Pointing a mirror to hazards of poor body image

Student donated old jeans to Metropolitan Ministries at one activity station set up for National Eating Disorder Awareness week. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE


If Barbie were a real, life-sized person, her neck wouldn’t be able to hold her head up and only half of her intestines would fit into her abdomen. 

Yet the iconic doll continues to idealize physical realities for young girls.

For National Eating Disorder Awareness week (NEDAW), the USF Counseling Center and USF Health Center for Resources, Engagement, Advancement, Coaching and Health are teaming up to educate students on the topic of eating disorders.

On Tuesday, they promoted self-confidence with a variety of activity stations during the Eating Disorder Awareness Fair at the Marshall Student Center (MSC) atrium.

“There’s nothing perfect about Barbie,” said Michelle Garcia, the treasurer of the USF Omega Phi Beta chapter. “You’re good enough as you are.” 

Garcia displayed a life-size Barbie at the fair. She explained that despite the glamour of an idealized woman like Barbie, the health issues facing someone with her actual physical dimensions would cripple them. 

USF Campus Recreation set up at station at the fair as well. Adam Weaver, a junior majoring in chemical engineering, invited students to sign up for a free ropes course experience at USF Riverfront Park.

“We emphasize teamwork and acceptance, strength over weakness,” Weaver said. “The ropes course is a team effort. It’s designed to get people to do things they wouldn’t normally do.”

Weaver demonstrated a handful of team-building exercises. One exercise had pairs of students use pressure to keep a bridge of blocks from falling while they navigated a circuit. Another tasked them with navigating a marble to a small cone using pipes cut in halves as a track.

“The exercises help build communication and teamwork,” Weaver said. “You then use those lessons on the ropes course, like a reward.”

He said students were less likely to suffer from poor body image if they socialized with others in teams in challenging outdoor settings.

One of the focal points of the fair was a visual social awareness campaign that gathered donated jeans and spread them across the grassy hill in front of the MSC to show that everyone is unique. The Love Your Genes campaign will eventually donate the jeans to Metropolitan Ministries.

The USF Counseling Center also gave out plastic slinky toys with the message “be flexible” printed on them.

“We wanted a way to promote being stress-free,” said Heidi Petracco, the assistant director of USF Counseling Center’s outreach and consultation. “Be flexible to cope with stress.”

Petracco and fellow Counseling Center employees educated participants on ways to alleviate the stress that causes eating disorders.

One way to lower stress levels while on campus, they said, is to visit the Wellness Center. The Wellness Center offers students free health screenings, fruit, massages and other services. 

Petracco said eating disorders don’t pick and choose their targets, and they can affect anyone. 

“We serve lots of people with symptoms of eating disorders or body image concerns,” she said. “Both men and women visit us.”

NEDAW is an experience composed of social media campaigns and live events. 

Life-size Barbie will return to MSC during Bull Market today from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students can provide their own positive statements on post-it notes to inspire students to shun unrealistic expectations of body image.

The fair was the third event of eating disorder awareness week, which continues through Friday.