Proud2Bme Rock Star: Pooja Patel
Over the course of NEDAwareness Week, Proud2Bme is honoring the work of five young activists. Today, Pooja Patel tells us how she brought Proud2Bme On Campus activities to Columbia University, ways that Proud2Bme changed her life and her future plans!
Proud2Bme: Tell us a little about yourself.
Pooja Patel: I am originally from a small town in northern Indiana, but I’m currently a senior studying psychology and biology at Barnard College, Columbia University. I have huge passions for binge watching TV, fashion, neuroscience, and most importantly, mental health. Next year I’ll be attending Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in hopes of attaining a masters in mental health!
Proud2Bme: How did you first hear about Proud2Bme?
Pooja: I first heard about Proud2Bme via NEDA. I started working as an intern during my sophomore year of college and loved the work that I did; the difference that NEDA was making and still makes was so evident in the office. During the latter half of my junior year I started to become increasingly interested in the Proud2Bme messages of body positivity and self-love. I asked around in the office a little and was able to start writing almost immediately!
Proud2Bme: What was your favorite piece to write and why?
Pooja: I loved writing “New Study Reduces the Stigma of Eating Disorders.” The study essentially demonstrated how eating disorders are largely due to habits which are reinforced via several brain circuits. I have a huge passion for science and I have a huge passion for increasing the knowledge and acceptance of mental disorders. I loved writing about this study because although many of us know that no one chooses to have an eating disorder, it is sadly not always common knowledge. The study allowed for more people to understand that, which was especially beautiful and exciting for me to report on.
Proud2Bme: Tell us about the Proud2Bme On Campus activities you’ve hosted on campus. How did students and administrators react?
Pooja: Last semester I started Proud2Bme On Campus Columbia. I was able to hold a tabling event in conjunction with Columbia’s Psychology Society and Public Health Club. At the event we asked people to analyze what their social media presence demonstrated about them. For example, if their Facebook presence showed body positivity or not. We also asked people to write on a white board about what they appreciate about themselves and had them pose for a no-filter selfie! At first it was hard to get people involved, but soon there was a steady flow. Interestingly enough, when asked to tell us something they appreciated about themselves, students often had a difficult time, demonstrating that affirming one’s self isn’t as common as we would think.
Additionally, Proud2Bme Columbia has an Instagram! Follow us @proud2bme_columbia.
Proud2Bme: What are you doing currently (school, job, volunteer work etc.)?
Pooja: I am currently finishing up my senior year, which is terrifying; however, writing for Proud2Bme gives me some consistency, which I love! Additionally, for the last four years I’ve been working on a project in a Columbia neurobiology lab regarding reward cycles and learning in mice, which will soon be under review for publication. I am also a part of Columbia’s South Asian cultural society, which allows me to connect with my roots a little more.
Proud2Bme: What are your future goals/plans?
Pooja: Next year I’ll be attending graduate school at Johns Hopkins to further study mental health. More specifically, I’ll be taking courses on mental health prevention and intervention studies, disease statistics and mental health policy! After my master’s I hope to work for a nonprofit like NEDA and eventually go on to attain a PhD in clinical neuropsychology.
Proud2Bme: How has your involvement with Proud2Bme shaped your way of thinking?
Pooja: I always felt that after high school I had maintained body-positive rhetoric; yet, once I started writing for Proud2Bme, my world was opened up a bit. There were so many issues that I had never thought of and was therefore slightly insensitive about due to my lack of knowledge. Proud2Bme taught me that being body-positive is good, but being body-positive and pushing to understand the others’ perspectives is even better. It taught me to consider body positivity for men, for the LGBTQ community, and for races and ethnicities that are often ignored. It pushes me to be the woman who I wished I had had in my life at the age of 15.
Proud2Bme: What advice do you have for aspiring body image/recovery activists?
Pooja: Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the ultimate goal of a media that does not perpetuate body image issues, or a society that does not, or a world that does not. I get so excited when I think of the work that Proud2Bme and NEDA do. Yet, it is important to remember what you are fighting for, and it is important to remember that you must, like your recovery, take it day by day. Remember to put yourself first in the fight against negative body image, because if you can’t then how is someone else supposed to? Try to be a kickass hero to others, but do be one to yourself as well.
Proud2Bme: Tell us something about you that might surprise us!
Pooja: I’m a huge space nerd! I love watching documentaries about space exploration, physics, dark matter and black holes. Stephen Hawking and Sabrina Pasterski are two of my heroes!
Do you know an activist who is committed to building a nation where confidence rules? Are YOU that person? Nominate a Proud2Bme Rock Star!