On Feb. 27, the Personal Growth and Counseling Center (PGCC) hosted a talk exploring body image in the queer community. Spearheaded by PGCC intern Caryn Zaner, the event used both intimate discussion and an informative presentation to find ties between queer representation, beauty standards and societal expectations.
Zaner defined body image as how one views themself, making clear the distinction between concerns about one’s body and disordered eating, the latter a severe manifestation of the former. Though many audience members were familiar with eating disorders, Zaner asked the audience to think closely about what they felt a eating disorder looked like. Together, the audience uncovered how eating disorders are thought to be a “white middle-class woman’s disease.”
Zaner then introduced the idea of intersectionality to weight stigma through startling statistics; according to the National Eating Disorders Association, the queer community is at a higher risk for developing eating disorders, hypothesized as being resultant of what Zaner called “minority stress.” They exemplified LGBT beauty standards through images of the most popular queer couples in media, all of which were made up of thin people. In queer representation, an already limited demographic, body diversity is nearly nonexistent.
Following the presentation, the audience discussed what could be done to address disordered eating in the queer community. Some focused on looking out for symptoms, while others sought to truly define queer beauty standards. As a whole, the audience stressed the need for kindness and empathy for those suffering from disordered eating. Zaner closed by introducing the idea of body neutrality, which suggests that one can accept their body without actively loving it.
Zaner, who attends Pacific University, is spending the last year of their doctoral program at California State University, Monterey Bay. “I’ve worked in college settings before and I really wanted to continue that for my last year of training,” they said.
Zaner found interest in the topic after taking a body image and weight stigma course in graduate school, and decided to bring some of its content into their internship. “I just wanted to provide some of the information, increase awareness and also let people know that I am available as a counselor at the PGCC,” they said.
Fourth-year Kianna Hughes, who attended the event, is a resident advisor for the LGBTQA Scholars community. “I think it’s just really good to have information about harmful things that could happen in minority communities,” Hughes said. “I plan on providing this information to residents and my peers.”
Campus Health Promotion and Prevention Manager Gary Rodriguez saw the discussion as a way to make the PGCC available to students. “We want to make sure that individuals have all the information they need around staying healthy and how to stay well when it comes to issues like disordered eating,” Rodriguez said.
To Rodriguez, Zader’s expertise on weight stigma is a valuable asset to the counseling team. “I just want to make sure students know about resources like the PGCC, should they ever need to talk to somebody about whatever’s going on in their lives,” Rodriguez said.