Feb. 22, 2011-When Associate Professor Justine Reel came to the University of Utah in 2001, she immediately saw the need to help students develop better images of their own bodies. In 2002, she and four students developed a research team to combat the destructive behaviors that she saw in many students.
Together, Reel and the students became SPEAK (Students Promoting Eating disorder Awareness and Knowledge). SPEAK is now at 93 members, who travel to local junior high and high schools, church and community organizations, and university classrooms to discuss eating disorder awareness, conduct self-esteem workshops and teach.
“SPEAK’s mission is to promote eating disorder awareness and a healthy relationship with food, exercise and self,” says Reel, an associate professor in health promotion and education at the U. SPEAK focuses on this mission year-round, but more so during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, this year Feb. 21-25.
To that end, Reel and others developed Love Your Body Week at the University of Utah to coincide with the national event.
This year, the week is themed “Maximum Impact,” a result the organization hopes to achieve with planned activities that include distribution and wearing of purple ribbons that signify eating disorder awareness, a sticky note messaging campaign on campus and elsewhere in Salt Lake City and – new this year – a YouTube video called “What do You Love About Your Body” (watch it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehnftl0QDJ8). On it, people of varying age, gender and ethnicity candidly answer the title question and discuss the media’s portrayal of the ideal body. The video was launched publicly on Valentine’s Day and already has almost 1,500 viewers.
SPEAK acts in conjunction with the College of Social Work and the University Counseling Center, two partners who are not surprising.
“What is delightfully surprising this year is that we have the support of three members of the local Sigma Phi Epsilon [‘SigEp’] chapter,” notes Reel. Membership in SPEAK is predominantly female, Reel says, “and with so many stories of unhealthy behavior hitting the headlines, it’s nice to be able to show the good work that comes from some members of fraternal organizations.”
In fact, the producer of the video is Kyle Chittenden, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. He says he decided to help raise awareness about this issue because “eating disorders are plaguing the Earth.” Chittenden is a film major at the U.
Outside of Love Your Body Week, members of SPEAK work diligently to educate the public about eating disorders as well as nutrition and body image. The form of presentations varies with each audience. They may discuss types of eating disorders, nutrition or how to become a health advocate with college students; then they may host interactive self-esteem building activities with teen and adolescent groups.
Recently they met with a church group geared toward 12 to 18-year-old women and also to a “women in mid-life” group at the University of Utah’s Madsen Health Clinic. They also have received funding for a project with the Boys and Girls Club of Salt Lake. Since 2002, SPEAK members have organized over 200 outreach projects for athletes, health professions, patients and parents, as well as students of all ages.
For more information about SPEAK or Love Your Body Week activities, go to www.loveyourbodyweek.com.