Spring 2014

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Photo by Brennan Anderson (WCAS13, GJ14)

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Watch Renee Englen's October 2013 TEDx talk, "An Epidemic of Beauty Sickness."

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Renee Engeln studies beauty sickness and body image.

Renee Engeln knows what’s going on inside the heads of today’s Northwestern students. The popular psychology senior lecturer — she’s been chosen twice by student vote to deliver the “Last Lecture” during Senior Week — lives among students as faculty-in-residence at Allison Residential Community with her large, lovable German shepherd, Quant. On the research side, Engeln’s Body and Media Lab explores body image and beauty sickness, issues that hit home with college age students.

What’s the focus of the Body and Media Lab?

We’re trying to convince women to reallocate some of their cognitive resources — to just think about their appearance less. We’re also working on ways to get women to think about their bodies as things that are capable and powerful and strong, instead of as things that are passive and for others to look at.

Why is this issue so important to you?

There are big battles to be fought for this world, and these bright young college students can fight those battles, but we’re losing women when so many of their psychological resources are drawn out by worrying about how they look. It’s not fair that women live in a world where we expect them to be just as accomplished as men in every way, but then we also expect them to spend significantly more time and energy and money on how they look.

What’s it like to live among the students in Allison?

It’s 95 percent fun. I host a lot of events in my apartment. Living there is also a reminder of how hard Northwestern students work. I think it’s easy as a professor to forget that. But I see them studying in the lobby at 2 in the morning. So I have a real sense of what’s important to them.