The eye of the beholder

The St. John’s Counseling Center is hosting body image screenings this week as part of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which runs from Feb. 25 through March 3. The screenings are part of a national campaign by Screenings for Mental Health, Inc., a Boston-based organization.

Although St. John’s does not always offer the screenings during the actual awareness week, they are given annually and typically fall before spring break.

“A lot of times students tend to think, ‘Okay, okay, I’ve got three weeks before spring break, I’m going on a crash diet,'” said senior counselor Ruth DeRosa, explaining why the University hosts their screenings early.

The screenings consist of a survey comprised of 10 “yes or no” questions. Based on the number of ‘No’ answers, a student is scored on how positive their self image is, with the greater number being equivalent to a stronger body image. DeRosa emphasizes that the screening is not an eating disorder screening, but that poor body image could be a sign of a potential eating disorder.

“It’s definitely how you answer the questions on the screening,” DeRosa said. “It’s just a screening, to give someone an idea, like, ‘Oh, I never thought of it that way.’

“If you look at the eating habits, they may not have a disorder, but if you look at the body image, it may be an eating disorder,” she continued.

In addition to the screenings, students will be able to get information about eating disorders and body image, much of which she said students tend not to be aware of.

She explained that although one often associates eating disorders with younger females, men also can be afflicted. According to a 1997 study by the American Journal of Psychiatry, however 10 to 15 percent of the people with anorexia or bulimia are men.

In addition, it is often perceived that college-aged women are the primary sufferers of eating disorders, although DeRosa states that it is often not the case.

“It’s not only geared toward college women,” she said of the program. “We have elementary school kids. The Christina Aguileras, the kids that want to follow them are the sixth, fifth, fourth graders. They want to look like Britney Spears. It starts really early.”

However, she adds that it often progresses as the girls get older.

“At least when you’re little you have your mother there to tell you ‘Eat, eat, eat,’ but when you’re in college a lot of that is up to you,” DeRosa said.

She went on to say that a lot of the problem comes from the media, where an unrealistic body type is portrayed as the only acceptable one for young women. The body type portrayed as ideal by the media, in fact, is only naturally attainable by five percent of the population, according to the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders. Additionally, USA Today reported in 1998 that 47 percent of girls in 5th through 12th grade wanted to lose weight because of magazine pictures, while 69 percent of girls in grades 5 through 12 had their idea of the perfect body shape influenced by the media.

For St. John’s students suffering from poor body image or eating disorders, DeRosa stated that the Counseling Center is qualified to assist them.

“All the clinicians here are trained in helping people who feel they may have an eating disorder or do have an eating disorder,” she said. “They’re all licensed and trained to be able to address that.”

If students are unable to attend one of the screenings this week, or feel uncomfortable, the questionnaire is available online through the Counseling Center’s Web site, which is part of