Embody Every Body

Kiely Nelson

Across a long table in the front of the classroom, copious amounts of Thanksgiving dishes were laid out, filling the air with a rich, familiar aroma.

As my colleague and I filed into our seats, we waited as more students started to wander in. Students of all sizes, ages, ethnicities and social circles are in this room. Despite these differences, all are here for Embodied, a new Chico State organization promoting the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach to wellness.

I walk up to the front of the table and help myself to the variety of healthy and homemade food brought by students, feeling thankful to have a break from my regular ramen noodle diet. Sitting down, I realize that everyone is relaxed, eating their food, talking amicably among one another.

potluck group photo
Embodied potluck
And this is exactly the purpose of this club, to cultivate an environment where positive talk about health, acceptance and new perceptions about body image can be had, checking social stigmas and negative expectations at the door.

Even though this club is in its baby stages, the members, officers and its advisor Dr. Michelle Morris have great aspirations for its growth and goals.

"First step is just building awareness around it: We have this new club Embodied that is doing activities and trying to advertise on campus and be involved in other events like the WREC center, De-Stress Fest, Wildcat Welcome—that's our way of building what is already being done on campus," said Morris.

For many students, faculty and members of society in general, the perception of diversity includes things like race, religion, gender and age. Morris and the Embodied club are trying to change that perception to include size.

"Some people don't recognize this is an issue to begin with," said Morris. "If we want to live in a socially just and welcoming environment and have that on our campus, we need to consider size as well."

A common misconception about weight is the correlation between weight loss and health gain. Society emphasizes the need to be thin without realizing that, naturally, human beings are diverse shapes and sizes.  

"You can be healthy at every size and focus on behaviors like eating a variety of foods, enjoying food, having a good relationship with food and also physical activity without focusing on the weight," said Morris.

Creating healthy potlucks like the Thanksgiving feast and creating an atmosphere that mandates open forum discussion about what it actually means to be healthy is Embodied's way of validating the HAES mentality.

The HAES approach also recognizes that there is a weight spectrum and healthy and unhealthy individuals at every level.

"I can no more look at someone who is a thin body type and say they have healthy behaviors, and I can't make any assumptions about larger individuals as well. It's important to look at health and our own vices about what is healthy," said Morris.

Statistically speaking, eating disorders are prevalent on college campuses, and Chico State is no exception. Embodied supports those who might be suffering from an eating disorder of any kind and acknowledge that a disorder is caused by many factors.

"I don't believe that it's one thing that causes an eating disorder. Some people say, 'Oh, it's the media.' If that were the case, we would all have eating disorders," said Morris.

potluck group photo two
Participants enjoying the Embodied buffet
The most important part is getting these individuals to feel comfortable talking about the distress they are trying to cope with, whether it is mild anxiety or full-on anorexia or bulimia.

"With eating disorders there is also that stigma of secrecy and shame behind it that maybe prevents some people from reaching out and getting help," said Morris.

Chico State offers a variety of places and resources on campus where students can seek help and support while dealing with these issues. The Counseling and Wellness Center and Student Health Center have many qualified clinicians from whom individuals can seek the physical and mental support they might need.

"For students who might be experiencing weight stigma or weight discrimination, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is a safe place to bring up issues because that office is so charged with informing the community and looking at policy and trying to be supportive and welcoming to every member on our campus," said Morris.

Morris hopes that in the next year Embodied will have a presence at local high schools, eventually seeping into the rest of society beyond the education entities.

Its goal with time is to change the notion that large equals unhealthy and thin is the only acceptable way to look. Most importantly, Embodied aims to emphasize that size discrimination is not OK.