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Artist challenges body image views

Students walking by Von Canon A Monday may have done a double-take upon noticing Larry Kirkwood's display of 22 body casts, created to encourage viewers to reflect on issues of body image, racism, sexism and ageism.

Kirkwood gave two presentations Monday on how the casts shed light on problems of the beauty industry and the influence of corporate America on consumers. The exhibit has been displayed at over 60 academic institutions across the country.

The presentations included an extensive examination of reality as it pertains to self-image, and how reality is defined by individuals and society. "If the image is right, reality doesn't matter and image becomes reality," Kirkwood told an audience of students and community members. "Our culture is obsessed with appearances."

Kirkwood's models ranged from a wide spectrum of height and weight, and he has completed 344 body casts to date. Kirkwood casts the individual while nude and then paints the cast and displays it from mid-thigh to neck. He does not show the faces to preserve the subject's sense of anonymity and to discourage viewers from seeing individual models as opposed to the body itself. In this way, Kirkwood hopes to show the similarity of individuals despite differences in race, gender, age and sexuality.

"I feel there are more similarities than there are differences [between the sexes]," he said. He added that categorizing people can lead to dehumanization, citing job discrimination as an example. "Lack of equal opportunity is not a woman's problem, [it is] not a minority's problem, it is a human problem," he said.

Kirkwood also spoke strongly about the effects of advertising on body image, especially female body image. "Men wear a size of clothing, a woman is a size of clothing," he said.

Lauren Vincent, a Durham resident, said she thought the presentation expanded audience awareness of problems with body image. "Most of us realize that there are different social aspects of body image, but [he] opened my eyes to the level of the problem," she said.

First-year clinical psychology graduate student Stephanie Best agreed. "Something like this that sends the message that we all come in all shapes and sizes and that all shapes and sizes are beautiful is so important. There's not enough of that out there."

There was also a board in Von Canon A where individuals could post their reaction to the prompt "If my body could talk...." Responses ran from "Don't make me look fat, exercise!" to "Why me?"

Organizers were disappointed in the turnout, although those in attendance generally found the presentation enriching.

"I was surprised there were not more people," Best said. "There's probably a lot of people on campus, particularly young women, who could benefit from hearing that sort of message."

The event was sponsored by the Eating and Body Image Control Network, comprised of the Women's Center, Counseling and Psychological Services, Educational Support To Eliminate Eating Misconceptions, Duke Student Health Service and Panhellenic Council.

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