A Better Body Image
BRIDGES displays nude women for eating disorder awareness
Heather Mayer – The Daily Orange (Syracuse University)
February 23, 2007
Collins, a sophomore natural resource major at the State University of New York Environmental Science and Forestry, came into contact with Darya Rotblat, the assistant director of Off-Campus Student Affairs, after visiting Ophelia's Place, an eating disorder support group in , N.Y. Originally Collins wanted to volunteer at Ophelia's Place, but at the time there weren't any opportunities available.
"Obviously (volunteering at Ophelia's Place) meant a lot to me because I had an eating disorder in high school," Collins said.
Collins then decided she would start her own organization that would offer support and education to students struggling with negative body image and eating disorders.
BRIDGES is holding its first event next week, sponsoring an art gallery, called the Century Project, to promote positive body image. The photographs feature nude women, ranging from thin to overweight and from rape victims to women who had mastectomies. Brief summaries of the women tell their stories and add backgrounds to the pictured women.
Photographer Frank Cordelle created the Project about 20 years ago after finding inspiration at a spa in . -- Having suffered from an eating disorder throughout high school, Liz Collins came to college with a mission: to get involved with activities that would help young people view themselves positively through activities, discussion groups and events. In the spring of 2006 her mission was put into action with the creation of Body Related Issues Discussion Groups Education Support (BRIDGES).
"About half the people there were running around with no clothes on," Cordelle said. "It wasn't a nudist camp; it was a regular place in town, and it was a hot summer day, and people were just comfortable doing that. It was so natural for them to behave that way. Nobody thought twice about it; it was perfectly accepting."
With this new understanding of how non-Americans view the human body, Cordelle wanted to display the beauty of women of all shapes and sizes in a nonsexual way. Many countries in Europe have a much healthier attitude toward the naked body, he said.
"I wanted to give American society perhaps a normal healthy opportunity to see things like this," Cordelle said. "We don't get that in this country. There's no such thing, except for nude beaches, as nonsexual nudity."
Cordelle had his doubts about the success of his exhibit because it was something so rare in the United States. His first public display was in . Viewers then volunteered themselves to be photographed to make the exhibit larger.
"If I were to walk down the sidewalk and just look at the women I pass on the sidewalk, I would not be able to identify someone as having had a mastectomy," Cordelle said. "I wouldn't be able to identify someone as having been raped last year. … The only way I learn about these things is if they decide they're interested and come up to me and volunteer to talk to me about that … ultimately, volunteerism has been the driving force behind this whole project."
Cordelle discovered no matter where he displayed his exhibit, the number of viewers hardly changes. He said on average, 1,000 people view the photographs per day over a course of the five-day exhibit, and that it doesn't matter where the Project is because the issues the gallery confronts don't know any boundaries.
"A lot of the issues that will really kick you in the gut, some of the extreme body image issues: rape, having had breast cancer, having been sexually abused as a child, those things don't know political or religious boundaries," Cordelle said. "I think this is what drives the fact that response is the same no matter where I go."
Rotblat and Michelle Gallant volunteered to be co-advisors for BRIDGES, which got its name from the former group at Ithaca College. The organization was officially declared a student group last spring.
The group currently meets sporadically with only five or six members, but Collins hopes it will branch out to recruit new members.
Gallant, who works regularly with eating disorder patients, is thrilled about the new organization because students are playing the main role in reaching out to other students.
"I knew that we needed to address body image issues here on this campus, and that that's often a good back-door way of addressing eating disorders," Gallant said. "It needed to be something that was headed up and led by students because coming from authorities and health services, it doesn't make the same sort of impact as it does coming from students. It's really something that other students are helping other students with."
Unlike the counseling center on campus, BRIDGES does not provide therapy to individuals. Rotblat said she hopes to eventually have a support group for anyone who is suffering from an eating disorder or is recovering from an eating disorder. Susan Pasco, the assistant director at the SU Counseling Center, though not playing a constant direct role with BRIDGES, is working to collaborate with the group to increase awareness and education about eating disorders and body image, including the eating disorder screening on March 5.
As an official student organization, BRIDGES now has a budget to use toward its goal of educating others about body image and eating disorders. The Century Project will be held during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 26-March 5).
Costing only $2,500, the Century Project is manageable for the BRIDGES budget, Collins said.
Working closely with BRIDGES, Gallant originally proposed the idea to bring Cordelle's gallery to SU. She felt it was a good first event for BRIDGES to sponsor.
"SU stands for diversity in many ways," Gallant said. "One of the areas about diversity that we haven't touched on in the past is body-size diversity, and this exhibit helps us do that. We can look at the human body in all its shapes, sizes and forms and appreciate the beauty that is every body."
Several professors are bringing their classes to view the exhibit as part of its curriculum. Kim Jaffee, a professor in the school of social work, plans to incorporate the Century Project to her class, Human Diversity in Social Context. Students in the class study how the inequalities in society for certain groups influence their lives, Jaffee said.
Upon hearing about BRIDGES hosting the Century Project, Jaffee said she thought it would be an educational way to examine how race, culture and gender influence people. The Project, which focuses on gender, more specifically a woman's body, seemed like a "logical fit," she said.
The students in the class will also read an essay by Jean Kilbourne, the creator of the '70s documentary, "Killing Us Softly," and relate the essay to the photographs in the Century Project. Jaffee's class will also have a discussion with Cordelle.
"I'm excited really, because (the Project) provides a venue to focus and talk about women's bodies and how society's portrayal has a big impact on women's physical and psychological health," Jaffee said.
As the first BRIDGES event, the Century Project is a big step because it shows the group is really doing things, Collins said.
"(Cordelle) really cares," Collins said of the Project. "He's showing his work but not for the point of making money. He really just wants people to see it and recognize how beautiful you can be as a woman, despite lacking conventional beauty."