“Compliment other people!”
“Appreciate your body!”
“Take care of yourself!”
These sentences have dominated conversations and elevators at NYU Abu Dhabi for the past two weeks. Love Your Body Week – one of the most beloved annual NYUAD events – took place on campus last week from Feb. 10 through 14. REACH members gave out t-shirts in the Campus East Dining Hall. People posted encouraging messages on doors, throughout lobbies and even in public restrooms. The week included community events such as a session on managing plate portions and women’s only belly dancing. While we should appreciate the support for body positivity that has been present on campus, we should also cast our attention toward the failure to address more serious mental health issues that can plague student’s self-esteem and body image.
Love Your Body Week was created
in order to promote body positivity and self-love, which is admirable. Yet, real issues concerning the origin of low self-esteem and body image on campus are not and cannot simply be addressed by posters, positive quotes and free t-shirts.
What support is available to students suffering from eating disorders on campus? What kind of professional help is available outside of campus? What medications can students acquire that help battle these disorders? LYBW, a movement which is supposed to answer both these and far more difficult questions, is not addressing them at all. While students can visit the Health and Wellness Center for information on available prescriptions, schedule counseling appointments and receive peer support from REACH members, there are additional issues that even students well-acquainted with NYUAD’s wellness resources struggle to overcome.
Plate portions matter, but we have not had a nutritionist on campus for over two semesters until now. Positive quotes are nice to read while waiting in the elevator, but in the same way that “Don’t be sad, just be happy!” doesn’t cure clinical depression, neither do these quotes cure eating disorders, body dysmorphia or mental disorders that contribute to low self-esteem. Belly dancing is a fun and energizing activity, but it doesn’t resolve the body image issues. T-shirts saying you should love your body might be comfortable to wear, but they do not provide answers to the silent questions that exist in students’ minds.
However, we cannot ignore the issues that many students battle with. We cannot ignore the taboos and ambiguities at NYUAD and in the UAE that surround these issues. Few students are equipped to deal with serious issues of wellbeing when they enter university, let alone when that university is located in a largely unfamiliar country with unique policies and conceptions relating to mental health. LYBW and body positivity is inspirational, but ultimately it does not provide practical support to the people that truly need it.
Of course, everyone should appreciate their body, but sometimes people are fine without a stereotypical understanding of so-called love toward their body. It is okay to live your life and not love your body in the way that is represented through the LYBW campaign. Eating avocado toast and drinking water with cucumbers is refreshing, but this superficial approach towards self-love does not work out for everyone. Self-care doesn’t have to be oriented toward skin care routines and green tea. Self care isn’t practiced by masking the real issues with body image by posting a positive quote on your Instagram story. Loving your body and self-care means getting professional help when something feels wrong and understanding that seeking help doesn’t have to be stigmatized.
In addition to positive messaging campaigns, practical workshops for students could be implemented, focusing on topics such as supporting friends with body dysmorphia, recognizing disordered eating in oneself and others and accessing resources for these issues in the context of the UAE. Poster campaigns could include highlighting Health and Wellness services relevant to these issues instead of merely positive quotes.
If events want to promote body positivity, it can be done through belly dancing and plate portion events. It can be done through t-shirts, heart-shaped foods and everything else. But in order to address the real problems that cause low self-esteem and body image issues – to answer difficult questions and to truly promote love toward your body – our community needs a lot more than superficial body positivity.
Andrijana Pejchinovska is a Staff Writer. Email her at email@example.com