Love Your Body Week at Boston College: Embodied Stories

Each fall at Boston College, the Women’s Center hosts Love Your Body Week (LYBW), “a week of programming dedicated to promoting healthy body image on campus.” The Women’s Center, in collaboration with other organizations, aims to give students space to reflect on their relationships with their bodies. Inclusivity is a key feature of this week, as many of the events of consider how body image intersects with race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. This year events ranged from lectures on body image and the media and panel discussions on colorism, to a performance of Eve Ensler’s Good Body andEmbodied Expression, a therapeutic painting session.

The week kicked off on Monday, November 9 with the opening reception for Embodied Stories, a photography exhibit by Ben Flythe, a student photographer. Flythe photographed students and their bodily identifiers—tattoos, scars, burns, skin color, and birthmarks, for example. Accompanying the portraits were quotations from interviews with the students, who discussed what their bodies mean to them. Although the portraits highlight the specificities of each body, the students never become just bodies: their identities shine through; the photographs celebrate the dynamic and complex ways identities align with body image. In his gallery talk, Flythe emphasized the diversity of the stories he captured. These individual stories, he noted, speak to our own stories of embodiment. We each have an embodied story, and putting our own stories into dialogue with the stories of others—those portraits, for instance—is to understand that we are all connected.

This year I was fortunate enough to have a small hand in LYBW, as I helped to bring two student speakers to the opening reception. Leading up to the event, Marwa Eltahir—a Women’s Center staffer and co-coordinator of LYBW—and I sat down with Erin Sutton and Justin Kresevic and heard their stories; we were struck by how their stories spoke to the goals of LYBW and the complexity of body image. My work with Health Story Collaborative prepared me well for this task, and I adapted the Healing Story Session guidelines and questions for the purposes of the event. What’s more important, however, is that Health Story Collaborative taught me how to listen, to be present as someone shares their story, to accompany them. What mattered most was letting them tell their stories that needed to be told.

At the reception to Embodied Stories, Erin told her story of living with bulimia and her difficult, continuing journey to recovery. She spoke to the difficulty of coming to love her body at Boston College, where body image and appearance issues so often go unnoticed, unsaid. She expressed her gratitude to the people who have supported her, and spoke to the daily challenges she faces in coming to love her own body. Justin spoke to the difficulty of being short, when masculinity is associated with being tall and muscular. This dissonance has affected his personal relationships, and he works everyday to accept his own body. Justin emphasized the need to work against the problematic ideals of men’s body images: masculinity is as individual as each of our bodies.

Erin and Justin challenged all of us in attendance to understand truly what Love Your Body Week means. Loving one’s body isn’t something to be taken for granted, to be considered easy. When so many images and ideals of bodily perfection and worth hold up problematic and impossible standards, coming to love one’s body is a challenging and harrowing experience. By sharing their own stories of embodiment and acknowledging their continuing journey towards loving their bodies, Erin and Justin asked us all to consider our own stories.

I am so grateful to have been a small part of LYBW and to have heard these stories. Erin’s and Justin’s stories, along with the stories of students photographed by Ben, speak to how important it is to talk about these issues and how valuable it is to enter into meaningful conversation with others. These stories have stayed with me, in my own process of coming to terms with my own body. Sharing stories, at the end of the day, is about building community, starting conversations, and realizing that none of us are alone, that our stories all matter. I look forward to hearing more stories, perhaps telling my own, and continuing the worthwhile conversations around body image happening both at Boston College and beyond campus.

Erin ended her talk with a powerful statement about our selves, our bodies, and our stories: We are all worth it.