Fed Upfade
fed up
building esteem
slide show
order here
mailing list
contact us

College-age students encounter vital developmental and social challenges that inform personal identity and relationships. Sexual harassment and intimacy violence, drug abuse, eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, as well as sexual and racial identity issues are pronounced in college. As cultural dis-ease filters into the campus climate, students are challenged to make healthful choices and to become their own advocates, so that they may graduate into the world emboldened.

Mission Statement
Bold Print produces educational materials to explore the connection between campus mores and wellness among students. Founded by sisters Clara and Catherine Baker, Bold Print promotes student health through consciousness-raising, cultural criticism, media literacy, and activism. Bold Print embraces a holistic view of health that encompasses relationships, institutions, lifestyle choices, violence and culture. Bold Print aims to alleviate shame and isolation, to foster tolerance and celebrate diversity, to build internal resilience, and to empower students.

"An empty stomach is not a good political advisor."
- Fortune Cookie

The Problem
Since bulimia was detected on a college campus in the late 1970's, awareness about eating disorders has increased considerably. Many students seek relief at college health and counseling centers. A more progressive therapeutic milieu offers an array of specialized services and promotes prompt identification, referral, and treatment. While health providers address the problem in individuals, however, the precursors to these problems, such as gender role conflicts, dieting, sexism, the idolization of thinness and the vilification of fat, go largely unexamined.

The current prevalence is difficult to quantify, due to changing criteria for the problem, as well as shame and secrecy which often surround eating problems. Data varies, but reports using stringent criteria indicate that anorexia affects 1%-3% of the United States population, and closer to 5% of college students, while symptoms of bulimia afflict up to 20% of college-age women. Anywhere from 12%-33% of college-age women use vomiting, diuretics, and laxatives on a regular basis. Close to 50% of college students report frequent episodes of binge eating. Most students -- females and males across race and class -- are plagued by body insecurities. These manifest in a range of disordered attitudes and behaviors, such as poor body image, yo-yo diets, compulsive exercise, steroid abuse and fabricated food allergies resulting in psychosomatic complaints.

The Causes
The move from home to college is a stressful transition, a period when eating problems frequently begin or worsen. When students go off to college, they are challenged to develop a personal identity separate from their families. Vital concerns about staying connected and seeking independence are played out, often through eating. Newfound autonomy can feel exhilarating as students encounter limitless academic, social and sexual options. It can also feel overwhelming. Students may be on their own eating schedule for the first time. Erratic meals and incessant snacking, the consumption of alcohol and marijuana, changes in activity levels, and sedentary studying all contribute to weight fluctuations. Managing finances can be taxing for students who juggle their studies with odd jobs to afford tuition, books, and living expenses. Retreating into narrowly focused eating patterns can be a way to control the many challenges that mark this tumultuous period.

Forming an identity is complicated by conflicting messages about gender roles. While shifts in social attitudes support women who aspire in academia and on the career path, women are still socialized in traditional female roles to look good and to please others. For females, a changing identity in academia and in the workplace filters into ambivalence about sexual roles. While the sexual double standard persists on college campuses, women are attempting to disentangle their sexual desires and relational needs from the dominant mores. Women receive mixed messages about attracting male sexual partners and withholding sexually. Whether grappling with sexual intimacy, orientation, experimentation or intimidation, an eating disorder enables a student to place a temporary hold on these concerns.

In college, a social identity is critical, as is peer acceptance. Anonymity among peers underscores a focus on appearance, since attributes such as humor and intelligence are not immediately evident to the eye. The semi-closed nature of many college campuses distorts the actual make-up of society in terms of age, race, class, and body size. In a homogenous student body, pressures to conform are even greater. An anorexic body is idolized by some peers and blatantly glamorized by advertising. Although bulimia is less admired, gorging and purging, including compulsive exercising, are sometimes modeled and practiced collectively among college students.

In the midst of changes in identity during adolescence, students often feel desperate to fit in, rather than to question societal values. The body becomes a measure of self-value and social worth, particularly when students feel socially detached. Students often spend more time relating to their computers than to real people. Food provides a substitute -- a friend and nurturer -- to ease the loneliness. For compulsive eaters, weight gain may bring relief from social expectations and competition; uncontrolled eating may function as a protest against narrow standards of femininity. Weight loss, conversely, offers the hope for peer approval. For most sufferers, the eating disorder fills a void in identity, as well as an emotional hollow.

The Solution
Treatment of college eating problems must involve both the afflicted student and the campus culture. While treating the student is a distinctly personal undertaking, the latter is political. Cultural influences, emphasized on a college campus, are not merely catalysts for eating problems; they create the landscape that nourishes and harvests body obsessions. Once cultural ideals are internalized, they become mere symptoms for complex psychological issues -- students are directed to treatment to deal privately, as though the conflicts reside in individual psyches alone. The eating disorder as a political manifestation turns apolitical. Meanwhile, contexual issues that contribute to body disturbances, such as feelings of vulnerability due to a lack of safety on campus and real experiences of violation, alienation from peers, intimidation in classrooms, racism, sexism, and homophobia are rarely examined.

Secondary and tertiary prevention essentially involve detecting and treating sufferers. A treatment team, in-service trainings of health care providers, and workshops for faculty, coaches, and resident advisors are all vital to preventing eating problems from progressing. Short-term treatments, conserving of time and resources in a college setting, are inadequate. Students need to compliment these treatments with feminist-informed activism to address ingrained practices outside of the therapy room, and supportive focus groups to more fully explore the function of eating symptoms.

Campuses need to create countercultures that affirm self-acceptance at every size. Typically, college students are hungry to take in knowledge and new experiences. In the classroom, they are exposed to a variety of ideas, and encouraged to think critically. Students also need to apply critical persepectives when filtering through the barrage of media messages about the body and self-care. Group consciousness-raising among students about the culture of eating problems can enhance feelings of efficacy and connectedness. Activism should underscore the ego dystonic aspects of eating disorders, illuminating the physical, financial, social, and academic costs that override any benefits of striving for an unnatural body type.

A systems approach is needed to treat the campus culture. Primary prevention of eating disorders does not involve talking about the actual symptoms. Rather, prevention entails a dialogue about the connection between media culture, social disease, and disordered eating. We are beginning to relate eating disorders to issues of power and inequity, as well as feelings of relational dissociation and social contagion in a college setting. As students and college staff engage in this intimate, reflective conversation, we are forging new relationships -- with each other, with the culture, and with our bodies.

Bold Print
P.O. Box 230360
New York, NY 10023
tel: 212-580-0015
fax: 212-580-2784