(Source: Louise Brown https://www.instagram.com/p/B9T2RaTg8TP/)
In the United Kingdom, there is a readily observable mental health crisis surrounding people and their own body images.
The Mental Health Foundation and YouGov teamed up in March 2019 to conduct an online survey of 4,505 British adults (18+ years) and 1,118 British teenagers (13-19 years).
The results found that 20%, 34% and 19% of British adults felt ‘shame’, ‘down or low’, and ‘disgusted’ by their own body images respectively, while 37% and 31% of British teenagers felt ‘upset’ and ‘ashamed’ respectively.
Furthermore, 34% and 35% of British adults felt anxious and depressed because of their body image respectively, and 21% and 22% of British adults said images used in advertising and images on social media had caused concerns about their own body images respectively.
Considering the pervasiveness of body image concerns within British adults and teenagers, Renegades of Newcastle wants to know whether there is a way to combat this mental health crisis.
Renegades of Newcastle spoke to Louise Brown, a local artist and student at Newcastle University, studying politics, psychology and sociology.
In her own words below, she describes how she uses her art through her own business, GoodStrangeVibes, in order to promote body positivity and mental health awareness.
Brown speaks of art’s capacity to bring about appreciation, and so by drawing her own body and then others within a broad spectrum of differing body types, she believes art can promote body positivity by showing all body types as worthy of appreciation.
Renegades of Newcastle asked her some follow up questions:
RENEGADES OF NEWCASTLE: What issues are you most proud of your art tackling? Anything in particular within promoting body positivity?
LOUISE BROWN: I guess the main things my art tackles are societal beauty standards and the patriarchal notion that womxn should be judged by their bodies before anything else. For instance, I try in my work to convey a range of different bodies displaying a diversity of characteristics such as: body hair, scars, fat rolls, spots, skin tones and stretch marks.
I have also tried to tackle mental health stigma. Some of my work has focused on men’s mental health and the social construction of masculinity as tough and feelingless. For example, I have done work with slogans like ‘strong men cry’.
RoN: Who would you say inspire you and your art the most?
LB: Both my grandmas are an absolute inspiration to my feminism and drive to make a change.
My mum’s mum, Eva Crawley, fought for women’s rights in the legal profession. She was a solicitor and discovered after having children that there was a serious lack of support available for mothers wanting to go back to work. Instead of accepting this, she went on to create a Refresher’s course which helped lots of women get back into law. She was awarded an OBE as a recognition of her extraordinary work in advancing women in the law profession. While I was very young when she died, she remains a massive inspiration to me.
My dad’s mum, Babette Brown was also a seriously cool woman. Not only did she help fight the Apartheid in South Africa but she also went on to fight racism and sexism when she moved to the UK. She launched Early Years Trainers Anti Racist Network, started a charity called Persona Doll Training and wrote several books featuring race and diversity issues. Her selfless nature and infectious spark were key components in making her an equality and justice queen that I will always look up to in all that I do.
RoN: Has Newcastle been a supportive place to grow your arts reach? Does your work ever relate to Newcastle in any way?
LB: The people in Newcastle have been so supportive of my work. From Nasty Women North East giving me an artist residency to Sister Shack inviting me to events and markets, this place really has helped me grow as an artist and get my stuff seen.
Newcastle University Start Up service has also been an incredible resource for me, I have had some amazing people supporting me such as Gretel, Tracy and Gareth who all give me great advice and are committed to my success.
My art isn’t specific to Newcastle but a lot of my growing up as a person has happened while in Newcastle so I guess my work could reflect this. Also parts of the Newcastle ethos – like being friendly and kind to others!
It was great to talk to Louise Brown on such an important, pressing issue. While it may not be a ‘controversial’ opinion to promote body positivity and mental health awareness, it is clear more needs to be done to combat the worrying statistics found in the Mental Health Foundation/YouGov survey.