Wellness Forum Encourages Women To Make Health A Priority

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It was a day full of education, activities and refreshing ideas for women of all ages in the community -- it was the annual Women's Wellness Forum.

The theme of the forum, in its sixth year, held at Payson High School, was "Let's promise to keep wellness a priority."

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Penny Navis-Schmidt opened the Women's Wellness Forum with an early morning Qigong class. The practice, often called Chinese Yoga, combines deep breathing with slow, flowing movement and has several benefits.

Judy Baker, director of the Mogollon Health Alliance, one of the founding sponsors of the event, along with Payson Regional Medical Center, RTA Hospice and APS, said 150 women chose to spend their Saturday learning about health and wellness.

"All the speakers were volunteers and many of them were local," Baker said. "We are so grateful to everybody who gave their time and energy for this great event."

Approximately 60 women arrived at 7 a.m. to begin their day with a Qigong class taught by local counselor, Penny Navis-Schmidt.

Schmidt teaches this exercise, often referred to as Chinese Yoga. Qigong consists of 18 different movements done slowly with proper breathing. According to Navis-Schmidt, the practice can help with stress relief, balance, circulation and increased vitality.

Keynote speaker, Lynda Bergsma, Ph.D., encouraged the audience to think critically when it comes to how the media depicts women.

Bergsma, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, is a nationally-known advocate of media literacy.

Women's health in a media culture was the theme of her presentation.

"Media literacy is a skill that helps us think more carefully about the images we see," Bergsma said.

Bergsma cited research that shows that the brain processes images differently than words.

"Images are quickly processed by the part of the brain that is responsible for emotion, instinct and impulse," Bergsma said. "Becoming media literate helps us change our response to the images that surround us constantly."

Portrayals of women in advertisement, Bergsma said, are completely unrealistic and, as a result, make women feel inadequate.

"The average height and weight of a model is 5 feet, 11 inches and 110 pounds -- the average woman is 5 feet, 4 inches and weighs 145 pounds," Bergsma said. "The subtext of many advertisements is that you are not OK the way you are. That's how they sell products. When we buy those products, we feel better, temporarily and when we find that it doesn't work, we try another product."

The key to media literacy, Bergsma said, is to look at an image and see that it is a distortion of reality intended to sell something. Making the viewer feel inadequate creates a consumer.

"We also have the power to change things," Bergsma said. "You can choose not to buy something if the advertising is offensive."

Bergsma referred to a website called "aboutface.org" where consumers can voice complaints about advertisements.

A group of outraged consumers posted a letter on the website about an ad that portrayed a young female in a sexually provocative manner.

As a result, the company pulled the ad.

"We are surrounded by media images," Bergsma said. "Watch what you're watching!"

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