[waist2]The reminders are everywhere: candy hearts have crept back into our diets and the greeting card aisle in the drug store is decidedly pink.
Lovebirds are flaunting their seemingly perfect relationships while the rest of the college populace does everything possible not to recognize the Hallmark holiday that’s upon us. Valentine’s Day is the one day when people are supposed to be in love. But what about being in love 365 days a year? (And I don’t mean with that boyfriend or girlfriend that won’t last any longer than the chocolates you purchased for them.) No, I am talking about true love of the most important kind – real self-love. Sure, most people will say ‘Of course I love myself’ if asked, but those words fall flat with the first, ‘Damn, I wish my thighs didn’t look like a honeycomb’ comment that slips out.
Most of us wish we could love ourselves unconditionally, meaning just the way we are now. An organization at MSU called Respecting and Understanding Body Image (RUBI) is trying to help people do just that. RUBI has been around for almost five years and has focused on not only helping people who need someone to talk to but also educating people on how to respect oneself as a part of becoming a stronger individual.
Dietetics junior Lindsey Lazenby is one of many students that has struggled with body image and self-love. She used to suffer from anorexia. Lazenby knew she was putting her self-image and her relationships with others in jeopardy when her mom and a couple of close friends intervened and confronted her about her problem. “It was then when I knew that I really meant a lot to the people around me,” said Lazenby. “I realized I was better than that and that I wanted to enjoy my life and not be obsessed with something so badly that it controlled everything I did.” Lazenby said it took her a long time to stop obsessing over food. “I have learned to love myself and to love food and to apply it to what I am studying.”
Dr. David J. Novicki works in the MSU Counseling Center and deals mainly with people who have eating disorders. According to Novicki, eating disorders for some people are about control. “It seems to be high-performing students with a fair amount of obsessive tendencies who want to get things right,” said Novicki. “They are very perfectionistic and feel like they have control over this one thing which is very important to them.\”
Also, sometimes eating disorders go unnoticed in families that accept it as pseudo-normal behavior. It may not be looked down upon in such an environment, especially when one of the parents is also struggling with a disorder. The book Like Mother, Like Daughter explains how eating disorders can be passed on from one generation to the next. “The mothers might recognize their daughters have a problem but won’t necessarily address it because they suffered from the same thing, or the case may be that they still stuffer from it,” said RUBI advisor and Olin Health Center dietician and nutritionist Ronda Bokram.
In some cases it may even be the mother or the parents that spark problems for their children. For example, Jill (who did not wish to reveal her last name) has struggled with her self-image for years. She said it began when she was in high school and her mom told her boys wouldn’t like her if she wasn’t skinny enough. “If I went over to a friend’s house after school she would call me and ask me if I had eaten anything. After school every day I would go straight to the gym and work out for hours.”
[tiff]Often, even coming to college can spur an eating disorder. Learning, technology and culture graduate student Tiffany Titus did not develop an eating disorder until she moved away from home. She bottled up her emotions and didn’t know how to deal with them so she turned to an eating disorder. Tiffany recently went through a treatment program at Forest View Psychiatric Hospital in Grand Rapids. “It’s not like I’m the only person or in it alone. It’s good to know that I have people to support me,” she said of her experience at Forest View. Now that she has taken these steps toward recovery, Titus said, “I definitely feel a lot better about myself. I really feel like I’m in a better place. I’ve learned so much about myself and I know there’s more to me than just an eating disorder.”
While Titus was going through her treatment program, a colleague told her she needed to “be real.” She recently got the Chinese letters for this phrase tattooed on her wrist as a way to remind her what she has gone through and what she hopes to accomplish as a result.
Tracy Smith, co-president of RUBI and a nutritional science senior, said the group\’s goal is to broaden awareness of eating disorders.
The group consists mostly of women who are dietetics majors, but they are looking for diversity of membership. “Our goal is to really get the word out so that we can get people involved whether they are a dietetics majors, male or female,” said Smith. RUBI organizes activities for the nationwide Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year they will continue Take Back Your Body Night, an annual event with an open microphone for those affected by eating disorders to voice their feelings. “If someone is comfortable and feels safe enough to get up in front of a crowd, then it’s all worth it,” said Bokram.
They will also be handing out candy bars again this year to encourage healthy body image. The idea behind it is everyone deserves a treat and people should not count every calorie and fat gram that enters their bodies. Over the past couple years they have been dubbed as “the group that passes out the mini Twix bars” by one student who looks forward to the day each year.
Bokram said what is really important is challenging how people think about body image, media influence and healthy habits. She is available to talk with anyone who is seeking nutrition information or who just wants to open up to someone regarding any kind of eating disorder or unhealthy behavior. Bokram is there to help people understand where their problems originate and said she truly believes in the work she does.
Members of RUBI also want to educate people on how to find that inner love and respect for themselves they thought they might never find. “You have to understand where your feelings about your body come from,” said Bokram. “The feelings people experience about their body aren’t feelings about their body, they are feelings about something else going on in their life.”
While RUBI is a place people can go to talk about issues they might have, Smith said RUBI is not a support group, per se. “Yes, girls can come and talk about an issue, but we have this group because we think it’s important to educate people about the importance of understanding their own body image.”
Another part of understanding a personal self-love deficit is grasping the scope of the problem. “Based on studies and calculations, out of roughly 46,000 students at MSU, close to 3,000 have some form of an eating disorder,” said Novicki.
[back]It is also important to note that men suffer from eating disorders, but at lower numbers. Novicki works primarily with women but he said eating disorders are “not necessarily a women’s issue.” Novicki used the example of a male athlete who runs track. “There is a lot of pressure to be very cut and to beat everyone’s times. In order to do that he might eat salad and protein shakes for two weeks before his race in order to cut one second off of his time because he has dropped two pounds.” Novicki explained that this is not seen in the athlete’s eyes as an eating disorder; it’s simply what is expected of him, but it is indeed a disorder.
Marketing junior Nathan Cregeur can be spotted working out in the basement of Akers at least three times a week. “I work out because I want to,\” he said. \”Well, and because chicks dig a hard bod!”
Near the crux of the issue is the media and even broader “society,” which is often to blame for the dangerous lack of self-love and positive body image among young people. “Society has screwed us all up,” said Bokram. “The media, TV, they all trivialize the issue of eating disorders. Weight loss is envied above anything else in our society. People need to be able to love themselves.”
Of course loving yourself is an involved, but not impossible, process. It may take undoing harmful media or parental influence, talking issues out at a meeting or with a counselor, but change will ultimately come from within. “Loving yourself is not self-centered, but centering on [your]self,” said Nowicki. It allows someone to focus on the “core” of one’s self, he said.
So, perhaps Titus had the right idea with her tattoo choice. Learning to be real by accepting yourself (honeycombed thighs and all), might be the best Valentine\’s gift you can give to the real love of your life.

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