On 28 June, we took part in the Digital Arts Festival held on the University of Essex campus. The Digital Arts Festival provides an opportunity for year 10 students (aged 14-15) to experience interactive workshops and activities designed to explore the digital, creative and cultural arts.
Our workshop was called ‘Body Image: Past, Present and Future.’ It explored how women’s bodies have been presented in traditional and social media, and encouraged students to unpack the changing notions of health and beauty that contribute to our understandings of body image.
We began the session by asking students to draw their idea of a healthy body. Their drawings tended to show muscle-bound, slim figures. We discussed why this was their ‘go-to’ image for health.
Following this, Daisy gave a brief presentation about how women’s bodies were presented in magazines throughout the 1960s. She explained how health was often connected to beauty in quite narrow and restrictive ways, and how magazines could give contradictory advice about weight, dieting and exercise. The students were then asked to choose from pre-cut magazine pieces to create a new healthy body using collage techniques. They had a choice of body types and behaviours. We tried to make these as diverse as possible, although we were restricted by what appeared in magazines from the 1960s-90s, i.e. there were quite a lot of young, slim, white women.
While students were making their collages, Kate and Daisy walked around the room and spoke to students about the choices they were making. They talked about the images of women present in the media they consume and how these influenced their ideas of health and body image.
We learned how unfamiliar they were with physical magazines, and the extent to which Instagram and Snapchat shaped their perspectives, not always negatively.
Below you can see some of their creations, or ‘Franken-bodies’.
Students highlighted behaviours such as healthy eating and staying active and a number mentioned strength over size. One used an image of an older woman and made the point that people can be healthy at any age. A number highlighted the importance of emotional and mental health, and some found the choice of bodies available limiting. One of the students raised the point that she would have liked to have been able to choose from an even wider range of body types for her healthy body collage, specifically that she would have liked to have seen stretch marks represented and shown to be normal and healthy.
You can see more of the collages at our Instagram account @body_self_family. If you want to make your own healthy Franken-body please do tag us and let us know what health means to you!