While The Body Positive trains individuals and organizations across all genders and demographics, teenagers and college students—particularly young women—are central to the mission. “My work is to free young women to be living in their full potential, to stop wasting their time, their energy, their financial resources, so they can go out and change the world,” Connie says. Body Positive groups in close to 65 high schools and colleges in the US and beyond aim to do just that.
Research links negative body image and eating disorders, and has found that adolescents with negative body image are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. One of the ways that The Body Positive traces the roots of body image issues is through the developmental theory of embodiment, the work of Dr. Niva Piran, a clinical psychologist at the University of Toronto. The theory describes the way social and cultural pressures and influences can shape the way we experience, and treat, our own bodies. Embodiment develops over time as we move through the world, starting as children, says Dr. Piran, but consciously revising that process is part of the promise of The Body Positive.
Early results suggest that plan is working. A study at Stanford University in 2014 found that students who went through a Body Positive-designed college leadership program had improved relationships with food and body image. What’s more, the effects had grown in a follow-up several months after the initial training. Participants self-reported through a questionnaire directly after the training, and then at regular intervals in an eight-month period following. In addition to a reduction in self-criticism across several metrics, participants showed increased resilience against the “thin ideal”—the idea that only thin bodies can be healthy and desirable—over time. A similar study is currently underway at Cornell University; results will be finalized by the end of 2018.