Psychology students conduct campus body image program

Students in Carolyn Becker’s psychology lab are conducting world-recognized research on the Body Project, making them the second-most prolific Body Project lab in the world with their research.

Their latest program, Body Project for All (BP4ALL), is a body image program open to both men and women and run by research assistants and volunteer peer leaders. Their other on-campus programs include the Sorority Body Project and Female Athlete Body Program, which are only open to women in those communities.

“We’ve been conducting research on the Body Project since 2000 and so we decided collectively as a group that we wanted to expand into working with male students and make it available with the general student population at Trinity,” said Carolyn Becker, professor of psychology and advisor to BP4ALL.

Groups of students can participate voluntarily in the program by attending two two-hour sessions in which a peer leader facilitates a discussion about positive body image and the students engage in various activities.

“We are spreading a body-positive message and trying to negate and combat the cultural appearance ideal that appears in our society through media and different outlets. We run these groups to help people feel more body-positive about themselves and teach how to combat this cultural appearance idea and shoot for a healthy ideal on our campus,” said Angel Bottera, senior psychology major and research assistant.

Becker detailed that their new research is a response to a call by researchers in Australia challenging them to conduct a program not tied to athletes or sororities and to encourage students to participate voluntarily, without payment incentives.

The lab has already had great success in enrolling participants since the program is open to the entire campus and encourages friends to enter in groups. The Becker lab created the peer-led model for the Body Project, as well as a model in which students train other students to promote positive body ideals. This model is now used around the country and overseas.

“It’s important to have programs like this, because research is moving in the direction where it is trying to reduce the burden of mental illness, and this is one of those programs where we can implement a program in a more naturalistic setting that has a broad reach so we can kind of help reduce that burden of mental illness through programs like this,” said senior psychology major and research assistant Aaron Harwell.

The team hopes to emphasize the relaxed atmosphere of the program, in which students get to have fun while learning how to combat negative body ideals.

The BP4ALL program doubles as a study, generating student-led research for the lab. Participants, however, are not required to participate in the study and have the option to take part only in the program.

Additionally, the BP4ALL team emphasizes its openness to the entire campus, especially male students.

“Many times, males won’t want to engage with something that’s dealing with body image because they think guys don’t deal with body image issues, but a lot of the males that have gone through this program have reported that they really enjoyed it and have found use for it,” Harwell said.