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Sheppard Pratt taps students' perspective on body image

"Like a Tree, My Body is…"

With those words, a poster campaign for eating disorders at Sheppard Pratt began six years ago and continues today, providing a creative and informative way to reach out to youth.

"It's unique because it is art-based," said Kate Clemmer, community outreach person for the Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt, of the poster campaign.

"It's a great opportunity to intertwine art and outreach for students, youth, organizations and campuses," she said.

For the annual campaign, which is now open and runs through Dec. 16, each artist includes his or her own interpretation of how "like a tree my body is," Clemmer said.

She said examples of past responses include: "my body is strong," "holds a powerful spirit" and "has roots."

"The concept came from writer Eve Ensler's play called 'Good Body,'" said Julia Andersen, creator of the program. "It's where I got the inspiration."

Sheppard Pratt's Love Your Tree poster campaign is open to middle school, high school and college-age students throughout Maryland.

About 100 posters were submitted last year, Clemmer said, and each one was unique.

"Paint, pen and ink, collages, pastels and even yarn and fabric woven in," Clemmer said of past entries. "They're really creative."

The winning poster is used to help promote body image throughout the year, according to Clemmer.

Eating disorders are a growing issue, Clemmer said, especially in younger populations. While girls are commonly associated with the disorder, more and more males are suffering, too, Clemmer said.

"Our treatment center has various levels of care for kids and families struggling with eating disorders," Clemmer said. "It's less on how you actually look, but how you feel, and the belief you have of what you should look like."

As the winner of the 2010 "Like a Tree" poster contest, Kiley Baker, now a senior at Bel Air High School, called upon her own family and friends for motivation.

"One of my friends and somebody from my family (has an eating disorder)," Baker said. "It was a good thing for me to do. I had somebody in mind."

It took Baker 10 sketches to create the face looking out from the trees with butterflies flying.

"I wanted to draw something that would be very peaceful and beautiful to look at … to give freedom through whatever they were going through," Baker, 17, said. "That's what I was going for."

Andersen hosts workshops throughout the contest, visiting schools or organizations where she talks about the poster's purpose.

"The process of art-making can open up doors to how kids are feeling," Andersen said. "It is why I advocate for this program, and art in general. It is a different way to approach these difficult subjects. "

She stresses that the workshop is not therapy, but a "public education project."

"I have an interactive discussion with them," Andersen said of the workshops. "Our major view is … to promote a healthy body image."

Vernon Fains, an art teacher at Pine Grove Middle School, has encouraged his students to participate in the contest because "it is a nice fit," he said.

"It gives students something to think about," Fains said. "They learn about self-esteem and it takes them out of the classroom for a little bit."

By participating, students also earn service hours because they are promoting something outside the school.

"They really enjoy it," Fains said of students who participate. "It gives them a chance to think about images in the media and how they're not always true. It is a positive way for children to look at themselves."

"We've gotten really good feedback about the program," Clemmer said. "The topic can be overwhelming and scary to approach. It is a real engaging and non-threatening way to explain the issues and come away with a positive image."

"It's a wonderful program," said Melanie Coburn, art teacher at Mercy High School, of the poster campaign. "The fact that they have someone come out and talk about it ...makes it a special program."

Coburn also commented about the reception held in February when the winner is announced.

"The reception is so cool, too," Coburn said. "Part of being an artist is showing your work. All the work is framed and hung up. It's great. It is absolutely a wonderful program."

Posters can be submitted to Sheppard Pratt through Dec. 16. Workshops can be scheduled until that time. For more information, or to schedule a workshop, call 410-427-3886 or email kclemmer@sheppardpratt.org.

Orbach at Sheppard Pratt on Oct. 2 for talk on body image

The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt will host a free event on Sunday, Oct. 2, featuring Susie Orbach, author of the book, "Bodies."

Orbach, a psychoanalyst, co-founded the Women's Therapy Centre in 1976 and the Women's Therapy Centre Institute in New York in 1981. During the event, Orbach will present her talk, "Navigating Our Culture's Body Anxiety and Finding Body Confidence."

She will be available following her presentation for questions and a book signing. The event will be held Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m., at the Conference Center at Sheppard Pratt, 6501 N. Charles St., Towson.

The talk is free, but registration is required. call 410-938-3157 or email rsvp@sheppardpratt.org. For more information, go to http://www.EatingDisorder.org.

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