Last year, the Mental Health Foundation found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost 1 in every 3 people.
Body image issues can affect all of us at any age and directly impact our mental health. However there is still a lack of much-needed research and understanding around this. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the Mental Health Foundation will be publishing the results of a UK-wide survey on body image and mental health. It will look at body image issues across a lifetime – including how it affects children and young people, adults and people in later life. It will also highlight how people can experience body image issues differently, including people of different ages, genders, ethnicities and sexualities. – Mental Health Foundation, 2019 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week
Earlier this year, participants at our Express Yourself visual arts group explored Self Portraiture with artist and session leader, Helen Sargeant.
Helen finds that a lot of people do not want to look in a mirror.
“I think it’s a really hard thing to ask people to create a self-portrait; to begin with a mirror & draw objectively. To make marks based on what the artist actually sees of themselves is both technically and emotionally challenging. Perhaps it’s easier if you have a positive view of your physical self, but if you feel vulnerable or are less sure about how you look then it’s a tough process to put yourself through. ”
“My work is focused on representing the female body and lived experience. My practice involves both drawing and autobiographical writing and making connections between the two disciplines. I draw from the self and from my emotions in order to make sense of the complexities of life and to work through stuff that I find difficult, challenging or traumatic. By looking carefully at the self I find that you can draw upon your own creative knowledge and experiences to find empathy and compassion with others. I have always been interested in the mind/body connection, about the human condition and how our physical bodies and perceptions of ourselves can affect our mental wellbeing.”
“Our bodies can get in the way of talking about ourselves; our interior selves & our emotions. Once we have got past the process of scrutinising our physical selves through creating artwork/s then what we arrive at is our interior self.”
“Looking in the mirror was a starting point but I encouraged people to think about who they were inside and to try to express or explore that self as well. Of course, that can also be a challenge because people don’t always want to look at the interior self either.”
“There were lots of suggestions with how to engage with the Self Portrait project. When you work in self-portraiture it can often be about how someone’s identify can be manifested in a different way. A self-portrait can be a fictional thing and about imagining being someone other. People are complex and there are different aspects of the self that you can explore.”
“Some people generated lots of drawings that were completely observational whereas for others it was about completely stepping away from the mirror and thinking about what they had done that day or their journey to get to HOOT. There was a beautiful drawing of a light in a room and the light had gone off. The person was expressing the self in terms of his state of feeling. It was so simple & effective.”
“One participant painted a picture of her face completed covered and masked by flowers, it was simple and touching. Someone else made lots of very quick portraits – one in particular was really expressive and full of luminosity and colour – but when it came to developing the work he didn’t want to pursue that particular piece instead he made large scale expressive portraits in thick paint from images he had found in magazines.”
“Others created quite classical self-portraits with an abstract twist. Someone made a series of eight portraits in a grid on one piece of paper with lots of patterning across each of face. Each piece had the same blank expression but they used different patterns, forms, marks and colours to express meaning. The patterns and drawings were very intricate and thoughtfully produced.”
“My practice is about using our life experiences to literally drawn from and create positive and effective art works that communicate both what people see and what they feel. I don’t seek to pry into people’s lives during workshops, but what people do decide to share through the process of making and generating artworks can be really moving and profound.”
For more information on HOOT’s sessions, visit www.hootcreativearts.co.uk/whats-on
Helen Sargeant’s work
Helen Sargeant, Don't scribble me out, digital collage, 25cm x 25cm, 2014
This digital collage is a self portrait. It depicts me as both mother and child. It sticks together two moments in time. It plays with ideas within my wider practice that are concerned with maternal ambivalence, vulnerability and the affect of the transition into motherhood on a woman’s identity. It is about the child that still lives inside, a child learning to mother or a child that has become trapped. Its about loss and a yearning for freedom, independence, a life before.
It utilises a family photograph taken by my father in1973 in which you can see I am happily balanced on top of my mothers shoulders. The felt tip pen drawing that I have carefully traced around, cut out and superimposed on top of the photographic image is by my son who was aged 4 when he drew it. In the drawing I am depicted shouting, you can see that my mouth is wide open. Marks from the drawing obliterate parts of my mothers face. I have scribbled her out.
I am interested in how lines can transmute feelings. When scribbling out my mothers face I was in fact thinking about my own invisibility as a mother and full time carer of a young child. I thought that the drawing by my son was really fascinating as it captured the sense of frustration and isolation that I felt whilst looking after him at home. I am silently shouting out or screaming from within the drawing. My voice is seen but not heard.
The title of this artwork comes from my mothers reaction to the work when she first viewed it. She felt upset by the image I had made and said please don't scribble me out !