The Body Project Fills the Missing Piece at Wichita State

The Body Project

The Body Project works to address wellness and body image within Campus Recreation. 

By the age of 6, girls especially start to express concern about their own weight or shape, according to NEDA. In fact, 40-60 percent of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. Unfortunately, for most women these negative thoughts about body image continue throughout life.

Andy Sykes, the health and fitness education coordinator for Campus Recreation at Wichita State University, wanted to do something to deal with body image and wellness at the university.

“We’re in a society where females are expected to look a certain way and hit certain qualities and wear makeup and try to be these models on the front pages of magazines. And in reality, it’s impossible to do that. Even the models themselves don’t look that way naturally,” explained Sykes. “It’s our idea of being out, being comfortable and being happy with who we are. It’s mental wellbeing.”

This past November, Sykes and Erin Lohman, a psychology intern at the university, traveled to Emporia State University to learn about The Body Project, which is a body activism program independent from campus recreation.

In his position, Sykes said he’s found campus recreation is all about fitness, and not enough about wellness. This idea of mental wellbeing is what made Sykes so interested in implementing the program into campus recreation.

When he took the position a year ago, he wanted to change that by including the eight dimensions of wellness, which is why he introduced meditation into group fitness classes and, ultimately, The Body Project. But he admits the process has been a slow start.

When launching the programs, he and Lohman started by approaching faculty members to train them how to implement the programs, and also how to handle conversations about body image. Then, they reached out to students to become peer leaders. At first he and Lohman reached out to the psychology department for peer leaders.

As peer leaders, students receive two full days of training on how to market The Body Project and how to run two-hour peer sessions. The training also includes practice conversations of what could happen in the peer sessions, as well as scripted responses.

“It’s that ripple effect. We throw the stone in the ocean, we put the first effort in. Then the students take and spread it,” said Sykes. “And that’s the ripple effect, and it’s just getting larger and larger. This movement should expand to the point where we’re not even needed anymore and we’re truly there as advisors.”

Right now, The Body Project is only open to females, as the research is not where the organization would like it to be for males yet.

And while implementing a body activism program in conjunction with the Psychology Department may seem like a weird fit for campus recreation, Sykes encourages campus rec professionals to try new things when it comes to programs through campus recreation.

“If you’re not comfortable in your own skin and a lot of females are so worried about how they look at school that they’re not focusing on their studies, they’re not happy. It’s really important to be under health, under fitness and under wellness. And I feel the department was missing that,” said Sykes.

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