In February 2009, members of Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS) posted black-and-white photos of some sixty student models over the white walls of The Box. The photo exhibition, complete with an open mic reading and a presentation by body cast artist Larry Kirkwood, was part of a project called “Love Your Body” to promote body acceptance and self love.
Six years later, “Love Your Body” has become “Bodies Week,” a weeklong series of events to promote an inclusive dialogue on body acceptance, self-care and intersectionality.
“[Bodies Week] is not solely about body image. It’s also about how our other identities intersect with that,” explained senior Rachel Kuehnle, the public relations director for SASS. “So what impact does our race, our gender, our sexuality, our socioeconomic status [intersect with body image], because bodies are so political [while] at the same time being very personal.”
The members of SASS emphasized that the change from Love Your Body to Bodies Week is intended to create a more inclusive atmosphere.
“It’s changed back-and-forth between ‘Bodies Week’ and ‘Love Your Body Week.’ The decision to change it recently was made last year,” Kuehnle said.
“We decided to change it because we felt that the term ‘Love Your Body’ felt more like a command and was exclusionary to people who don’t yet feel ready to accept that declaration,” explained senior Hadley Gephart, one of SASS’s co-presidents. “So we’re hoping that by calling it ‘Bodies Week,’ we can talk about many different varied aspects of bodies instead of just body positivity or self love. We can talk about various levels [of body image] and be more inclusive.”
SASS’ executive team has been working diligently since last term to make this year’s Bodies Week more successful and inclusive than previous years.
“We sat down and thought about the things we wanted to do to improve Bodies Week. We talked to SASS as a whole. We sent out a survey at the end of last term asking people what they wanted to see, so we tried to incorporate that. We had a few meetings with the Health and Counseling Center to talk about different resources we could get out there,” said Gephart.
This year was the first time that Knox’s Health and Counseling Center has reached out to assist SASS with Bodies Week.
“I think in the past, we haven’t seen a lot of outreach from the Health and Counseling Center,” Gephart said. “So we thought it’d be really important this year to make some connections with the counseling center since they are starting to do outreach now for the first time since I’ve been here.”
This year, Bodies Week has consisted of a wide array of events to promote self-care, including yoga sessions, a Mindfulness Presentation by Allison Uhlenbrock (Knox’s Counselor for Violence Prevention and Educational Outreach), and a self-care workshop.
“The Self Care workshop is one of the warmest events of Bodies Week, because it’s about taking that self-care time for yourself in that moment as well,” said Gephart.
Every year, Bodies Week culminated with the Bodies Week Exhibition, the student-run photo gallery established six years ago. This year, SASS has received more photo submissions than ever.
“We received nearly double what we received last year. … It was a lot,” said sophomore Mary Blair, SASS’s secretary.
“This is the biggest I’ve seen it in my four years of being involved with SASS,” Kuehnle said.
Many SASS members believe that the inclusivity this year’s Bodies Week has fostered is responsible for the rise in photo submissions.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve only seen [the number of photo submissions] increase … I think our attempt to make it more inclusive has helped. I think that maybe changing the name and trying to foster a more holistic attitude towards Bodies Week has helped people feel more like they can participate in it,” Gephart said.
SASS’s executives hope that this year’s exhibition will dispel many of the preconceptions people have about the Bodies Week exhibition, including a misconception that all models pose nude.
“There’s the presumption that all the models who participate have to be nude,” Kuehnle said.
“You don’t have to pose nude. That’s definitely something we want out there. It’s definitely not a nude photo gallery. It’s supposed to be something that’s about your relationship with your body,” Blair said.
“We don’t want to compel anyone to dress in any way. It’s whatever [the model] wants to get out of the photo or out of Bodies Week. It shouldn’t be about this expectation to wear a certain thing or not wear certain things,” said junior Teagan Yaussy, SASS’s treasurer. “We want … the models to know that it’s about what they want and are comfortable with and the message they want to have with their photos.”