Love Your Tree (LYT) is a creative arts campaign designed to help students develop positive body image, improved self-esteem and enhanced media literacy skills, all of which can serve as protective factors against the development of eating disorders. Inspired by the work of author and playwright, Eve Ensler, this campaign empowers students of all ages to use art and creativity to challenge harmful appearance ideals and narrow definitions of beauty.
With the 13th annual campaign now behind us, we sat down with Kate Helminiak, a sophomore at Notre Dame Prepatory School to talk about her involvement in LYT and the inspiring poster she created. Her artwork was selected by a panel of health and mental health professionals to be the official poster of the 2019 campaign.
While the Notre Dame Prepatory School art department and school community has been participating in the LYT Campaign for the past 13 years, this was Kate’s first year taking part. Her initial interest began after she attended in a LYT workshop at her school presented by Brianna Garrold, art therapist and LYT facilitator. Kate said that an image of a friend who had struggled with an eating disorder was in her mind during the workshop. After the class viewed examples of LYT student artwork, she remembered her friend’s struggles and how she had worked hard to recover. Kate said this memory, “inspired me to do more” and so, she set out to design a poster based on her friend’s “mindset while she was going through her eating disorder and how she got through it.”
The poster Kate ultimately submitted to the campaign depicted the beauty of what the body and mind can do while incorporating the LYT metaphor of the body as a tree. In the poster, which she made using colored pencils, a young girl is sitting down with legs crossed and her hair growing upward and outward like branches towards the sky. She has a reflective quality about her, almost as though she is meditating with the faintest of smiles that seems to convey peace with oneself. During our interview, Kate described the branches as that of a willow tree. To her, the willow tree itself represents how vast and complex our minds can be. In further describing her poster she explained that “none of the branches are the same,” and that “the vines that come down help to shelter our minds.”
Everyone who participates in the LYT campaign is encouraged to submit an artist statement with their work. Kate, chose the phrase “Like a tree, my body is truly incredible.” When asked why she chose this phrase, she stated that the word incredible was a step up from other words she thought about to describe what our bodies can do each day. She wanted to emphasize how amazing and complex a body can be. Kate also explained how the LYT campaign helped her see how negative body image can affect so many students her age. She says, “It opened my eyes to see how long and far eating disorders and mental disorders stretch and how many people are impacted.” She also highlighted how fortunate she and her classmates were to have the opportunity to talk openly about mental health and how helpful it can be to use art to communicate about complex topics like body image.
At the end of each year’s LYT campaign, a special reception is held where students, teachers and families get to see all of the students’ artwork on display. The community exhibit celebrates the diversity of beauty and empowers viewers to embrace and appreciate all bodies while rejecting damaging media messages. When asked about the exhibit Kate stated that her favorite part was seeing and talking to the different students who participated. She said she loved seeing the connection between each student and their art. “It was really interesting to see which student did which poster and how their poster connected to the message they wrote.” This was a common sentiment from the crowd of over 200 who also attended that day.
As our discussion came to a close, Kate expressed gratitude that her poster was selected among more than 300 posters to receive the top award in 2019. She hopes to have more opportunities to advocate for positive body image among her fellow teens in the years ahead.
Written by Julie Seechuk, BSW
Social Work & Community Outreach Intern
Julie is currently pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Salisbury University online with an intent to graduate May of 2020. Julie received her Bachelor’s Degree from Salisbury University in 2015 with a double major in Psychology and Social Work. In addition to pursuing her Masters and interning at The Center for Eating Disorders, Julie also works part-time as a Community Relations Coordinator for a Pediatric Oncology Nonprofit called The Cool Kids Campaign located in Towson, Maryland. During the 2018-2019 school year Julie assisted with resource development, event coordination, social media and website maintenance, community outreach to schools, and The Center’s free weekly support group.