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March 21, 2012 Volume 33, No. 25

Faculty and students collaborate on upcoming play addressing body image


Journalism and theater faculty partner in project

Faculty and students discussed the media’s affect on teenagers’ body image during a March 15 meeting sponsored by Mizzou Advantage in the Student Center. The purpose was to mine ideas for a play this spring on body image issues.

Mizzou Advantage, dedicated to increasing national and global awareness of MU, has taken an interest in the subject through its Undergraduate Research Team program., which strives to create collaboration between faculty and students. 

Mizzou’s theater department and journalism school have partnered in the research and production of the play.

Five students and Maria Len-Rios, an associate professor of strategic communication in the School of Journalism, have overseen the focus-group research, titled “Risking the Inside for the Outside: Nutrition, Media and Body Image Among College Students.”

Len-Rios said media images that show thinner body types can have destructive consequences for children and teenagers.

“We’re seeing eating disorders at a much younger age,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2009 Health-Risk and Behavior Survey shows that 14.5 percent of girls and 6.9 percent of boys in grades 9 through 12 have fasted for 24 hours to lose weight, Len-Rios said.

Suzanne Burgoyne, a professor of theater, said performances based on the focus group findings would be similar to those in Difficult Dialogues, an MU theater series started in 2006 to stimulate conversation about diversity and controversial beliefs.

Those performances were interactive — the audience sometimes conversing with the play’s characters — and designed to make viewers talk past their discomfort about conflicting opinions regarding controversial topics such as race, religion and sexual orientation. 

The spring performances will attempt to do the same with body image.

“We try to represent all the points of view,” Burgoyne said.

The interdisciplinary project is part of Mizzou Advantage’s Food for the Future and Media of the Future initiatives.

— Lauren Foreman