Panelists in discussion

The BUS 458 project that turned into a 120-person event to promote body positivity 

By Christina Arthur

On a cool winter night in January, a crowd of mostly female Cal Poly students gathered in a room filled with balloons, goodie bags, and rows of chairs. They sat facing a panel of influencers and experts, who revealed emotional testimonies and offered meaningful advice regarding eating disorders and other mental health issues. There were laughs, smiles, serious faces, and a few tears shed. People listened to one another, exchanged stories and experiences, and became unified through these powerful and thought-provoking conversations. 

#NOFILTER began as a group project for professor Lynn Metcalf’s Business 458 course and transformed into an event at the MindBody headquarters in San Luis Obispo. Organized by business entrepreneurship juniors Sophia Shapiro, Stephanie Still, Sarah Holland, and communication studies senior Crystal Stock, the idea was born during the fall quarter of 2019, when the four students were brought together for an assigned group project titled “Solving Big World Challenges.” The course’s objective was to tackle social challenges using innovation and entrepreneurship, and the theme was student wellbeing. 

As Shapiro explained, her inspiration came from a similar event she attended in 2018 in San Francisco called Real Talk. “I was at a point where I was in recovery from my own eating disorder,” she said. “And going to that event was a huge step for me because I felt very uncomfortable about the fact that I had an eating disorder and people were in a room talking about it. Then with this assignment, I feel like we just wanted to make something actually happen, because we all felt so passionate about the subject and we’ve all experienced some sort of body image issues ourselves. Cal Poly has one of the highest eating disorder population rates of all the CSU systems. So we thought that if a lot of girls have struggled with it, then why aren’t we addressing it more?”

After assembling a lineup of panelists, including social media influencer Ali Bonar, licensed marriage and family therapist Leslie Barber, and registered dietician Libby Parker, the team organized a space for the event at MindBody and secured funding from the Orfalea College of Business. The culmination of their efforts came after months of event planning, evident in rows of chairs filled by roughly 120 attendees—most of whom were Cal Poly students—and a selection of speakers uniquely situated to share their personal stories, experiences, insights, and advice about body-consciousness and mental health issues specific to eating disorders. 

“For them, it wasn’t just a class project. It was an idea that they wanted to turn into something real.”

Professor Lynn Metcalf

Shapiro, who joined the panelists on stage, shared that she always felt alone in facing similar issues, but has since opened up about them on social media, receiving countless messages from women thanking her for sharing her story. “They told me that I helped them move in the right direction,” she said. “There’s a whole group of women that are struggling with something like this, or they know people who are. The fact that we’re talking about it in general is a huge step.”

Professor Lynn Metcalf, the instructor of the course, echoed that sentiment. She also added the commitment displayed by the four team members was something that stood out to her. “For them, it wasn’t just a class project,” she said. “It was an idea that they wanted to turn into something real.”

The student organizers chose the name #NOFILTER because it represents how some people, especially on social media, tend to display a facade and only show an idealized version of reality. “We wanted the conversation to just be super real and super raw,” Still said of the brainstorming process with her teammates. “I feel like nothing can get done if we keep trying to cover up our struggles.”

Shapiro added that what truly made this event happen was the teamwork that developed between her and her fellow students, and their shared sense of purpose, traits that can be translated to any entrepreneurial or startup scenario. Stock agreed that working with the team was her favorite part about the experience since it reminded her how she isn’t the only one who has dealt with some type of insecurity or mental health struggle. “It’s nice to see that now we get to work to influence other girls here at Cal Poly,” she said. 

Attendee and history senior Mckenzie Leeds underlined how the evening left her and others feeling empowered. I’m super active in mental health awareness, so it was really cool to see such a big turnout,” she said. “This event showed that whether you’re going through depression or an eating disorder, you have the power to go through recovery and make it.”