Student Web site promotes healthy body image

As much as the media is accused of imposing a notion of ideal beauty on women and men, the airbrushing continues and the unrealistically thin models keep reappearing.

Before graduating, the 16 seniors of the Women in Learning and Leadership (WILL) program are doing their part to redefine beauty, starting with a new Web site., slated to launch next week, will consist of collections of art submitted statewide from women who express what beauty means to them. The forms of artistic expression vary from visual art, such as paintings and sculptures, to poetry.

“The average woman doesn’t have a say in what goes in TV and magazines,” Jennifer Salston, English and women’s and gender studies major, said. “This is a chance for them to have their own voice.”

Leslie Stickler, psychology and women’s and gender studies major, said that they were “interested in gritty, real images that show how women are struggling to accept themselves and see their bodies as beautiful,” and that all the art does not have to be “sunshine and lollipops.”

She explained that the messages promoting body image are contradictory. “Either the media or advertising says your body sucks and you have to work your ass off or buy this product to change it, or the inspirational, girl power sources say you should love your body,” she said.

The problem with the latter message, Stickler said, is that it can leave women feeling vain for stressing over the matter or feeling like a failure for giving into the media’s hype.

Features on the Web site include an image gallery of the submissions, a message board, a research survey about body image and links to other sites dealing with body image issues and offering support or inspiration.

Stickler said that the Internet was chosen to carry out the project’s goals “because it has massive reach, is rather inexpensive and is a techno-medium that has traditionally been dominated by men.”

Jennifer Braverman, sophomore art education major and WILL member, submitted work to the Web site. Issues of self-defense, self-image and sexual awareness are important to Braverman, because she said they “affect everyone, no matter what your political stance is.”

Plus, you don’t need to be a Picasso to contribute. Braverman said she believes all art should have some meaning. “Anyone can draw,” she said. “It just needs to mean something.”

The seniors are working together on this activism project to complete their requirements for the WILL program. They are in the stages of collecting art and designing the Web site.

Salston and her colleagues spent the last four years learning and reading about activists and the programs they implemented. Salston said she is excited that they now have their “own opportunity to participate in activism and to have a Web site and organization to show for it.”

Braverman added that the launch of is just “one step of thousands to make a difference.”