It started in 2008 with a small classroom-run project at California State University, Northridge. It’s now a national campaign to advocate for positive body images by providing media literacy in partnership with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
As part of her journalism service-learning courses through CSUN’s Office of Community Engagement, Professor Bobbie Eisenstock is leading an effort at the university and around the country about how to be media literate in a digital age.
“While media are not a causal factor, media are one of the factors that can affect body satisfaction and self-esteem and subsequently lead to disordered eating,” she said.
This is one reason why Eisenstock and her students created the “Get REAL! Digital Media Literacy Toolkit” last year.
The toolkit, which explores ways for the public to be more media literate, aware of how media affects body image and advocate for positive body images in the media, is available on NEDA’s website and is used nationally to help counteract unrealistic body images with media literacy. She also published an article about how to use the toolkit in NEDA’s magazine “Making Connections” last month. Eisenstock was the recipient of NEDA’s 2013 Westin Family Award for Excellence in Activism and Advocacy at its conference in Washington, D.C. for her advocacy work in the field.
Eisenstock partnered with NEDA after leading a media literacy boot camp at its annual conference in 2011. She asked if they ever worked with college campuses before. The answer was no, and a collaboration was launched.
“The collaboration between NEDA and CSUN students is a way to develop authentic content around body-image messaging that connects with college students,” she said. “My students really wanted to make a difference. They use the knowledge they gain in the classroom and their own personal experiences to create interactive activities to engage, educate, and empower their peers.”
Eisenstock explained that media has a large impact on college students, noting that some students enter the university either predisposed or already suffering from an eating disorder.
The average person spends more than 11 hours a day on media, which includes using the Internet, apps, listening to the radio and watching television, according to a study conducted last year by the Nielson Group.
Body image issues touch everyone in today’s digitally immersed age, Eisenstock said.
“Considering how much time we spend in the digital media culture, it’s really hard to escape the pressure of attaining a certain body ideal when everywhere we turn we are bombarded with picture-perfect digitally-retouched images of women and men,” she said. “Media body images have normalized a cultural body standard that is virtually impossible to achieve by the average person.”
Journalism major Cicely Chisholm, a former student of Eisenstock’s, worked on a body positivity campaign last semester. She said body image is a rampant issue for students as early as grade school.
“I had a friend who suffered from an eating disorder when she was 12,” she said. “It just doesn’t leave you. Kids in middle school are affected by what they watch on television and what they see in magazines. It’s a major problem.”
Communication studies student Carli Olson said working on the next step for media literacy at CSUN has inspired her.
“It’s sending a really positive message to those who need it,” she said. “We are the people who watch the most TV, we are the ones buying the most products.”
CSUN is one of two universities in the country currently working on a new national outreach initiative by NEDA. Titled “Proud2BMe On Campus,” it is a program to address the growing concern about eating disorders on college and university campuses. In a recent survey NEDA conducted, they found that 10 to 20 percent of female and 4 to 10 percent of male students are affected by eating disorders.
Her students are hard at work framing CSUN’s “Proud2BMe On Campus” projects, which include a storytelling booth for students where they can share their stories about how media affects their body image and a selfie wall of positive body image.
Theater major Avery Rodriguez said he is glad that Eisenstock gives her students the space to be creative with their projects on media literacy.
“I’m not too knowledgeable with body image and media literacy, I wanted to learn more,” he said. “It’s a great outlet to be creative.”
Olson said Eisenstock’s students are dedicated to being a positive change for the CSUN community and now the country.
“We are adamant about not only showing how media affect body images but helping people recognize it and learn not to dwell on it and appreciate who they are inside and out,” Olson said.
Chisholm said she was glad that students are involved in making a difference for the community.
“[Eisenstock’s] ‘Get REAL!’ project is worth it. It’s making a difference,” she said.