Body positivity DeCal strives to help students practice self-care techniques

Erin Morrissey outside of Doe Library
UC Berkeley alumna Erin Morrissey, who restarted the “Body Positive” DeCal in the fall 2019 semester with fellow UC Berkeley alumna Sahar Sani, will be teaching the class with UC Berkeley senior Alma Paz virtually. The body positivity DeCal aims to provide students with tools for self-reflection and growth.

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The “Body Positive” DeCal is focused on giving students a nonjudgmental space to explore beauty, health and identity and to deepen students’ understanding of how they relate to their bodies.

Restarted in fall 2019 by campus alumni Erin Morrissey and Sahar Sani, the DeCal will be taught by Morrissey and campus senior Alma Paz this semester.

“How many spaces do we have where people are invited and encouraged to embrace their beauty? Not many,” Morissey said in an email. “In our class, people unapologetically declare their beauty. Confidence is not conceit.”

Morrissey said in the email that she and Sani were inspired to start the course after they participated in workshops for the Berkeley-based nonprofit organization The Body Positive, which hopes to end the harmful consequences of negative body image, including eating disorders, depression and anxiety.

The DeCal, according to Morrissey, draws from the organization’s curriculum, which focuses on five fundamental skills — reclaiming health, practicing intuitive self-care, cultivating self-love, declaring one’s own authentic beauty and building community.

The course also does not “shy away” from talking about privilege and oppression, Morrissey noted in the email. One of the ways Morrissey starts the course is by talking about the ways in which her privilege affects how she relates to the positivity movement.

Instead of giving students a formula for growth and healing, Morrissey shares tools with her students to help them reflect on their experiences and guides them toward creating their own strategy.

Paz, who took the course in fall 2019, said it allowed her to begin a journey of love toward herself and others. As the lead facilitator this semester, she hopes to bring that experience to more students.

According to Paz, body positivity is important because everyone experiences insecurities at some point in their lives. By challenging societal standards of beauty, Paz added, a person begins to see their “authentic” beauty.

“I also hope we welcome a more diverse group of students since true body positivity includes people of all walks of life regardless of gender, sexuality, race, etc.” Paz said in an email. “In fact, these differences make our conversation even richer.”

While the facilitators have had training on teaching the class online and have adapted in-person activities to remote ones, Paz acknowledged that sharing and being vulnerable over Zoom will be more difficult.

If students decide to take the DeCal, Morrissey asks that they be open to the vulnerability needed to share insecurities, moments of shame and fears about their bodies.

“I am passionate about this because so many people spend time in the pain of disliking their bodies or focusing on their bodies,” Morrissey said in the email. “Our time is incredibly valuable, and when people are free from body hatred they can focus fully on their passions and what they want to do in the world.”

Mela Seyoum is a race and diversity reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @melaseyoum.