Diminishing the appearance ideal: The Peer Body Project


Body Project photo

Lexi Marco

Kent State is taking new measures to help women on-campus with body image insecurities. The Peer Body Project is a four week body image research program focused on body acceptance in young women. The project, conducted by Eric Stice and his colleagues at the Oregon Research Institute, started about 15 years ago and is new to Kent State this semester.

“The Body Project aims to help women to say, ‘No, I’m not going to conform,’” said Holly Bandy, the outreach program officer at Kent State. “We’re hoping to promote social activism on our campus regarding the appearance or “thin” ideal and how our student body portrays women. So, it’s really like an empowerment group.”

The program focuses on training young women how to deliver positive body image interventions to their fellow peers. Sophomore public health major Kyra Behnfeldt is one of 11 peer mentors for Kent State this year. She found out about the program through her connections with the university health center.

“I have family members who struggle with body image, so throughout my childhood I was exposed to appearance ideal comments such as: ‘If only I was skinnier, prettier, taller,’” Behnfeldt said. “I have seen first-hand how these comments can impact one’s emotional health, and so I want to be able to help those who struggle with body image.”

The training for the program spanned over two, seven-hour days. Each of the four one-hour sessions are scripted, and each of the peer mentors are trained to facilitate the sessions in a cohesive way. Peer mentors went through a “mock” of each of the sessions during training and were required to participate as both a mentor and a student in the program.

“I had no idea what to expect when I went into the training,” said Sarah Morris, a freshman nutrition major. “I didn’t know anyone, and that made me a little apprehensive. Sharing some of your biggest insecurities with strangers really cuts through any of the awkward stages. After only a few hours, we all acted as though we had been friends for years.”

Bandy and Sierra Baker, a health educator in the Office of Health Promotion,  are two of the Kent State employees overseeing the project. Training was off to a bit of a rough start for the peer mentors the women said. Mentors were required to perform activities such as writing a letter to a little girl with body image issues, sharing their idea of the “perfect woman” and eventually writing a letter to themselves.

“At the beginning of training, it was a bit awkward and rocky for the peer mentors because they had a hard time opening up to one another,” Bandy said. “As the training went on, they became more comfortable with one another and started opening up. You could really see the program working, even with our peer educators.”

Sophomore paralegal studies major Hannah Boylen believes her experiences as a peer mentor for the Peer Body Project will help her on future endeavors.

“You’re sharing intimate details with a group of women you have never met,” Boylen said. “It’s the facilitators’ responsibility to ensure the participants are comfortable, and feel like they are in a safe place. This has taught me not only how to respond to people when they are having negative thoughts about themselves but how to attentively listen and reflect to these thoughts.”

The Peer Body Project will most likely run this spring at Kent State and has been set-up as a Student Success Series. For now, the program is on the look-out for student participants to go through the program. For more information, email [email protected].

Lexi Marco is the health reporter. Contact her at [email protected].