WOOD RIVER JCT. — Long recognized for its work on substance abuse prevention, the Chariho Youth Task Force is now taking on the issue of negative body image, or body dysmorphic disorder, with a campaign to encourage young people to love their bodies.
“The Youth Task Force was created so there would be a table for young people to explore their passions,” Executive Director Dan Fitzgerald said. “This campaign is the result of having an open and accepting place for young people to speak up about what they think we should work on. Body image is something that impacts every part of every day. We’re here to help change the culture of how we talk and think about our bodies.”
Task force members launched the Every Body is Beautiful campaign at Chariho High School and Chariho Tech on Dec. 12, with stickers and a banner for people to sign.
Fitzgerald said his group had begun preparing for the launch the night before.
“Members of the Chariho Youth Task Force were in the school late Tuesday evening prepping for this launch,” he said. “We put ‘Every Body is Beautiful’ stickers on every mirror in the building as well as a poster with behavior-change strategies to a more body-positive life throughout the building. “
Task force members Ryann Clarke and Sarah Felicetti made a morning intercom announcement on Dec. 12 to all students, explaining the campaign and inviting them to participate.
The campaign has been approved by the school district administration and the School Committee.
“With the support and approval of the administration, we came in and put our 'Every Body is Beautiful' stickers on all the mirrors in the building. You will also see that we put some posters up around the school,” Clarke said.
“This campaign is about learning to love our bodies for what they are, a tool. A tool that allows us to walk, to run, to dance, to do all the things we love."
Felicetti invited students to visit the task force's table during the lunch period.
“During lunch, we will have a table with a banner where you can come learn more about the campaign and our group, as well as get a free sticker and sign a banner pledging to be body-positive. Be sure to join the movement by using #WhyILoveMyBodyWednesday," she said.
Body dysmorphic disorder has been shown to have negative effects on academic performance, because it distracts students from schoolwork. The nonprofit International OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) Foundation describes body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, as affecting 2 percent of the adolescent and adult population.
“Studies have shown that BDD in teens and young adults leads to significant worsening of their academics, because of their body concerns,” the foundation states. “This can include failing tests, missing school and having trouble concentrating in class.”
Clarke explained that while having a positive body image is essential to a person’s physical and emotional well-being, young people as well as adults are often subjected to messages telling them their bodies aren’t good enough.
“This campaign is so important because our culture teaches youth and adults, men and women, people of all ages and backgrounds, to degrade our bodies,” she said. “It’s important to our health and wellness to stop and appreciate them for what they allow us to do. For members of our group, Every Body is Beautiful means different things.
"To some of our members this campaign is about eating disorders and addresses them in a positive way and help people realize they are not alone. To other members, Every Body is Beautiful is about race and feeling comfortable in their own skin.”
The campaign will ramp up on Feb. 8 with an unusual fashion show at Chariho.
“We are elevating this campaign to the next level with the 'Every Body Is Beautiful Showcase,' which is modeled after a fashion show. Participants are going to be dressed in what makes them the most comfortable and confident in their bodies. We will have community members across the lifespan,” Fitzgerald said.
In the coming months, the task force plans to launch the body image campaign at Chariho Middle School and at schools in the Westerly School District.