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English and psychology double major worked with Jamila Bookwala, associate professor of psychology

Women’s insecurities about their appearances drive advertising for everything from makeup to underwear. Women of all ages are obsessed with looking young and beautiful. But perhaps there is a distinction between how women of different generations think about their own bodies.

Jenny Boyar ’08 (Hillsborough N.J.), a double major in English and psychology, has been assisting Jamila Bookwala, associate professor of psychology, in developing a study of how young women and their mothers see their physical selves. The two collaborated through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, where students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend.

This project “examines women’s health issues from an intergenerational perspective, examining similarities and differences in mothers’ and daughters’ health attitudes and beliefs,” Bookwala says.

Boyar gave a poster presentation on the research at the 21st National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in April at Dominican University of California in San Rafael. Approximately 2,200 undergraduates from more than 250 colleges and universities attended the conference.

The study will examine the effects of body image on attitudes toward aging in young women and their mothers. Lafayette students will be surveyed regarding their body image and attitudes about aging. Participants will be given the option of providing their mothers’ contact information so that the older generation can also be surveyed. From those results, Bookwala will develop new survey questions.

“I think this issue is pertinent to most women my age,” Boyar says.

The challenge for Boyar was to design a study that could obtain quantifiable results about body image. “We have this tendency to look at ourselves as an outsider might,” Boyar says. “How do you measure how someone views their body?”

Boyar says that the project has demonstrated for her the scientific aspect of psychology. It has given her the opportunity to develop skills in evaluating material and identifying trends, both of which she believes are useful to her academic work in English and psychology.

Bookwala says that Boyar has taken full advantage of the distinctive learning opportunities this research provides.

“Jenny is one of the most driven, dedicated, and conscientious students I have had the pleasure to work with at Lafayette,” Bookwala says. “Jenny was involved with every aspect of the study design, with most of her efforts invested in reviewing the literature, constructing the questionnaire, collecting data, analyzing and interpreting the data, and presenting the data at NCUR.”

Boyar previously performed independent study research with Paul Cefalu, associate professor of English. She analyzed epilepsy in literature and gained new insights into the representation of the disease in the works of three noted epileptic writers. She presented her research at the 20th annual NCUR and collaborated with the National Epilepsy Foundation of New Jersey on planning efforts for a new museum on the history of the illness.

Boyar is a McKelvy Scholar, a member of the psychology club, and Psi Chi. She also served as assistant editor of The Lafayette and secretary for Hillel Society.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to NCUR each year. Twenty-one students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

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