How body image shapes perception and why it shouldn’t

As a freshman, Scarf Boy felt immense amounts of love and support on a day-to-day basis. He made a lot of friends who were able to boost him up, validate his appearance–scarves and all–and make him feel as though he was part of a larger campus community. In an amazing turnaround, Scarf Boy’s self confidence skyrocketed in an unprecedented way.

It’s important to specify, however, that meeting friendly people can never be a complete solution for self doubt. Scarf Boy experienced this firsthand and, at first, allowed comparison to define his self worth. Comparison happens frequently for many people, but when Scarf Boy happened to establish a cohort comprised of the skinniest boys at Concordia, it was inevitable.

Let me be clear: These three Bemidji gentlemen are not statistically the skinniest boys on campus. I am not privy to that kind of information. I do know, however, that they are hella skinny and wore pants and shirts that emphasized how fit and skinny they were. If Scarf Boy had worn pants this skinny or shirts this fitted, it would have been atrocious. Plus, it wouldn’t have matched his scarves.

M. Night Skyamalan plot twist #2: Scarf boy is still me, and my skinny boys are Dylan Jones, Tanner Dockendorf and Dan Will.  They are wonderful, kind, attractive and I still live with them today, but at the time I was unable to love myself because I didn’t look like them.

Two of my other friends have since instructed me to live by the mantra “Comparison is the Thief of Joy,” and I can’t stress the impact this has had on me. Issues of body image are not specific to me or Scarf Boy; they exist everywhere. When speaking about diversity, it is important to remember that one’s body type is part of their being. Whether you see someone as being too fat, too skinny, too muscular or too anything else, you can never fully grasp how they see themselves.

Since it is impossible to put ourselves into the bodies and minds of others, we are called to communicate and act according to what others may or may not be experiencing. Asking someone if they are anorexic because they only had a salad for lunch sends a message to anyone struggling with their own weight. Telling someone they should eat a sandwich because they’re too skinny sends a message that there is only one way to look or be healthy. Self-image comments like this are degrading and discount the feelings of discomfort that our fellow Cobbers experience daily.*

Issues of body image don’t go away when you meet new people or when someone compliments how you look. These issues go away when we stop shaming those who don’t fit our standards of “normal.”  Scarf Boy eventually moved away from his self-esteem issues–and is single and ready to mingle–but he and I both call you to deny comparison and embrace joy in the beautiful body you have.

*To understand the oppressive ways in which body image is discussed, I encourage everyone to attend the Tunnel of Oppression event happening in the Centrum Thursday, Sept. 19. All day, students will have the opportunity to figuratively walk in the shoes of oppressed people and experience their experiences. Issues of race, sexual orientation, mental-health status, nationality, religion and body type will all be addressed.

Colin Sullivan

My name is Colin Sullivan and I am currently a senior at Concordia College majoring in Psychology, Sociology, and Spanish. Along with my classes, I am the co-President of the Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) and also participate in Student Government Association (SGA), Cobber Forensics (Speech and Debate), and Choir. My passions reside within issues of social justice and critically analyzing the ways in which Concordia and society on the whole supports diversity initiatives. I long for an environment within which one's minority status does not pre-determine their likelihood for success. Some other random facts about me: I am a Pisces with an inability to digest gluten. I have a debilitating fear of clowns and public restrooms and refuse to ride bicycles. I am 100% Irish, a recovering scarf addict, and my speaking voice is as loud as the average yell. Please e-mail me at csulliva@cord.edu or tweet me @csulliva09 if you want to chat. I'd love to answer any questions you may have :)

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