Body positive group wants to start a ‘REbeLution’ at AU
REbeL aims to educate students about body image, eating disorders
Sitting at her desk in Centennial Hall in the fall of 2016, then-freshman Serena Nangia posted in the Class of 2020 Facebook group to ask her classmates if they would be interested in bringing a body-positive club to AU.
A year later, Nangia’s group, REbeL at American University, is a growing influence on campus that aims to improve body image among students.
“It’s more than a club, it’s a movement,” Nangia said.
REbeL is a student-run, peer education organization run in high schools and middle schools throughout the Midwest. Its chapters aim to start a “REbeLution,” which Nangia described as going against society’s standards of what beauty and health are.
Nangia became involved in the organization during her junior year at Blue Valley High School in Stilwell, Kansas. She said REbeL helped her gain a sense of confidence she didn’t have before. Nangia is the first to establish a collegiate chapter of the organization.
“There was nothing like it at AU,” Nangia said. “We went through the long list of existing clubs at school and didn’t see any that resembled REbeL’s mission. I know a couple of my friends at other schools said they have different groups with the same concept, but AU didn’t have that.”
Nangia’s involvement and leadership in the group is influenced by her goal to educate herself and students alike about body-image related disorders, including eating disorders and body dysmorphia. She emphasized that there is always more to learn.
“I want to play a role in breaking society’s unrealistic expectations about what beauty looks like,” Nangia said.
Sophomore Makenzie Quirós, who serves as REbeL’s co-founder and director of membership, said the group serves an important purpose at AU.
“REbeL is essential in an environment like AU because of the high-stress and competitive campus atmosphere here,” Quirós said. “Everyone is constantly comparing themselves to one another.”
Quirós said the most challenging part of starting the club was finding a faculty sponsor. After rounds of emailing potential faculty advisors, professor Jody Gan, an instructor in the Health Studies department, agreed to sponsor the group.
Gan was initially drawn into the idea of the club because of her involvement in community health at AU. As a professor in the Health Studies department, she sees value in investing time into health initiatives on campus.
“I admired Serena’s dedication to starting the club and passion for the body-positivity movement,” Gan said.
Nangia said she hopes REbeL can offer all students a safe space to talk about their feelings on health and body image. Meetings occur twice a month, rotating between Wednesdays and Thursdays. Each meeting is focused around a related topic such as body-positivity in the media and food-consciousness.
“REbeL has allowed me to learn from my peers who have experienced eating disorders firsthand,” Quirós said.
Quirós said that the meetings offer a variety of perspectives because of the different things members are involved in. Every student has knowledge they can contribute to the meetings, she said.
Perceptions of health aren’t the same for everyone, Quirós said. For example, a student athlete may hold a different definition of “being healthy” than a person whose day is consumed with internships and jobs.
This semester, REbeL has focused on community outreach, hoping to gain a wider audience on campus through events like a body-positive photoshoot and an open mic about body positivity in The Bridge Cafe. Nangia and Quiros hope to expand the influence of REbeL by collaborating with other groups and communities across campus such as the Panhellenic Council.
Nangia’s main goal this year is to forge a strong foundation the executive members can build upon in years to come.
“As an executive board, we see so much potential for the club to reach and inspire the entire student body,” Nangia said. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to help someone.”