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Operation Beautiful UEA

Those of you who have seen the campus epidemic of post-it notes are probably wondering why UEA students are being told to love themselves. The craze that started in our bathrooms has spread everywhere, becoming a serious source of anxiety for our librarians. “Most of us already accept our bodies in here”, claimed a member of the UEA library staff. But how true is this sentiment, and why does Operation Beautiful UEA exist?

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Photo: Tilly Wood

Operation Beautiful (http://www.operationbeautiful.com/) is a pre-existent idea which started as an online blog in 2009. “The goal of the Operation Beautiful website is to end negative self-talk or ‘Fat Talk’,” says OB creator, Caitlin. “I began Operation Beautiful by leaving positive messages on the mirrors of public restrooms — at work, at the gym, at the grocery store. Maybe some people read them and just smile, but I bet some people are truly touched by the effort of a random stranger.”

1.6 people in the UK have a diagnosed eating disorder, but most sufferers don’t come forward for treatment. 89% of sufferers are female, and most cases happen during adolescence. Out of all sufferers, 10% are anorexic, 40% are bulimic, and the other 50% are diagnosed with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), which accounts for BED (Binge Eating Disorder) amongst other lesser-known subtypes.

Further to this point, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, but are also some of the least understood. As human beings, we fetishize whatever is rare, and, with the widespread accessibility of food, ‘what is rare’ has become what is thin. With the growth of globalisation through mediums such as the internet and television, people are becoming increasingly exposed to this very particular type of body shape which for many people is either difficult or impossible to attain. Pictures of the 1% are plastered everywhere we look, and it leads us to believe that we are therefore imperfect. For those with a pre-existing mental vulnerability, or perhaps with difficult backgrounds, this can be very dangerous.

Operation Beautiful UEA was created out of a recognition that university students are particularly at risk of experiencing the type of insecurities that can lead to problems like eating disorders. It started out as a one-off campus wide event during which students left positive post-it notes on bathroom mirrors, but its success manifested as a Facebook page. Whereas post-its are still the central focus, the creators plan to expand into other events to boost body-positivity at UEA. “We should never hate our bodies, regardless of our shape or weight,” said one OBUEA admin. “Even in the face of the obesity epidemic, making sufferers feel ashamed is not the answer. It is this body-shaming mentality which can force people to take extreme measures in the first place, which can then go in either direction depending on the person: binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, EDNOS… However, if we encourage everyone to accept and love their bodies, then I believe this problem will resolve itself. People will eat healthily to nourish themselves, and exercise for the endorphins. Whatever happens then is purely a side effect. Shape/size and self-love should not be mutually exclusive.”

Despite the rejection by the library staff – who have been tearing down post-its as soon as they are created – the movement has been otherwise well received, not only by students but by UEA staff and lecturers. “My dissertation supervisor thinks it’s fantastic. She found one in the bathrooms and said it brightened her day. I’ve had other lecturers approach me during the act and cheer me on. It’s really encouraging.” “It’s what would have helped me during my own illness,” said the page admin. “Now that I’m in recovery, I’m trying to provide the sort of environment which might prevent others from going through similar experiences to my own.”

Operation Beautiful UEA are currently organising their next stunt, Bodies in the UEA Square, which will take place on the 30th of April. Students will lie down by the steps to have their outlines drawn in chalk, in the hope that someone walking by and worrying about their shape or size might see something familiar and feel encouraged. The OBUEA admin said, “I believe that exposure has been a catalyst in this epidemic. It can also be the cure. If we can expose the world to many different types of bodies, hopefully it will lessen the impact. Fire with fire, exposure with exposure.”

For more information about Operation Beautiful UEA, visit the Facebook page. If you’re worried about a friend with an eating disorder, go to B-eat, or for a personal referral to the Norfolk eating Disorder Service, talk to your GP.

02/04/2014

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