Tattoos, cosmetic surgery and body image under scrutiny at speaker series

Two prominent speakers will discuss body modification, from tattoos to cosmetic surgery, as well as body image in a world gone mad for the latest diet trends, at York’s second annual Eating Disorders Awareness Week Speaker Series, Feb. 4 to 8.

The speaker series is organized by York’s Counselling & Development Centre, Atkinson Counselling & Supervision Centre, Health Education & Promotion, Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Arts, and is sponsored by the National Eating Disorder Information Centre. The theme of the week is centered around changing attitudes, not bodies.

"According to Sheena’s Place, 70,000 people in Ontario have eating disorders," said Janis Ellis-Claypool, coordinator, Health Education & Promotion, Centre for Student Community & Leadership Development. "Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness."

"We are hoping students will be aware that if they are experiencing an eating disorder, resources and supports exist and they are not alone. For friends and family members who are concerned for a loved one, we also hope they seek out and find support for themselves and the person they are concerned about," said Ellis-Claypool. 

The first speaker, Professor Michael Atkinson of Loughborough University’s School of Sport & Exercise Sciences in the UK, will present "Physical Cultural Studies: Bodies and Body Modification in Late Modernity" on Monday, Feb. 4, at 7pm in the Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson Building.

In his talk, Atkinson will engage a physical cultural studies analysis of radical forms of body modification such as tattooing, cosmetic surgery and dramatic forms of dieting. Based on first-hand research Atkinson has gathered on the socio-cultural meanings of these body projects, he will address how and why radical physical cultural practices are growing in Western societies.

Right: Michael Atkinson

He will also discuss what it’s like to experience radical body modification, how radical body modification shifts one’s sense of self-identity over time and how body modification practitioners often walk a fine line between health and illness through their journeys with flesh.

A recipient of the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada’s prestigious 2004 Aurora Award, Atkinson has conducted research, and taught courses on the sociology of sport, bodies, deviance and research methods, at Memorial University in Newfoundland, McMaster University and the University of Western Ontario. He is the associate editor of Deviant Behaviour Journal and author of Tattooed: The Sociogenesis of a Body Art (University of Toronto Press, 2003).

Gail McVey, a health systems research scientist in the Community Health Systems Resource Group at the Hospital for Sick Children, will present the second talk of the series, titled "Promoting Positive Body Image and Healthy Eating in a Diet-Crazy World: Findings From School- and University-based Prevention Programs". McVey’s talk takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 7pm in the Harry Crowe Room, 109 Atkinson Building.

Left: Gail McVey

Director of the Ontario Community Outreach Program for Eating Disorders at the Toronto General Hospital, McVey will provide an overview of the factors that influence development of body image concerns and eating-related problems. She will discuss strategies designed to help improve body satisfaction and prevent disordered eating. McVey will also present updated research findings concerning school- and university-based interventions designed to prevent disordered eating.

McVey is a professor of public health sciences at the University of Toronto, a scientist in population health sciences in the Research Institute at the Hospital for Sick Children and an affiliate scientist in Behavioural Sciences & Health Division at Toronto General Hospital. She currently holds a five-year career award funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Ontario Women’s Health Council to study a sequential model of health promotion, selective prevention and early intervention of disordered eating among female youth.

McVey is also the recipient of the Ontario Mental Health Foundation’s Paul Christie Memorial Prize in recognition for outstanding research in the field of mental health research. She has published studies on her longitudinal research conducted on school-based prevention programs designed to promote healthy eating, active living and positive body image with students in Grades 6, 7 and 8.

Her current study, funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, involves the evaluation of a Web-based training and curriculum program designed to disseminate best practices to teachers and public health professionals in the promotion of healthy eating, active living and self-acceptance for Grades 4, 5 and 6. McVey is co-author of the Every BODY is a Somebody prevention manual.

The awareness week events continue on Wednesday, Feb. 6, from 10am to 2pm, when York’s peer health educators will be in Central Square, Keele campus, to learn more about body image.

York student programmers, who live in residence or are part of a club or organization, can run their own mini-awareness night on Thursday, Feb. 7, by contacting Health Education & Promotion. Health Education & Promotion will provide the movie, tips for talking about eating disorders, discussion questions and popcorn.

Fearless Friday is the theme for Feb. 8. It’s touted as a day to give up the diets and the negative body image and to celebrate people’s natural sizes. York’s peer health educators will distribute prizes around the Keele campus.

All of the events are free. For more information, contact Janis Ellis-Claypool at