We are constantly bombarded with images of other people’s bodies on TV, in magazines and scrolling through social media, says Charlotte Nelson of Norwich Theatre, but how often do we take a step back and consider what these could be doing to the view we take of our own?
The modern culture we live in can take a toll on our wellbeing, leaving many of us criticising our bodies and self-worth.
“I think we live in a world that places heavy importance on our body and our appearance, which can positively, but most often negatively, affect our body image,” said Ruth Philips, Associate Director of SpeakUp Theatre.
Ruth is exploring this issue of body image and how we view ourselves, whether good or bad, in a series of Body Image workshops with SpeakUp Theatre, supported by Norwich Theatre’s Artistic Development programme. This female-led theatre company shines a light on the issues people face behind closed doors and encourages conversation around issues that are not openly discussed in society.
Understanding body image and how external pressures affect you actively helps any feelings you may have towards yourself. This is something that Ruth has experienced herself: “Through being open with my own journey, discussions with friends and my research and work as a practitioner, people often open up about their body image issues in the past and present. I have found similarities and differences in people’s journeys but most of all a solace in people being able to share and be listened to. I believe there could be big benefits to doing this on a larger scale.”
Creativity can be a vital tool to improve our wellbeing and self-perception. It offers a space to express feelings, find a sense of play and connect to a community. “By engaging in creative methods such as writing, poetry, movement, and games, we allow our mind and body another way into exploring feelings, along with other things that help improve mental health such as laughter, community and connection,” said Ruth.
Working with different communities and topics, SpeakUp Theatre has found that issues such as mental health and negative body image can often be isolating. “People feel like they might be the only one feeling this way, that they feel different from people around them, or they have never shared it with others openly,” explained Ruth.
This year’s theme of Mental Health Awareness Week was loneliness, and the Mental Health Foundation shared that “one in four adults feel lonely some or all of the time”. The arts and theatre can be one method to openly, honestly and carefully acknowledge how difficult things can be at times and to celebrate people’s strengths.
“I think if you add the element of feeling lonely or alone on top of an issue that can already cause distress in some way, such as mental health, body image issues or wider social-economic issues, it is easy to see how it can become so difficult for an individual to overcome,” said Ruth. “Feeling alone in itself is such a difficult thing.”
Coming together in a workshop or just a group of friends and talking about the issues you are experiencing can be incredibly freeing, knowing that someone else feels the same way you do.
Ruth explains: “Although everyone’s experiences are different, finding a community and a space to explore the things that affect us is powerful. There is often a shared understanding in these groups of the issue we’re exploring, which means as human beings, we don’t have to contextualise our experiences; other people just get it, which is really special.”
This is where the idea for the Body Image Workshops was born. The workshops, which are free to attend, will have a relaxed atmosphere where attendees are invited to connect with their unique creativity and each other to explore people’s relationships with their bodies.
The workshops are the first phase of an ongoing project developing a new show about our relationship with our bodies. During the session there will be games, some movement to build the connection between our body and mind, and opportunities for participants to reflect on their own experiences. The work will be open, joyful and honest, answering some questions about individual and collective experiences of body image.
Any attendees interested can continue through the process, and their input will directly impact the show’s development.
“So many issues in our society are brushed under the rug,” said Ruth. “Theatre and creativity can be a platform for social change. If you see a character on stage going through an experience which mirrors your own, it can be extremely validating.”