By Christina Verzijl
I live in the wonderfully eclectic and exceptionally warm city of San Antonio, Texas where I run a positive body positive program called Body Project 4 High Schools. When I was thirteen, I decided to take a leap of faith and purchase my first pair of skinny jeans. At the time, skinny jeans were just coming into style and I thought it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone to try the trend.
I was skeptical of my purchase (or should I say my mother’s purchase) while I stared in my full-length mirror poking at every bump I thought wasn’t supposed to show. I couldn’t decide if God was against me or if I was beginning to look like a woman. Either way, my thighs were a size I had never experienced before and I didn’t know how to handle it.
After rummaging through my closet to find my Jessica Simpson-brand red cowboy boots and slapping on a flowing white top, I felt ready to conquer my family dinner in style. Unfortunately, the moment I stepped out of my bedroom door, an older female family member came up behind me, patted my hips and told me, “Guess we better start watching what we eat.”
Considering I was thirteen and hated my body already, her comment resonated with me for years. What little amount of self-esteem I had was depleted. After that, I constantly worried that my legs looked fat or if the other girls at school were judging me because my hips looked a little too large. Did everyone think I needed to loose weight? Were my hips unusually bulgy? Obviously, I never wore those skinny jeans again and jean shopping became a physically painful activity. To this day, my mother and I remember my many tears that flowed each time I stepped into a dressing room.
Now, after receiving an education and experiencing a little of life, I realize that her comment was a greater reflection of her limited self-esteem rather than my own body. I was a growing girl, transforming into a shapely woman. There was not anything wrong with my body. I was awkward and beginning to show the hips of a woman, but I was beautiful.
Although I wish she had known how negatively her seemingly minor comment had affected me, I understand it wasn’t completely her fault. Society had told her, through magazines and television and radio commercials, that to be beautiful she had to have thin legs and that protruding hips were not an option. She believed the messages she had been bombarded with. And frankly, why wouldn’t she? How was she supposed to know any different?
Instead of holding a grudge, I wanted to take my pain and turn in into something useful. I decided I could help young girls understand that what they see in the media (even on Instagram) is not always real. The girls in the magazines don’t even really look like the girls in the magazines. And in the end, the aspects of themselves that they are told are imperfections represent the characteristics that make them beautiful.
To do my part in providing girls the opportunity to see this, I am implementing Body Project 4 High Schools (BP4HS) at four San Antonio campuses as my post-bachelors research project. BP4HS represents a continuation of the Body Project, a positive body image program I have helped to implement on Trinity’s campus for the past two years. Specifically, the Body Project is an evidence and cognitive dissonance-based eating disorder prevention program started on college campuses over a decade ago by my professor and mentor, Dr. Carolyn Becker. Dr. Becker has wanted to implement the Body Project in San Antonio high schools for years and now I have the opportunity to make it happen!
I have seen, through my own eyes and statistical evidence, the transformation that occurs from the time females come into the program and when they leave. Females tend to begin the program feeling uncomfortable with their own body image and the unrealistic standards society sets for them. The most phenomenal aspect is that when females leave the program they are empowered activists for the positive body image movement and feel equipped to battle the unrealistic beauty standards surrounding them!
Overall, the program will cost $57,000 to administer. I am raising the full amount as charitable gifts to the university. I started fundraising in December before graduating and have raised $29,600 to pay for the first year of the program. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to bring such a positive and enriching program to such a large population of adolescent girls.
BP4HS is all about increasing confidence and self-esteem, as well as influencing young women to feel strong and help their friends to feel the same. My vision is to see these magnificent changes in adolescent girls and target them before they reach young adulthood.
The program provides girls a safe environment to talk about their experiences. It gives them tools to act and speak against society’s unrealistic beauty ideal. Because in the end, girls need help understanding that their beauty comes from within. They need people to remind them that their beauty shines from their eyes when they do the things they love. They need role models that don’t tell them to train their waist to be thinner.
Essentially, my goal is to help girls understand that they are perfect just the way they are whether they have slender or curvy hips. They are beautiful because they are themselves and once they realize that, they have an infinite power to change the world.
Christina Verzijl is a recent graduate of Trinity University in sunny and blistering hot San Antonio, Texas with her B.A. in Psychology. After graduation, she began implementing and facilitating a positive body image program with San Antonio high school girls called Body Project 4 High Schools. Christina hopes to better the world one girl at a time. You can follow BP4HS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.