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writing group: body image


Masks? Or maybe we could dress up entirely differently from usual. Do people treat us differently?

My contribution to Pat's session:

On 18th June 2015, I met an old friend after a 27 year hiatus. I wrote a piece in advance in order to deal with my anxiety as I was concerned how he would remember me and how I would now be perceived. I will be writing a piece afterwards. Could share both.

Self critical, yet self accepting. Human. Focusing on achievements. Acceptance of getting older, without real understanding. Do we ever really accept who and what we are, despite others accepting us wholeheartedly?

Why do we / I focus on the negative?

Exercises?/Homework suggestions?

1) Write a piece using the physical attributes you like about other people and/or those you dislike.

2) Put together a series of words which best describes your personality, for example: Critical Creative Destructive Funny Elegant Responsive Caring Consistent Considerate etc etc. Then a series which best describes your physical appearance: Fat Slim Curvy Freckled Saggy Muscular Flabby Beautiful etc. Write a few paragraphs using these words, or describing yourself.

3) Can you throw out the pieces of your own self image which aren't really you?

4) Pat's suggested exercise: Thinking of Freud's notion of UNHEIMLICH / HEIMLICH, what would your Self's 'Other You', your doppelganger, ideally be like? 10 minutes writing, 2 minutes reflection.

5) Translation of Robbie Burns' poem "To A Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady's Bonnet at Church", from 1786 - This is the last verse. The louse doesn't know how important the lady is, or how expensive the bonnet. "And would some Power give us the gift, To see ourselves as others see us! It would from many a blunder free us, And foolish notion: What airs in dress and gait would leave us, And even devotion!"

6) Self image - Franz Kafka - Metamorphosis - Gregor transforms into a huge insect like creature. It is not explained or justified or turned into a dream or whatever. It just is. Why? First line: "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature." Vladimir Nabakov was a butterfly and insect fan as well as writer, and didn't believe Gregor was a cockroach, but a beetle. He says Gregor has been transform but "is not, technically, a dung beetle. He is merely a big beetle".

7) Pat's explanation of Johari's Window - Awareness of self, What others know about you and you don't, What others also see, What you know that other do now about you, What you do not know and others do not know. I like that. Can it be used?

8) The short piece about a character who either improves or regresses when the character reveals a 'secret' self. If an existing story, suggest different ending.

9) Pat's list of 'self' questions which includes "What would your superpower be?", "Who would play you in a film of your life?", "What d you owe your parents?", and "What is the most important lesson life has taught your 'self'?"

10) Do you have an essential self? Is it your "soul"? Is it merely housed in your body or is your body an inherent part of it?

11) Think of yourself. You are dressed up. You are about to go out. You are wearing clothes that you would never usually wear. Shoes are the absolute opposite of what you would usually choose. Long hair is now short. Subtle or no make-up has now become bright, bird-of-paradise colours. Why? How do you feel? Where are you going?

12) Soul. What makes you?

13) Invisibility cloak? Or... appearance/personality changing cloak? What would you do with it? How would you feel?

14) What makes/defines beauty? Discuss!

15) "Something in the Way she moves, Attracts me like no other loves, Something in the way she woos me..." What is that something?

16) Body language - Detectives/psychologists being able to tell when a person is lying or is truthful. Eyes. Body language etc.


I used to work at Transformation - would like to talk about that and to bring in my piece called "Females" based on my time working there.


Extract from Guardian Wekeend magazine, article called "I'm a woman who is genetically male"

Swyer Sndrome - born with male chromosomes so unable to produce oestrogen but looks like girl. Has implications for all kinds of things - child bearing, risk of osteoporosis, bullying, small size etc.

Extract from Observer 10/15/15 called "Fanny and Stella, the pioneer transvestites who fought Victorian anti-gay laws".

Lots of cross dressers now - Eddie Izzard, Edna Everage, RuPaul, Lily Savage, Grayson Perry - but Fanny and Stella were pioneer transvestites who went on trial even before the word transvestite existed. There is a new play about these two men from the 1870s who went on trial, 25 years before Oscar Wilde was convicted of gross indecency. At the end, the jury saw their dressing as a joke, provided there was no evidence of sodomy! In an atmosphere of homophobia, these two men used their dressing to have fun and enjoy themselves. They hoped they might incite change but it has been very slow in coming.

Metro - Weds May 27th "I almost died after taking toxic diet pills bought online"

Young, slim woman who wanted perfect body almost died after taking pills she found on internet, and it has given her lifelong heart and other health problems as a result. She says that she hopes other girls realise that taking diet pills is a risk not worth taking.

In April a female bodybuilder, aged 21, died after taking diet pills with DNP in them (popular with bodybuilders).

Guardian article about being a sibling, byt Tim Lott - "The person we invent out of our genetic personality, out upbringing and the meanings we construct is unique"

Observer article "Video launched to counter image anxiety that can lead to self-harm".

This is an article about Body Dysmorphic Disorder where the sufferer, no matter how beautiful they may appear, does actually feel there is something ugly about their looks. Many sufferers are famous, such as Robert Pattinson, from Twilight fame. Others may exhibit signs of anorexia or self harm.

Gay icons exhibition

Many of the iconic people are more interesting politically and socially than image wise. That's interesting.

Open Mind, the mental health magazine June/July 1986 - Article called "Body Beautiful or Body in Crisis"

Discusses the mental and physical difficulties of cancer, dealing with self image following mastectomy. Can a mastectomy be done in a non-destructive way?

Observer magazine 24/05/15

Article called "Nothing to smile about" about Ethiopia's Omo Valley and Kenya's Lake Turkana basin. Lip plates, white face and body paint etc. "We do it for tourists because they ask us. When they leave we wash out faces and go to the town". Otherwise the women might only paint their faces for weddings. Photographer writes "as a photographer I am also partly responsible for what is fast becoming a human zoo". They are not an unspoilt tribe - their ceramic and wooden lip plates were put in as they removed plastic bottles and t-shirts from shots. It was all a fancy dress parade for photo money and isn't authentic.

Guardian magazine

Ahead of the curve - meet Tess Holliday, the world's first size 26 supermodel. is she a positive role model? Negative? She speaks of her dad - "He'd say I had a pretty face but he would belittle me and tell me that I couldn't do certain things because of my size" She is very sexualised, full of make-up, and many of the pictures of her are in make-up and eating. or Underwear. People yell at her because she's not afraid to flaunt who she is, but she does say "I do admit that black men love me" - so reinforcing other cultural stereotypes of racial group who accept and embrace "bigger".

"To me it's just a word, but it wasn't until I discovered the body positive community that I became OK with it. I've been called fat my whole life."

Guardian Review magazine 06/06/15

Two page article on shoes, covering high platforms to bound feet and large heels. Why does it matter?

Vested Interests. Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety

Great image where Brigitte Bardot image is changed to David Bowie. Our image is defined by something so simple as hair length etc

Wodaabe tribe

Picture of the "Nomadic Suitors" from near Lake Chad, Niger. Members of the Wodaabe tribe who consider themselves the most beautiful people in the world, with loads of makeup. Men. Red earth on fact, bright eyes and teeth and facial symmetry.

Anorexic - I could put my fingers round the top of my legs


Much body mutilation: plastic surgery, ear stretching (if your ear stretches to your breasts you are very beautiful, but you are not if that loop ever snaps). Eyebrow plucking, head flattening, slitting of the eyebrow area, body mutilation, filed teeth, face painting, tattooing. Even surgical intervention for obesity, for example - ie gastric band

Frankenstein's monster

Rory Kinnear's attitude towards Frankenstein's creations - it explores the monster within - or maybe the reveres - "In his case, it's the reverse... He's still trying to find the human connection despite his external monstrousness. Yet he's also like a child in some respects, desperate for love and acceptance, and desperate to fit in"


One of Pat's overhead transparencies ; "Therefore women ask selves not "Who am I?", but "How do I look?". Some women retain pride and pleasure in their own bodies. Others have to fight hard to oppose this tide of hogwash and the double message of being revered and debased also" - all because we are seen only as objects of decorative worth.


Or what about Vesta Tilley, child performer who dressed as an upper class male fop - died 1952

Corsets - even electrical ones - "By wearing these perfectly designed corsets the more awkward figure becomes graceful, & elegant" The chest is aided in its healthy development. - "THE 'VERY THING' FOR LADIES".

"Ability" photographs

Love the series of photographs of people who might otherwise just be perceived as having disabilities such as Down Syndrome. Love the labels "At the age of eight, Alison developed a devastating back hand" (Alison Kidger, Tennis Player). "Since birth, Andrew has had severe difficulty coping with losing" (Andrew Taylor, Gymnast). "Mark was born with a serious ability" (Mark Leedham, Sprinter).

Questions of class

Things I've heard people talking about recently...

Do high heels equal low class?

What does smoking say about a person? Cigar? Pipe? Cigarette in holder? E-cig?

The idea that "You can never be too thin" or too rich?


Who is your essential self?

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