Student panelists break down body image and perfectionism at BYUSA PEN Talks event

Lauren Barnes, far left, moderates a panel on body image and perfectionism featuring, from left to right, Raegan Nelson, Caleb Lundbert, Sarah Knowlton, Marcus Hunt, Jenny Goldsberry and Madi Wickham. (Whitney Bigelow)

Six BYU students from diverse backgrounds shared their unique perspectives on body image and perfectionism at Wednesday night’s PEN Talks event. 

The panel, hosted by BYUSA, was held in the Wilkinson Student Center’s Varsity Theater and was open to the public. Audience members submitted questions to the panelists anonymously via a QR code on the screen.

The moderator for the event was Lauren Barnes, a BYU family life professor and clinical director for marriage and family therapy. 

Raegan Nelson, a dance education major from Elko, Nevada, started off the panel by sharing her struggles with body image and comparing herself to her peers in the dance program. She shared how her husband’s support has helped her accept and love herself. 

“Someone will be attracted to you for who you are,” Nelson said. “Don’t think you need to fit a cookie cutter that’s not you.”

Panelist Caleb Lundbert grew up in an Asian-American home where he said he experienced high expectations for perfection. When he was put on academic probation after his freshman year at BYU, he had to learn to define success differently. 

Jenny Goldsberry speaks during PEN Talks panel on Jan. 22. (Whitney Bigelow)

“Confidence doesn’t come from achievements,” Lundbert said. “Even though I may not be able to do all the things I want to do, it’s about doing the simple everyday things and trying harder to be a better me.”

BYU freshman Sarah Knowlton has a particularly unique experience with body image and weight loss. Her senior year of high school she underwent a duodenal switch surgery, which caused her to lose 150 pounds — about half of her body weight. 

Knowlton talked about the intense changes her body has gone through, from being “the fattest one in high school” to an average-sized freshman. At first, she was reluctant to tell anyone at BYU that she had lost any weight at all, but now she is determined to reduce the stigma related to these types of weight-loss surgeries because of the way she says it has blessed and altered the course of her life.

“Your body doesn’t need to define you,” Knowlton said. “Even with all these changes my body has gone through, I’m still the same person even though I might not look the same.”

Marcus Hunt, a history major from Las Vegas, is a functional strength coach and works with people to improve their overall health. 

When asked how to balance loving one’s body with trying to implement a healthier lifestyle, Hunt said, “Our bodies are instruments, not ornaments. It doesn’t matter what it says on the scale as long as we’re trying to pursue better health.”

Marcus Hunt, second from right, speaks during PEN Talks panel on Jan. 22. (Whitney Bigelow)

Hunt encouraged audience members not only to exercise and eat healthy foods but also to focus on improving spiritual, emotional and mental health. 

In her opening statement, Jenny Goldsberry told the audience, “I am obese.” Though she only wears a size 8 or 10, the fat distribution in Goldsberry’s body meets the requirements for obesity. She talked about coming to love and accept her body shape and size, as well as her Latina features and heritage. 

The audience laughed as Goldsberry recounted a experience in junior high school when she finally decided to stop straightening her naturally curly hair every day. She said embracing her natural hair initially made her self-conscious but that she was flattered when people started telling her she looked like her mom.

“I thought my mom was beautiful,” Goldsberry said.

She especially focused on the influence that social media and culture can have on the way we perceive ourselves. 

“If I were left alone, I would love the way that I look,” Goldsberry said. “Doubt the rubric before you doubt how you’re graded against that rubric.”

The final panelist was Madi Wickham, a junior public relations major from San Diego, Ca. Wickham was sexually assaulted as a freshman on her first date at BYU. Throughout the evening, she talked about her healing process and how she has relearned how to love herself and her body.

Wickham said everyone has baggage and hard things they have gone through, so it is important to be kind and accepting to everyone.

“It doesn’t matter the size of the suitcase,” Wickham said. “It’s whether or not you’re able to pack the clothes inside nicely — how you’ve moved forward from your baggage. Everyone is carrying a load, so love everyone and look for those neatly packed bags.”

As she moderated, Barnes reminded students that they can receive free counseling and therapy services from CAPS and the BYU Comprehensive Clinic. She encouraged struggling students to seek help. 

Lauren Barnes moderates PEN Talks panel on Jan. 22. (Whitney Bigelow)

PEN Talks Executive Director Spencer Wood closed the event by reminding the audience of the panel’s purpose. 

“This PEN Talks event isn’t going to be the change that BYU needs,” Wood said. “It’s everyone that attends going out and doing their best to be more aware and more accepting.”

The next PEN Talks event is scheduled for Feb. 12 and will focus on international students.

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