Exeter Embraces are two words I hope are on everyone’s lips by the end of the year. What is Exeter Embraces I hear you say? It is a movement set up by Adelaide-born Erasmus student Harriet Iles. Its aim? Encourage Exeter students (that does include you too, boys) to uphold the values of body diversity, body acceptance, mindfulness, well-being and good mental health.
I spoke with Harriet about why she has set up the movement at the university, and we ended up discussing our ideas and opinions all things body image for an hour. But that is the point of movements like this – to encourage conversation and education about these issues so that we can move forward and be happier for it.
Exeter Embraces is inspired by the work of The Body Image Movement, which you may have seen on your Facebook feed, but it is much bigger in Australia. Started by Taryn Brumfitt posting a controversial before and after photo, she didn’t want her children to grow up with the same issues with Body Image she did. Harriet is both an ambassador for this movement and a fitness/travel blogger with a considerable online presence. So, who better to start an Exeter movement that could benefit student life?
I also asked Harriet why she decided to get involved with The Body Image Movement, and we talked about her blog post named ‘Angelic’, written after going into Victoria’s Secret and an underwear exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In the article, Harriet states that “since our current society is very much driven by the sexualisation of men/women, people are more than ever eager to heighten their physical appearance. Whether it be for that upcoming event, to attract another or just to feel a sense of confidence”. This is perhaps an even more significant issue for students in a university world that for many includes frequent nights out and an encouragement to be sexually active. The Body Image Movement has a saying that is plastered all over their website: “our bodies are not ornaments but vehicles which will transport us to success” – something that I think everyone should stop and think about. As Harriet explains, “it is easy to become preoccupied by how we want to portray ourselves to the world; to become fixated on imagery and how we look”. Hopefully becoming a part of the Exeter Embraces movement is a small step for people to start seeing themselves differently.
our bodies are not ornaments but vehicles which will transport us to success
As someone who is a big fan of the many mental and physical benefits of exercise I was curious to see what Harriet, who is learning to be a personal trainer, had to say on fitness in relation to body image. Something she said that stuck with me was, “Love your body – give it the right nutrition, give it the right exercise, increase your strength, increase your stamina. Do it for your insides, not for your outsides”. Mental health is another of those unavoidable student issues, and Harriet is right about the mental benefits of exercise. I can also vouch for the benefits of focusing on exercises, such as interval and weight training, which increase strength and stamina. Rather than excessively slogging it out on a treadmill for hours, these types of exercise can make you feel stronger physically, and mentally stronger too. Hopefully Exeter Embraces can be a place to encourage people to educate themselves about what their body wants and needs in terms of nutrition, exercise and mental health. A good start to this is checking out Harriet’s blog, but there are plenty of resources online, such as another Adelaide resident Kayla Itsines, on this type of exercise.
Do it for your insides, not for your outsides
If this is something you are interested in then a good start is to like the Facebook page for the movement. If you want to become more involved, Harriet is looking for people to have their photo taken wearing an ‘Embrace’ t-shirt made specifically for The Body Image Movement, then answer a few questions relating to body image, fitness and health. These images will then be posted onto Harriet’s blog, and some of those on the Exeter Embraces Facebook page as well. Several students already have their own fitness stories on the blog and it’s great to see a new forum open for people to speak their views. It’s an issue that many might feel they are going through on their own, but this shows how there are people out there waiting to support you.
Don’t forget to check out the fascinating documentary trailer here!