For Knox students, Winter Term brings many things: stress, freezing cold weather, the occasional burst pipe. Another constant is the February staple hosted by Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS) known as Bodies Week.
The intention of the week is to explore the way students view their bodies, positive or negative, and ideally move toward a place of increased awareness or acceptance.
This year’s Bodies Week includes a self-care workshop, a feminist open mic, discussions of body image, a documentary screening and, as always, culminates with an exhibition of student-photographed student portraits. Though many students interpret the message of Bodies Week as a celebration, senior and SASS Co-President Teagan Yaussy considers the event more multifaceted.
“It’s also about engaging with your body in a lot of different ways, and sort of experimenting with what that means. Not just the straightforward idea of, ‘Oh, love your body,’ but more of a ‘What does it mean to be in tune with your body, how do you interact with your body on a day-to-day basis?’” she said. “What ideas do you have about your body and what different things that can mean.”
Senior and SASS Co-President Brya Johnson said that part of the power of Bodies Week is the space it provides students at all stages of their personal journey.
“For some people it’s very empowering, and they’re like ‘This is my body and I love it no matter what it looks like.’ Some people haven’t gotten to that point where they find it very empowering,” she said. “For a lot of other people it can just be like that journey towards body acceptance, or just being comfortable in general with your body, like starting that first step towards being like ‘Wow, this is my body, let me start learning how to interact with it and how to enjoy it and how to not constantly be critiquing myself.’”
Johnson acknowledged a shift in the way SASS is running this year’s version of Bodies Week, which has included increased public relations. Organization has been key, but so has trust within SASS itself. New members, freshmen in particular, have risen to the challenge of innovation. The feminist open mic, which opened Bodies Week, was the brainchild of freshmen representatives, and the poster advertisements were also designed by a freshman representative.
As for the photo exhibition, which is often a standout element of Bodies Week, Johnson said SASS’s goal has been to increase the intentionality of submissions. The submission of written work is required from each model and published anonymously in a zine that accompanies the gallery. This year, art is being valued in a whole new way.
“We had a talk with models about intentionality with their work, just making sure the images they were putting out were the images they want to put out and having an intention behind their Bodies Week photoshoots, which a lot of the time is really hard to do,” Johnson said. “Along with that we’re asking for people to submit not just photographs, but also art or writing submissions, pretty much anything. We reached out to the Art department heavily this year.”
SASS hopes models can capture self-expression in the photography process. The photoshoot for Bodies Week is far from a straightforward experience. Sophomore and SASS Secretary Caroline Amendola-Bye said her own Bodies Week photoshoot involved facing insecurities as well as engaging in a personal dialogue.
“It can be about confidence and embracing yourself but it doesn’t have to be,” she said. “However you want to explore your own body and your relationship and how your body intersects with your other identities.”
Johnson echoed this sentiment, stating that part of the fun was in letting go: She doesn’t normally like having her picture taken.
“Every year I’m like, I should do this, this is very important, like just interacting with my body and understanding that I can have fun with this. Bodies Week can be very, very fun and very empowering. It’s not like every day you get to have someone come to you and take pictures of you to display in a gallery on a college campus, so embracing that privilege of being able to showcase myself,” she said.
Non-SASS members also participated as models for this year’s exhibition. Senior Tanika Pradhan is participating for the second time in her Knox career. Many students assume that Bodies Week portrait subjects are required to pose naked, but this is not the case. In fact, for Pradhan, the photographs were about showcasing one specific part of the body: her face.
“I think when people think ‘bodies’ sometimes they forget faces are a part of it. I’ve seen a lot of Bodies Week pictures and it’s just like your whole body, which is great, but for me, I feel like my face, one, we use it for so much of our emotions. Your face says so much about you É Two, I have a very animated face. I was like, let me just take this moment to just be happy about the animation that is my face,” she said.
The celebration of difference inherent in Bodies Week was another major draw for Pradhan to participate again this year. Growing up in Nepal, she said, offered one specific standard of beauty to which girls were expected to adhere: very light skin, long, straight hair, certain eyes, a certain physical build.
“When I came to America, especially at Knox where people are doing stuff like this to celebrate their differences, it made me realize how much I want to just give myself props for surviving in a place where that’s all you could be, and for some people that’s just like, genetics, it just does not happen. And in this country, there are very idealistic criteria for beauty, but at the same time, there are different criteria … There’s not just one,” she said. “I never would be considered beautiful there, and I feel like over here it doesn’t matter what you look like, there is always somebody who finds something beautiful about you, and over there too, I guess that’s it, but people don’t speak it out as much. Sometimes you need that reassurance.”
Multi-layered as it may be, Bodies Week is still ultimately a celebration of difference and of the physical self. SASS has worked to create a week with options for a multitude of experiences that will provide a little something for everyone.
“It’s just like, people are just wanting to celebrate their bodies. And they’re doing it unapologetically, and they’re doing it happily and with excitement. And I feel like, especially coming from a culture where modesty is the only way to go, it’s empowering. There are different ways to be empowered and that’s all being seen, there’s not one way, there’s not one ideal way to go about it,” Pradhan said. “They’re doing it in a billion different ways and just celebrating who they are. It makes me feel so warm and fuzzy inside.”
Editor’s note: Monika Kopec is TKS’s circulation manager.