Harnessing The Healing Power of Stories

 

Health Story Collaborative Blog

Harnessing the healing power of stories...

Love Your Body Week at Boston College: Embodied Stories

By Chris Kabacinski

 

Each fall at Boston College, the Women’s Center hosts Love Your Body Week (LYBW), “a week of programming dedicated to promoting healthy body image on campus.” The Women’s Center, in collaboration with other organizations, aims to give students space to reflect on their relationships with their bodies. Inclusivity is a key feature of this week, as many of the events of consider how body image intersects with race, gender, sexuality, ability, and class. This year events ranged from lectures on body image and the media and panel discussions on colorism, to a performance of Eve Ensler’s Good Body andEmbodied Expression, a therapeutic painting session.

 

The week kicked off on Monday, November 9 with the opening reception for Embodied Stories, a photography exhibit by Ben Flythe, a student photographer. Flythe photographed students and their bodily identifiers—tattoos, scars, burns, skin color, and birthmarks, for example. Accompanying the portraits were quotations from interviews with the students, who discussed what their bodies mean to them. Although the portraits highlight the specificities of each body, the students never become just bodies: their identities shine through; the photographs celebrate the dynamic and complex ways identities align with body image. In his gallery talk, Flythe emphasized the diversity of the stories he captured. These individual stories, he noted, speak to our own stories of embodiment. We each have an embodied story, and putting our own stories into dialogue with the stories of others—those portraits, for instance—is to understand that we are all connected.

 

This year I was fortunate enough to have a small hand in LYBW, as I helped to bring two student speakers to the opening reception. Leading up to the event, Marwa Eltahir—a Women’s Center staffer and co-coordinator of LYBW—and I sat down with Erin Sutton and Justin Kresevic and heard their stories; we were struck by how their stories spoke to the goals of LYBW and the complexity of body image. My work with Health Story Collaborative prepared me well for this task, and I adapted the Healing Story Session guidelines and questions for the purposes of the event. What’s more important, however, is that Health Story Collaborative taught me how to listen, to be present as someone shares their story, to accompany them. What mattered most was letting them tell their stories that needed to be told.

 

At the reception to Embodied Stories, Erin told her story of living with bulimia and her difficult, continuing journey to recovery. She spoke to the difficulty of coming to love her body at Boston College, where body image and appearance issues so often go unnoticed, unsaid. She expressed her gratitude to the people who have supported her, and spoke to the daily challenges she faces in coming to love her own body. Justin spoke to the difficulty of being short, when masculinity is associated with being tall and muscular. This dissonance has affected his personal relationships, and he works everyday to accept his own body. Justin emphasized the need to work against the problematic ideals of men’s body images: masculinity is as individual as each of our bodies.

 

Erin and Justin challenged all of us in attendance to understand truly what Love Your Body Week means. Loving one’s body isn’t something to be taken for granted, to be considered easy. When so many images and ideals of bodily perfection and worth hold up problematic and impossible standards, coming to love one’s body is a challenging and harrowing experience. By sharing their own stories of embodiment and acknowledging their continuing journey towards loving their bodies, Erin and Justin asked us all to consider our own stories.

 

I am so grateful to have been a small part of LYBW and to have heard these stories. Erin’s and Justin’s stories, along with the stories of students photographed by Ben, speak to how important it is to talk about these issues and how valuable it is to enter into meaningful conversation with others. These stories have stayed with me, in my own process of coming to terms with my own body. Sharing stories, at the end of the day, is about building community, starting conversations, and realizing that none of us are alone, that our stories all matter. I look forward to hearing more stories, perhaps telling my own, and continuing the worthwhile conversations around body image happening both at Boston College and beyond campus.

 

Erin ended her talk with a powerful statement about our selves, our bodies, and our stories: We are all worth it.

​Keep Telling #DisabilityStories

By Christopher Kabacinski

 

In the weeks leading up to the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, social media was abuzz with disability stories. The National Museum of American History even organized an international Twitter conversation on #DisabilityStories on July 15, 2015. For the remarkably successful daylong event, people from across the globe engaged in conversations about representations of disability in art and popular culture, the lived experience of disability, and historical accounts and artifacts.

 

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For people with disabilities and disability rights advocates, this anniversary occasions both celebration and reflection. Accessible spaces, biomedical technology, and assistive services have made the world a more habitable place for people with disabilities. At Boston College, where I attend school, student have rallied around the cause of disability, fighting for a campus as accessible as it is beautiful. The Disability Awareness Committee of Boston College has made accessibility a critical issue on campus, documenting the ways in which the built environment and institutional policies at Boston College—for instance, steep pathways marked as wheelchair accessible—disempower them.

 

Disability advocates in Boston marked the anniversary with a celebration in Boston Common.

 

The ADA has been a remarkable success, but we must not forget the work left to do. William Peace, who attended the event, perhaps sums it up best: “[The ADA] has succeeded legally, but socially it has a long way to go.”

 

Securing the civil rights of and equal opportunities for these citizens is, bottom line, an issue of representation. People with disabilities are daily disempowered and isolated by institutions and individuals that pass over, erase, or ignore the realities of disability. It happens when a conference is held in an inaccessible building. It happens when a path is marked as accessible but is, in fact, unnavigable. It happens when a vision resources workstation provides no resources, when the sign for the workstation isn’t even in braille.

 

People with disabilities are often invisible in some parts of everyday life, such as in the workplace. In 2012, only 33.5% of working-age people with disabilities were employed. In the media and popular culture, individuals with disabilities appear less often than able-bodied individuals. When they do appear, their portrayals are often limited.

 

The unflagging stigma and underrepresentation of disability halts the progress of the ADA. If people with disabilities continue to be forgotten or perceived in problematic ways, then the ADA will fail to achieve its ultimate goals of accessibility and inclusion.

 

Stories are the answer to this crisis of representation. Which stories get told and how those stories are circulated determine how disability is understood socially and culturally.

 

We need to move away from disability as burden and the “super-crip” stereotype. While these two overarching narratives seem compassionate or inspiring, they both portray disability as a tragedy, and life with a disability as inferior and unsatisfying.

 

Disability cannot be reduced to a single narrative of pity, overcoming, or empowerment. Disability, as with all lived experience, is complex, multi-faceted, rich, individual. It resists a single story.

 

As a society, we should listen more to the stories of individuals with disabilities. To the stories of their everyday life, of their successes and their struggles, the minutiae and the monumental moments. Disability is an innumerable range of stories—told, retold, to be told.

 

Telling stories of disability is vital to making visible and giving voice to individuals with disabilities. Hearing stories is a way of acknowledging the reality of disability and empowering people with disabilities. By acknowledging similarities, differences, and singularities, we connect ourselves with stories.

 

So let’s keep sharing #DisabilityStories beyond the 25th anniversary of the ADA. The success of the ADA is about more than ramps, web accessibility, or public services. It’s about making everyday life accessible, inclusive, and fulfilling to people with disabilities. It’s about changing our attitudes and assumptions toward disability once and for all. 


 

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