuesday, Eating Disorders and Social Media Wednesday, Moving Our Bodies with Joy and Acceptance Thursday and Mindful and Intuitive Eating Friday.

Director of HPaW Angela Mitchell said Body Acceptance Week was created several years ago to engage the community about approaching messages from media, family and friends that are not accepting of all bodies. Activities include webinars, Q&As and a talking circle, which is an open space for people to speak about vulnerable topics freely. 

“Our overall mission is to create and support a campus community in which all students can thrive,” Mitchell said. “Body acceptance is a core piece of one’s well-being.”

HPaW provided resources on Monday to foster self-compassion. Marissa Knox, who studies mindful self-compassion, said recognizing common humanity is a way to practice self-compassion. 

Knox said there are numerous other ways to practice self-compassion, but it begins with getting to know yourself and what you need. 

“Even though self-compassion has self in it, it’s one of the most generous things we can do for others,” Knox said. “When we practice self-compassion, it benefits our relationships.”

Other activities explored the impact of media on self-perception. On Tuesday, psychology Prof. Renee Engeln hosted the Zoom event “Ask Me Anything,” a Q&A on body image within society and social media. 

Despite the recognition of anti-fat bias and body positivity movements on social media, Elgeln said society still has a long way to go until accepting all body types. She added there is research to suggest fat bias is increasing. 

“It’s very hard for those movements to compete against a culture that is overwhelmingly focused on appearance and narrow body ideals,” Engeln said. “There’s a lot of tension that people feel. We want a different media landscape, but when you spend your years being taught to value a certain body, you can’t turn it off.”

Engeln said body acceptance is a radical stance to silence the constant inner critic and stop worrying about one’s body.

Other events include talking circles with The Renfrew Center, which provides eating disorder treatment, and a webinar with award-winning yoga instructor Jessamyn Stanley. 

Site Director Gari Matsey said eating disorders thrive in isolation. She said talking circles can help spread awareness about eating disorders and help people feel more comfortable having these conversations. 

Lisa Carlson, NU’s campus dietitian nutritionist, wrote in an email that mindful eating is an extension of mindfulness, a Buddhist practice that encourages being present and judgment-free. To practice mindful eating, Carlson suggests removing distractions, slowing down and eating with others. 

Carlson said she wants students to view eating as a positive way to fuel their mind and body. There are no good foods or bad foods. 

“It is important to provide opportunities to connect with students on this topic and share resources to help,” Carlson said. “It often begins with awareness and a conversation.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @LauraSi01351418  

Related Stories:

Activist and author Virgie Tovar discusses body positivity, diet culture for Body Acceptance Week

Psychology Prof. Renee Engeln researches body image and media with her Body and Media Lab

Body Acceptance Week speaker and Chicago dietitian Megan Campbell talks food positivity and body acceptance