S. Bryn Austin, ScD
Greetings and welcome to the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders. Approaching the five-year mark since we first unveiled our training mission, we are grateful for an abundance of riches. We are abundant with mentors and trainees, with nine mentors with diverse expertise and over 20 trainees and more coming on soon with new projects. Abundant in publications on our study findings written by or with our many talented trainees, with dozens now published or in press. Abundant with the support of our funders, including grants from foundations, the U.S. Maternal and Child Health Bureau, and, most importantly, passionate and generous individuals as committed to the cause as we are. And abundant with a number of visiting scholars — both well-known luminaries and emerging leaders in the field — who made the trek to Boston to share their work and learn from our new scientific insights and innovative strategies for training and advocacy.
We are always abundant in projects, all designed to give trainees opportunities to develop new skills and expertise with the guidance of STRIPED faculty and collaborating mentors. We are especially excited about a few of our recently completed projects that are charting new terrain in the field:
- An evaluation of Fat Talk Free Week on college campuses, led by STRIPED trainee Bernice Garnett.
- A cost-effectiveness study of eating disorders screening in schools, led by STRIPED Collaborating Mentor Davene Wright along with Co-director Kendrin Sonneville working closely with trainees LeAnn Hyungi Noh and Yushan Jiang.
- A spatial mapping and validation study of cosmetic surgery and procedures businesses and UV indoor tanning salons, a complicated effort made simple by the contributions of STRIPED trainee Allegra Gordon working with a team of scholars in geography, statistics, and behavioral sciences.
And here are some of our new projects underway:
- A legal study of supplements abused for weight control and muscle building, led by STRIPED Affiliated Faculty in Health Law Jennifer Pomeranz working closely with STRIPED trainee Grant Barbosa.
- An economic study of the costs of eating disorders to individuals, families, and society led by STRIPED Collaborating Mentor Mihail Samnaliev alongside trainee LeAnn Hyungi Noh.
- Several new teaching cases in the works this year, following on the heels of our second teaching case, “‘Retweet Does Not Imply Endorsement’: The Logic of Cyberbullying in Schools.”
But as important as these projects are and as proud as we are of our trainees’ accomplishments, the recent passing of one of our global community’s greatest leaders and justice advocates, Nelson Mandela, reminds us that it is not a list of achievements that matters most. It is what we do to improve the lives of others and to make our world more just. In the many inspiring tributes to Mandela that I read after his passing, it was one quote that took me by surprise in how deeply it resonated with our STRIPED mission: To create a society where girls and boys alike can grow up at home in their own bodies.
An article in the Boston Globe reported: “Asked once why he favored loosely cut shirts with colorful patterns (they became his sartorial trademark), Mr. Mandela replied, ‘You must remember I was in jail for 27 years. I want to feel freedom.’” What struck me about this quote is that with all the profound issues of society that Mandela confronted every day of his life, he also recognized the profundity of simply feeling free in one’s own body. The Madiba shirts he was known for represented in the very least freedom from the physical constriction of a suit, buttoned dress shirt, and tie.
It likely was also an expression of freedom from the constraint of Western-style dress in the post-apartheid South African context. But maybe Mandela’s words can also speak to us about the right to feel free from the discrimination, stigma, and inequities that imprison — literally and figuratively — so many types of bodies: Black bodies and all bodies of color, large bodies, women’s bodies, gay bodies. Much of what we do in STRIPED is motivated by the desire to end the injustices of weight discrimination and the perverse equation of beauty with worth in our society that can be so damaging especially in the lives of girls and women. In STRIPED, we too work so that all bodies can someday feel free.