NU psychology professor Renee Engeln studies body image and media


Photo courtesy of Renee Engeln

Members of Engeln’s Body and Media Lab (“BAM”) smile for a photo. BAMs are working with Renee Engeln to research issues surrounding women’s body images.

Psychology professor Renee Engeln’s Body and Media Lab shows how society’s obsession with beauty hurts women.

Engeln’s research explores cultural practices that undermine the relationship between women and their bodies. She delves into topics such as negative body speech, feelings about idealized media images, and the adoption of exterior views on physical appearance. According to Engeln, many young women struggle with body image and there is immense pressure to conform to unrealistic and often discriminatory beauty and body ideals.

The lab is researching how to improve fitness experiences for women. He ran a fitness class on Zoom and monitored how exercise affected participants’ mood and body image.

“If you think about how your body looks while you workout, that’s bad news,” Engeln said. “It makes you enjoy your exercise less, it makes you less likely to want to exercise more, it prevents you from getting the body image benefits that exercise usually brings.”

The lab concluded that fitness facilities and instructors should promote exercise with an emphasis on its health and wellness benefits rather than focusing on weight loss or changes in appearance. physical.

Last fall, Engeln and other researchers at the lab wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about their study, which explained why women’s clothing, like high heels and tight-fitting clothing, is painful and inconvenient for women. carriers. She explained how such clothing correlates with higher “body monitoring,” chronic monitoring of your appearance that can be detrimental to mental health.

Nina Sachs, senior and Weinberg lab worker, said the northwest was a “hotbed” for body comparison and media exposure. She said she appreciates the way the lab’s research explores how women experience and treat their bodies.

“Having information about what this type of exposure can do to us and what we can do to improve (how) we see our bodies and the bodies of others can create an environment that is hopefully less competitive and comparative, ”Sachs said.

Sachs hopes the lab’s research will help cultivate a culture that is more holistic in nature.

Engeln said the current climate is toxic and encourages personal judgment on appearance. She said this is linked to many difficulties that NU students can connect with, such as eating disorders.

“These are not a healthy set of ideals that we are asked to aspire to,” Engeln said. “And it has a real impact on people’s lives. “

Harlym Pike, senior at Weinberg, who also works at the lab, said understanding the psychology behind beauty and body image is important because of their effects on relationships, mental health and other aspects of body image. life.

Pike’s lab work has helped her learn more about body image and its importance, especially among college students, she said.

“It’s important to be aware of these patterns and relationships that exist around this topic to change the outlook… and hopefully bring about a positive change in our society when it comes to body image,” Pike said. .

Pike said work from the Body and Media Lab and other related labs demonstrates the importance of empirically studying the impact of technology and media on body image.

“I want to live in a world where the students in my class can focus on learning and not worry about their hair, makeup or clothes or if they’ve gained or lost weight,” Engeln said. . “For me it is a much healthier environment for all of us.”

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Twitter: @chiarafkim

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