Consider this: How many students coming into your store resemble the models and mannequins used to sell your spirit wear? If your customers are like the bulk of Americans, then most do not. If they’re anything like most college students nationwide, they’re also highly vulnerable to eating disorders.
The prevalence of on-campus eating disorders has risen in recent years: 10% to 20% of college women are affected and 4% to 10% of men. By contrast, eating disorders affect about 3% of the national population.
A vulnerable population
“Students report many messages in the college environment that promote a preoccupation with body image and dieting — two risk factors in the development of an eating disorder,” Elizabeth Scott, founder of The Body Positive, told Stanford University’s blog Scope. Her organization trains college students and staff to promote healthy body perceptions. Participants in The Body Positive campus program say they experience less guilt about their looks and greater awareness of myths about ideal thinness.
Now, consider this: As a college store, your mission goes beyond the bottom line: you exist to serve students. You’re uniquely placed to send healthy messages to students about their appearance while selling clothes. If you do, you will simultaneously serve a need and capitalize on a growing trend that prizes authenticity in advertising over fantasy.
Young people are keenly aware of “fat-shaming” — bullying about size and weight. Social media weaponizes such attacks in ways that would have been impossible for earlier generations. In one recent example, Playboy model Dani Mathers surreptitiously photographed an older woman with a matronly physique in a locker room, then posted it to Snapchat with the caption: “If I can’t unsee this, you can’t either.” The photo and caption went viral.
“Huge thighs. NO waist, big floppy boobs, terrible body definition — she looks like a squishy brick,” the blogger wrote. “Is this what American women are ‘striving’ for now? The lazy lardy look?”
Both incidents prompted outrage among internet users. Mathers was charged with a misdemeanor for privacy violation. Thousands condemned the writer of the fat-shaming blog entry about Upton. But that doesn’t mean no damage occurred. Those with more weight on their bodies than a super-model were still exposed to cruel perceptions, left to wonder who might have similar thoughts about them.
Of course, the majority of us don’t look like Kate Upton in a swimsuit. 16% of children aged 6-19 are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That number has tripled since 1980. It’s clear our cultural obsessions with dieting and ultra-thin models have done nothing to make us healthier. Indeed, these phenomena probably abet the problem.
Fortunately, young people are increasingly aware that the self-hate fat-shaming inspires has toxic consequences.
Heavily photo-shopped, “perfected” bodies still dominate the fashion world, but the growing body positivity trend has found support in the mainstream. Target® unveiled a swim wear campaign this year that includes models of all sizes. Sports Illustrated featured plus-size model Ashley Graham on the cover of its 2016 swimsuit issue.
You, too, can build on this positive wave. Consider using real students as models for your spirit wear. Develop a social media campaign devoted to showing off different body types dressed in your store’s best-selling gear. Or take The Body Positive’s advice and start a book club devoted to discussion of the maddening double-bind messages students receive about their bodies in college.
Whatever you choose, you’ll have the satisfaction of tending to a great need among students without ignoring the bottom line.