UGA CHAARG

Savannah Willbanks was tired of seeing the effects Instagram selfies and crash diets were having on women's self-confidence.

Noticing the strong focus on body image, and the dangers that came with some women trying to have the perfect body, Willbanks began looking for a way to make fitness fun while also boosting self-image. In her search for a way to accomplish both, Willbanks found CHAARG, a national organization dedicated to helping college women get fit.

“We really want to focus on not just falling in love with fitness, but falling in love with yourself,” said Willbanks, a junior health promotions major who established a local branch of the organization at the University of Georgia.

Willbanks said the UGA CHAARG chapter is focused on helping college girls “find their fit.” Instead of viewing working out as a type of punishment, she said they want to promote it as a way to find happiness.

“We want you to go for a run because you’re like ‘Oh it makes me feel strong, look what my body can do,’” she said.

But those in the organization do not run alone. Instead, Willbanks said CHAARG is built around a community of friends and encouragers, an aspect that initially drew her to the organization.

CHAARG was founded at Oklahoma State University by Elisabeth Tavierne, a former OSU Buckeyes swimmer. Dedicated to “[liberating] girls from the elliptical,” according to the CHAARG website, the fitness organization was started as a community of women trying to help their friends find work outs that worked best for them.

Willbanks first found out about CHAARG from friends she went to high school with in Maryland. After hearing about their involvement with CHAARG, she became a virtual member — a member without a chapter at her university.

“I was a virtual member last year. After seeing all the amazing stuff that happened, like connecting with people over my phone and computer, I was like ‘Can you imagine what this would be like if we actually brought it to UGA?’,” she said.

In order to more easily integrate workout into its members' daily lives, as well as promote the community aspect of the organization, social media plays a large part in the CHAARG community. Each member is encouraged to make their own unique CHAARG Instagram where they can share workout updates and receive encouragements from other members.

“People that you have never even met before will comment [on Instagram], like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re amazing. You’re killing it,’" Willbanks said. "Just the most positive, encouraging environment that you could ever imagine."

With dreams of bringing that community to UGA, Willbanks set out to get approval to extend CHAARG to UGA. When the university was accepted as a chapter, Willbanks turned to her friends for help for staffing.

Ally Hoskins, a health promotions major and junior from Alpharetta, was quick to join Willbanks' organization. As Willbanks' roommate for two years and close friend, Hoskins said she was eager to see the organization thrive at UGA.

“One day we were sitting in our room and Sav was telling me all about it. It’s literally everything that I want to instill in girls: body positivity, making working out fun,” she said.

Hoskins was quick to jump onboard.

“When she was describing it to me we were like ‘Yeah, let’s bring it to UGA, let’s do this,'" she said.

Hoskins, the vice president of media for UGA CHAARG, and Willbanks both said they find body positivity is a huge hurdle women face in their daily lives, and was something that has affected both of them personally.

Willbanks said she was active in high school, but fell out of that routine in college. Used to having teammates, she found it difficult to motivate herself.

For Hoskins, tackling the issue was a long time coming.

“Body positivity is something I have struggled with my entire life, but have finally made peace with,” Hoskins said. “Health is not about strict dieting or losing that ten pounds. I think in college, college-aged girls especially, it’s a time where we’re struggling with body image and comparing ourselves to others."

While CHAARG offers a more physical way to overcome issues with body positivity, it is not the only campus organization trying to fight it. The Body Project is a student organization run through the University Health Center that “aims to help students feel better about their bodies,” said UHC staff member Kelly Truesdell in an email.

Truesdell also spoke of the dangers a negative body image can have on an individual.

“Body image can impact physical health, mental health and overall quality of life,” she said.

A poor body image, according to Truesdell’s email, can lead to seriously dangerous habits.

“Some individuals may even turn to extreme measure to change their appearance that is neither healthy nor realistic,” she said.

With pressure placed on people by society and the media, as often pointed out in studies and talking points from official organizations such as the National Eating Disorder Association, women may often cling on to images that may not necessarily be truthful or healthy. Overcoming this stigma is exactly what Willbanks, Hoskins and the CHAARG team are trying to stop.

“[College] is a time you can make your health and your fitness your own. We want to do it in a healthy way, not in a fad diet way," Willbanks said. "This is a life-long health and fit we want to instill in girls, so that they can take it with them the rest of their lives.”

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