Body Positivity Club gives Denali students a place to accept and appreciate themselves
By Ellen Hu
A group of students gather in a classroom with friendly smiles on their faces and their lunches in hand. They aren’t talking about television shows or video games. They’re talking about underwear sizes.
The Body Positivity Club is a student-run club at Summit Denali High School where students are able to discuss topics related to self acceptance, body images in the media and much more. “I really just want a safe place for people to build up their body confidence and find their inner value and their inner worth,” Summit Denali junior and club leader Renata Duarte said.
The club meets on Mondays in Room 3. Students can join the club by filling out the club form at tinyurl.com/bodyposiclub2020.
Duarte founded the club at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, although she had discussed the idea with Denali staff beforehand. “When she first brought it up with me she was so excited,” Denali Modern World History II teacher and club supervisor Karla Guerrero said.
Ms. Guerrero is joined by Denali Math II teacher Dharini Ramaswamy to supervise the club. Currently the club has 17 members, although Ms. Guerrero wishes there were more. “But I do understand that it’s a club, and it’s up to students who are interested,” she said.
When Duarte was thirteen years old, she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Duarte considers it an “umbrella term” with symptoms that can include irregular menstrual cycles and elevated signs of male hormones. One of Duarte’s symptoms is weight gain that is caused by a chemical imbalance of testosterone and estrogen.
“For a while I was playing sports, I was very active,” Duarte said. Even so, she found herself gaining weight without an explanation.
“A lot of the doctors, they were writing it off as me being lazy and not being an active enough person, even though I was doing all of these things,” Duarte said. “When I finally got a good doctor, I was diagnosed with that and I found a community of people with PCOS.”
This community introduced Duarte to the body positivity community. While initial conversations covered self-advocacy in doctor’s offices, she found that there were a lot of other topics that could be covered.
Through her online PCOS health chat room, Duarte learned about Tess Holliday, a plus size model. “She started talking about body positivity, and that really resonated with me,” Duarte said.
Holliday began to share stories of people who were following healthy habits and still gaining weight as well as people who were not able to get the help that they needed because of their sizes. For one of the first times, Duarte saw stories that sounded like hers.
The club gives her and other students a place to share their stories and make other students aware of the pressures that society places on outer images. “When I told them I got kicked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch because I was just in there, they were like ‘why is this happening?’ and they got angry,” Duarte said. “They wanted to do something about it.”
Denali AP English Language teacher Nicole Soriano appreciates how vulnerable club members are able to be in the space, although she did have concerns at the beginning. “These are really challenging topics and it [school] is a really hard place to do it too,” she said.
“One of my concerns was how the meetings were going to be structured,” she said. At first she was worried that the club would focus on harmful experiences without helping students heal from them. These worries were soon addressed as no problems occurred.
“It’s very open and judgement free,” Ms. Guerrero said. “It’s a very powerful safe space.” She believes that the club will help students relate and stand up for each other in the future.
Ms. Soriano appreciates the level of care and thoughtfulness that Duarte has put into the club. She believes that self-acceptance is “the most overlooked area of self-care” and is glad that Denali students now have a place to address that.
Denali junior Meghan Butler joined the Body Positivity Club to better understand body positivity in the media and to support her friends. The club has also introduced her to new information.
“I like the facts that Renata gives,” Butler said. “They’re well-sourced and interesting.”
In the future, Duarte hopes to set up a mirror that community members can look into, reflect on what they love about themselves, then write it down on the mirror. She plans to place it in a secluded area of the school so that people can do this in private.
“I know it’s really hard,” Duarte said. “It’s one of those topics that not a lot of us like to talk about; but I want people to feel safe, and I want people to feel welcomed.”
“If I can just have this club and continue this conversation that has been going on through social media and a bunch of other places, than hopefully this platform can continue to make this conversation an actual thing,” Duarte said.
FEATURED IMAGE (at top of post): Denali junior Renata Duarte speaks to Body Positivity Club members during a meeting. PHOTO CREDIT: Ellen Hu