NEW SCHOOL FREE PRESS — The New School’s Body Positivity Art Exhibit, sponsored by the Wellness and Health Promotion program at Student Health and Support services, will take place in Baldwin Rivera Boggs Social Justice Hub from Feb. 26 through March 16. It features selected works submitted by the students, faculty and staff, two of which received a financial reward of $100 and $50.
For some students, the exhibition provides an opportunity to reclaim pride in their identity. “I made a film of kind of accepting who I am and appreciating the fact that I might be a little bit more androgynous than somebody else and making it a part of my own unique beauty,” said Selah Kreeger, a sophomore studying psychology at Lang.
Other artists see the exhibition as a way to oppose social stereotypes, celebrating the beauty of diversity. “I want to embrace the aging of women and I want to celebrate the wrinkles,” said Rui Zhou, an MFA fashion design and society student.
Many used the exhibit to take a stance on social issues. “I would love for it to be 100 percent celebration, but this topic is too loaded for it to not be considered a cry for action,” said Martina Travia, a senior photography student.
Often participants share a deeply personal experience, in attempt to help their peers, struggling with similar problems. “I like to depict female figures eating. It’s been really stigmatized,” said Athena Rigas, a fine arts senior. “I guess it’s kind of good to create stuff that you didn’t see growing up.”
Regardless of individual background and artistic intentions, the participants emphasized the urgency of collective dialogue. “We have to consciously celebrate body types that differ from the societal standards, and start to unlearn what we’ve been taught for years,” said Beatrice Helman, an MFA creative writing student.
The Spring 2017 National College Health Assessment surveyed 1,190 New School students. Of those surveyed, 34.1 percent reported that their personal appearance felt “traumatic or very difficult to handle” within the last 12 months. “There’s so much pressure to look the certain way, and there are rewards for looking the certain way, and there are penalties for not,” said Rachel Knopf, director of Wellness and Health Promotion.
Particularly at Parsons, students’ exposure to the demanding standards of the fashion industry affects their self-esteem. “How people present themselves is very different from any other school. You never see people in sweatpants,” said Ellory Camejo, a junior fashion design student and Peer Health Advocate at Student Health Services. “Trying to have a certain image is a big problem here.”
There is no single solution on how to amplify students’ confidence, but many saw the exhibit as a promising start. “Creating a space in the first place to be able to talk about things like this is just one step forward to achieving overall body positivity,” Kreeger said.
By Toma Volozhanina
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