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Penn State Alum Turns Mental Health & Body Image Struggle Into Activism

During her time as a track and field student-athlete at Penn State from 2004 to 2008, Megan Hutchinson, a student success specialist in the Smeal College of Business, was in the worst headspace of her life.

A girl, who once described herself as confident, became completely torn down by a program that was supposed to help her find success and a new, positive culture.

“My experience really shifted who I was and I struggled a lot during those four years,” Hutchinson said. “The culture that I was a part of was a breeding ground for eating disorders and a lot of abuse.”

Hutchinson went on to explain a specific instance of how she was turned away from eating cookies during the Big Ten championship one year, and sprinters on the team would ask other teammates to buy them their “junk food” so they wouldn’t have to face the repercussions from coaches and staff.

This behavior made Hutchinson, as well as many other teammates, feel completely isolated from an environment that was very much supposed to be team-based and supportive.

Courtesy of Megan Hutchinson

The isolation deepened when Hutchinson was sidelined with an injury for over a year of her career.

“I confided in the athletic trainer a lot during the time. She was amazing person-wise,” Hutchinson said.

This athletic trainer was the first person to recommend Hutchinson to CAPS on campus to get her help with the multitude of anxiety and depression issues she was facing.

“There is a lot of research [that] when an athlete gets injured there are things that change,” Hutchinson said. “Your body changes, your brain changes, your balance changes, and I was not aware of that. So, I think having education around that would have really helped.”

After more than 10 years of struggling in silence, Hutchinson came to the realization that sharing her story and mentoring others would help the community and her own individual healing.

The F.L.Y Movement then came to life.

FUEL: Fuel Your Mind, Body, and Soul

LOVE: Yourself and Others “As Is”

YOU:  Are Enough and Can Make a Difference

The initiative is set to focus on eating disorders, self-talk, social media, and how to create a safe space for these conversations to occur.

“Just really like having that safe space to talk about things and just creating awareness and education is probably the best tool for anything mental health-wise,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson mostly runs workshops with one of the following topics:

  • “Athlete Identity”
  • “Body Image: A Continuum”
  • “Social Media: The Choice is Yours”
  • “Self-Talk: Your Body Hears Everything Your Mind Says”
  • “Embracing & Prioritizing Your Self-Care During Stressful Times”
Courtesy of Megan Hutchinson

In 2016, the movement partnered with UHS employee Jody Whipple, who serves as a nutritionist for the university, to gain mentorship and some personal guidance.

The founder of the movement finished her first degree in Happy Valley in Recreation and Park Management, but she then expanded her education further at Penn State, earning a master’s in education. Later, she also earned a graduate certificate in eating disorders from Plymouth State University.

Recently, Hutchinson has worked with the Penn State Club Cross Country team and her good friend’s seventh-grade class, as she hopes to expand her reach across Penn State and the country.

“If you are a human you probably struggle with body image, so I’m willing to do these with anyone,” she said.

Student-athletes, and even other students, are in the power of their own destiny, and “we control our own story,” in the words of Hutchinson.

If you are a Penn State student looking for help, schedule an appointment with CAPS here. Anyone interested in learning more about the F.L.Y Movement can find more information on its website here.

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About the Author

Mara McKeon

Mara is a senior staff writer majoring in English and public relations. She loves all things sports and anything that has peanut butter. You can usually find her obsessing over country music or Penn State wrestling and counting down the days until she gets to see Luke Combs in Beaver Stadium. Feel free to reach her on Twitter @MckeonMara, and for more formal affairs, her email is [email protected].

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