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The Body Project aims to challenge beauty standards, boost self-esteem

Junior Bea Newberry first heard about The Body Project from her first-year resident director in Scott Hall.

She thought it sounded cheesy, but attended a workshop anyway. Now, she's the president of The Body Project at Miami University.

The Body Project is a nationally recognized initiative organized by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). April Smith, an associate professor in Miami's Department of Psychology, brought the program to Oxford in 2015.

The program challenges women to argue against society's beauty standards and change their attitudes toward themselves and their bodies.

"I think the biggest thing is that it changes your attitude with how you take in information about body image, about social media, things like that," said senior Emma Harris, a peer mentor for The Body Project. "One thing we talk about a lot is the beauty standard that exists right now and we try to make it as clear as possible that it's not actually possible to reach, it's a completely unattainable goal."

The Body Project at Miami hosts three to four workshops per semester. Each workshop includes a pair of two-hour sessions.

Sessions include seven to 10 participants and three peer leaders. Groups participate in discussions and role-play to learn how to respond when someone talks negatively about themselves.

Body image issues are something especially important to address at Miami, Newberry said.

"Most of the people who sign up for the sessions aren't the ones who, some may argue, need it most -- the ones in settings that have higher standards, so say, Greek life," Newberry said.

The organization discusses how social media has changed the way that people perceive other people, as well as themselves.

"We talk a lot about how people pick and choose the things that they post and make their lives the best version that they're presenting," Harris said. "This can be really hard, as someone who's taking in all of that, because you're seeing the best version of everyone and you don't just get to see the best version of yourself."

The two sessions are one week apart from each other. In that time, participants are given "homework assignments" to complete before the second session.

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One of these assignments is to write a letter to a younger girl about why she should feel comfortable with her body and not be too influenced by what she sees on social media.

Another is the mirror exercise, in which participants are to stand in front of a mirror with as little clothing on as possible and find 15 things they like about themselves. These things can be related to physical appearance or other character traits.

"One thing we bring up a lot is you can look at yourself and be like, 'You know what, I'm a great friend,' and that can be the first thing you think about yourself, which is a lot better than thinking, 'I look fat right now,'" Harris said. "So we're trying to train people to recognize the positives rather than the negatives."

Newberry hopes to see The Body Project reach more students and grow to have general body meetings in addition to workshops.

"If our presence grew, at least in terms of people knowing about us, a two-hour session could help someone a lot," Newberry said. "They might not want to be peer leaders afterwards, but we do get feedback that it helps them more than they thought."

The Body Project will be hosting workshops in mid-March, though no exact dates have been set.