Health Hero: Morehouse Students Reclaim the Black Body

Newspaper editors from Morehouse create a Body Issue to address self-esteem, sexuality and past abuse. 

Posted: 11/07/2013 02:53 PM EST

While ESPN’s annual Body Issue is always eye candy, The Maroon Tiger, Morehouse College’s student newspaper’s version will elevate your mind and help you view your own body differently.

The HBCU’s Body Issue, which was published last week, features 30 students from Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta posing nude and opening up about a range of issues, including overcoming past sexual abuse, depression, body image issues and addiction. Most important, by showing a range of physiques from men and women (straight and gay), this issue highlights the need for Black Americans to reclaim and celebrate their bodies.

BET.com sat down with managing editor Jared Loggins, 21, and editor-in-chief Daren Martin, 20, who both posed for the edition. The two talk about the importance of academic spaces to talk about Black sexuality, getting students to take their clothes off for the camera and the power in telling your own story.

What prompted the newspaper to do this type of project?

Loggins: So many students struggle with their own bodies and we just thought that it would be a great idea to do an edition about the bodies that we have instead of the ones that we want.

Martin: Also, we wanted to show the link between the mind and the body. Many of us try to dissociate this idea of mental health and how past experiences [have affected] their bodies. For example, one of the students talked about past sexual abuse and how that played a role in their weight. Think about it: It’s hard to take ownership of your body when someone else took something from you.

For us, this issue is about addressing those connections from a holistic point of view.  

Was it hard to find students to pose naked?

Martin: We set up a website to gauge people’s interest and 70 students replied. Through our site, we answered a lot of questions and concerns that people had. From there, we had a meeting where we talked even further about what we were trying to accomplish and linking our own personal stories to this work. After that meeting, we had about 30 people left.

What has the response been so far?

Loggins: Overall pretty positive. We’ve gotten a lot of support from students and even Morehouse College officially embraced our issue. And that’s important because conservative institutions can no longer ignore progressive students. We need for academic spaces to speak about Black bodies and sexuality.

Yes, there has been some criticism: “Why are we naked?” or it’s “gay.” But I think this apprehension really sums up our own shame with our bodies and why this issue is so necessary.

When it comes to the history of our Black bodies, we have always been exposed and sold through slavery and now through media images. Why is it important for African-Americans to reclaim our bodies?

Loggins: Like I said before, our bodies have been shamed, but they have also been subjected. For example, in the 19th century, Sarah Baartman, an African woman, was paraded around and people paid money to stare at her body, especially her behind. And it’s this history of our bodies being devalued that still affects us today.

So reclaiming our bodies is revolutionary. Part of that process means we have to start having really difficult and provocative conversations if we want to move forward. We hope that our Body Issue will help start that conversation.

Any advice for our readers who may be dealing with body image issues?

Martin: Be open with yourself to understand your flaws and accept that no one is perfect. And if you want to change them, do that for yourself, not for anyone else.

Read the full digital version of the Maroon Tiger’s digital edition here.

BET Health News — We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

(Photo: Courtesy of Morehouse's Maroon Tiger Magazine)

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