Body Image: Professor Takes Message to High School


Professor/Author of Book on Female Body Image Takes Message to High School

Gwen O’Brien
Director of Media Relations
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, IN 46556
(574) 284-4579

October 20, 2009 (Notre Dame, Ind.)—The Penn Organization of Women (POW), a Penn High School student group, has invited Saint Mary's College communication studies professor Terri L. Russ to speak to them this week about female body image. Russ is author of the new book “Bitchin’ Bodies.” The book’s title is a double entendre. In popular culture, the ideal body is often referred to with the adjective “bitchin.’” The word, as a verb, also means complaining.

As a professor of communication, Russ believes that by listening to women talk about their quest for an ideal body, we can better understand how body dissatisfaction impacts all women. Russ interviewed hundreds of college-age women for her book about how they talk about their bodies and how they talk about other women’s weight. Not one woman she interviewed was satisfied with her body, even if she wore a size 2.

“My interviews demonstrate over and over that simply asking the question ‘What do you think of body image?’ opens a door that most women have never walked through,” Russ says. “For large change, we can’t stop here. We have to talk to others. We have to break the power of silence with the power of speech.”

And that’s why Mary Nicolini, a teacher at Penn and co-sponsor of POW, invited Russ to talk to the Penn students. Nicolini read “Bitchin’ Bodies” and thought the students would benefit from Russ’ message.

“Young women today constantly worry about their body image,” Nicolini said. “They worry whether a pair of jeans makes them look fat, or that they’re somehow less worthwhile if they aren’t supermodel skinny.  POW wants all girls to acknowledge that they are strong and beautiful women even if they don’t fit into popular culture’s definition of ‘beauty.’”

At this week’s POW meeting, Russ will ask the Penn women to write down the negative things they think about their bodies and, in a contract, promise to work on changing one of those views. If they break the contract, they must “pay” a penalty, like volunteering for an hour or donating to a cause. Russ does the same in her sessions with students at Saint Mary's College.

MEDIA: You are invited to cover Russ’s meeting with POW at Penn High School on Wednesday, October 21 at 3:30 p.m. Penn is located at 56100 Bittersweet Road, Mishawaka, Ind., 46545. You may enter the school at Door A, which faces Bittersweet, and check in at the Security booth. POW meets on the second floor in the Writing Center  in the middle of the building, above the library.

About Saint Mary’s College: Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., is a four-year, Catholic, women’s institution offering five bachelor’s degrees and more than 30 major areas of study. Saint Mary’s College has six nationally accredited academic programs: social work, art, music, teacher education, chemistry and nursing. Saint Mary's College ranks among the nation's top 100 liberal arts colleges in U.S. News & World Report's 2010 annual survey. Founded in 1844, Saint Mary’s is a pioneer in the education of women, and is sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.