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Cowichan teacher helps provincial eating disorder campaign

Gillian Berry
Gillian Berry's poster
— image credit:

Helping guide Cowichan’s students through sometimes their toughest years discovering who they are is something Cowichan Secondary, Quamichan Campus school teacher Gillian Berry’s been doing for many years.

And now the teacher/artistic designer’s reaching out to a new level of youth and even adults to motivate and inspire.

Berry’s artistic poster design for an eating disorder campaign was recently selected by the Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness (PEDAW) organization.

“It parallels my work at school, hoping to inspire students both to be and express themselves, in little and big steps,” she said. “So often we hold ourselves back from who we really are, especially in the teen years when we want to fit in for fear of ridicule and being different.

“When students open up and start projects that they love, there is so much growth and passion that comes alive in them. It’s not an easy road, but this is where I want to support, and encourage them, to carry on.”

Berry’s design for the PEDAW poster features a scale as the central image with a twist: instead of pointing to a number, it points to and highlights the word, ‘irrelevant,’ complementing the theme of the poster.

And this isn’t Berry’s first time getting involved with the organization.

Last year, when she worked at Mt. Prevost school, Berry inspired her students to take part in a Flash Mob contest for PEDAW.

And although her school’s entry didn’t win, generating enthusiasm with her students as well as awareness was well worth it.

And that’s exactly what Berry continues to do with her work at the Quamichan Campus as well as with her design business creations.

The Shawnigan Lake resident is also the owner of Wild Blossom Studios where she designs motivational greeting cards, stationary, and other art forms.

“Students are inspired when teachers/counsellors model what they’re passionate about,” she said. “I want to be someone who expresses creatively and encourages students to do the same, as the arts are very important to me.”

She said she was approached by PEDAW committee’s Kimberly Strain to submit a poster.

“The design process was an interesting one,” Berry said. “I was not working from a blank canvas. I was given a few parameters such as ‘Your weight is not your worth’ and asked to create some sort of graphic to enhance its meaning.

“Initially, I played around with words and simple graphics, like hearts, to explore a design for the poster.  For a number of days I was trying to find deeper symbols and meaningful ways to represent ‘weight and worth’. I thought of things like fishing and how a fish’s weight determines its worth, to other sayings like ‘you’re worth your weight in gold.’

“I was thinking too much and needed to let go of the thoughts, and just draw something.”

The poster is currently in the process of being printed and will be distributed to a number of libraries, mental health centres, and other locations across the province.

PEDAW is a province-wide effort to raise awareness around prevention and early intervention of eating disorders as well as media literacy, resiliency, building healthy body image and self-esteem.

The initiative is led by Jessie’s Legacy Eating Disorders Prevention Program at Family Services of the North Shore in collaboration with Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre, Looking Glass Foundation, St. Paul ’s Specialized Adult Eating Disorder Program, BC Children’s Hospital Eating Disorders Program, Healthy Minds, Healthy Campuses and Project True.

PEDAW is typically launched the first full week in February with activities and events taking place throughout the year.

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