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Love Your Body Week Event at Wooly Minded

by Cecilia Morales and Alexa Salvato

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Jean Gray (right), owner of Wooly Minded, demonstrates purling, a type of knitting stitch / Image by Alexa Salvato

According to DoSomething.org, about 91 percent of women are unsatisfied with their bodies and will choose to diet in order to change them. For many, dieting can progress to a pathological behavior or even an eating disorder, the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, cites the National Institute of Mental Health. Many people, especially women, encounter a barrage of obsessive and negative thoughts about their bodies each day. But one small event at Wooly Minded in Corning, New York is doing its small part to change that.

https://youtu.be/IFL6TY55rZI

A small group of women gathered on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at Wooly Minded, an independent yarn and knitting shop on Market Street in Corning to learn how to knit as a part of the Love Your Body Week 2016 event series organized by Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes (PPSFL). Started by the National Organization for Women in 1998, Love Your Body Week calls attention to the impact of harmful media on self esteem.

Sarah Blagg, community affairs coordinator of Planned Parenthood’s local Sexual Assault Resource Center, organized the events for this year’s Love Your Body Week in the the Finger Lakes regions. The events included two free yoga classes as well as the knitting workshop.

Blagg said she chose to include a knitting workshop because of knitting’s connection with mindfulness.

“There is a lot of science behind the mindfulness of doing things with your hands, especially repetitive motions like knitting, so I thought that was really good mental health-wise,” she said. “But also you are knitting and using your hand and that can take some coordination to get used to.”

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Just some of the enormous yarn selection at Wooly Minded / Image by Alexa Salvato

Lauren West, another Planned Parenthood employee, and Ally Payne attended the event. Payne said the event appealed to her as a “fun girls’ night,” and believes groups of women socializing can be a great way to counteract body negativity.

“You get all these girls together and they give each other the confidence and they form these friendships and it just ends up building positive relationships,” she said while working on her newfound knitting skill of purling.

Having few attendees allowed for close conversation as well as more individual help from Jean Gray, the owner of Wooly Minded and the workshop instructor. Blagg said Gray is a longtime supporter of the local Planned Parenthood chapter.

“It can sort of take you out of some of the other thoughts you might be having that might not be so positive,” Gray said.

Blagg agreed. ““I think in a way not thinking about your body is kind of healthy, because then you take a break from feeling oppressed by it.”

Jane E. Brody, a member of the Craft Yarn Council, wrote about these benefits for The New York Times in January 2016. Knitting, she cites, “can induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation and yoga. Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” Even these minor measured physical activities can have an effect on the much broader functions of one’s body.

But unlike meditation,” Brody continues in her piece, “craft activities result in tangible and often useful products that can enhance self-esteem.”

Increased self-esteem can have an even more direct impact on body confidence. A 2015 study published in European Psychiatry discovered a closed correlation between self-esteem and body image: “Major differences between the perceived and ideal body images predicted lower level of self-esteem,” the authors found.

At a time where issues of self-esteem and body image are becoming increasingly prevalent in the media, PPSFL’s decision to remain active in Love Your Body Week keeps the organization relevant on the eve of their one-hundredth anniversary on Oct. 16, 2016.

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Ally Payne works on her first project, a “java jacket,” which is a sleeve for a coffee mug / Image by Alexa Salvato

“Love Your Body week is a good fit for Planned Parenthood,” Blagg said. “The obvious part would be that we’re a healthcare facility. We focus on the body.”

This connects to the organization’s broader mission as well: “I think the more subtle fits are the fact that we do link body image to self-esteem which is linked to making sexually healthy decisions as well, so it’s a big part of the education and the outreach that we do,” she noted. 

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