Krisha Gelli immediately turned to her five friends at Lambert High School when they received a group assignment to come up with a mental health issue to research.
Anxiety and school stress were top of mind as testing season ramps up. But Gelli and her friends decided to go in a different direction to research an issue they felt most all girls struggle with but no one talks about — body image.
“Even though it started as a HOSA assignment, it really became a passion project for all of us,” Gelli said. “While researching, we all found something we could relate to.”
The group of junior girls started True to You, a mental health campaign aimed at advocating for body positivity, connecting peers with positive norms and educating the community on body image issues.
“At our age, with TikTok and Instagram and everything, we see so many people struggling with body image,” Gelli said. “We really wanted to make a campaign that created awareness surrounding it.”
So Gelli, along with Rishitha Muppavarapu, Sai Krithika Belda, Shreya Patel, Hafsa Mir and Mikita Sahgal, dove into the issue, looking not only at how social media and other aspects of teen life can influence a person’s body image, but also how to teach others and give advice.
To do that, the group said they have worked with school counselors and local pediatrician Dr. Moneesha Sahgal, with Creekside Pediatrics in Johns Creek, to come up with accurate and beneficial resources.
They have also relied on The Body Positive, a national organization that aims to help others learn more about body positivity and eating disorders.
The students discuss how to maintain a healthy body image, eating and exercise habits and how to talk more openly about their feelings on what they see when they look in the mirror.
While they are also encouraging other students to seek help from counselors, the group said they felt this campaign was important because it gives kids a chance to hear from people their own age about an issue many don’t feel comfortable discussing.
“Not everyone is so easy to open up to their parents or a teacher — anyone who is an adult — because they feel like they don’t understand what is going on,” Gelli said. “We’re teenagers, we’re on TikTok, we’re on Instagram. We know all of the trends going on surrounding beauty and your body.”
While hosting socials at school and starting a podcast, also called True to You, each of the six friends have found themselves sharing their own experiences with having a negative self-image.
They attribute anxiety and stress to school and social media. They said it was easy for them to fall into a rabbit hole of comparing themselves to others online and jumping on exercise and diet trends.
“We see all these new influencers going viral and they’re all skinny, they’re all pretty and promoting these unrealistic beauty standards that not all of us can achieve,” Gelli said. “That, along with school stress, it just gets to people. It can become a lot.”
A 2022 study of more than 200 women between the ages of 18-30 found that those who viewed “fitspiration” and clean eating content online were significantly more likely to fall into disordered eating or to idealize a “thin” body type.
Internal research conducted by Facebook in 2021 also showed that one in three girls already struggling with body image issues felt worse after using the company’s Instagram app.
Gelli and her friends created an Instagram page for their campaign, @lhs.truetoyou, where they post information on where to find resources for those who need help or who simply want to talk.
“I hope our campaign shows students that it’s OK to be yourself,” Gelli said. “You don’t have to feel pressured to follow a workout routine you see online or dress up and wear makeup fully to school. … For people who feel like they’re not as pretty or as cool as someone else that they see, they don’t have to be that.“Confidence is what matters.”