Exclusive Interview with Sian Dugmore!
In our latest interview, artist Sian Dugmore talks us through her creative process, explains why body dysmorphia can be so damaging, and details how her art is an effort to re-claim female nudity.
Britain Uncovered: Back in April and right at the start of lockdown, you launched a really interesting new project called ‘Octavia Creates’. Could you tell us a little about what this entails, and what prompted its creation?
Sian: I started the project just as lockdown started to set in. I was still studying for university exams, but needed something creative to help me pass the time in isolation with a couple of friends. Having studied Fine Art at A Level, I have always really loved painting, but since starting a Medical Science degree in 2016, I had never found the time to be able to do it.
Being an incredibly open person, I have always talked with my friends about boobs, bums and tums. I noticed that so many people I know are not confident with their bodies – everyone has an issue with the way they look, and I wanted to address this.
Sooo I made Octavia Creates to satisfy my artistic hunger as well as to explore a wide range of body types. I started painting people just as gifts; a little reminder that they are beautiful no matter their shape or size.
Britain Uncovered: How do you usually get the inspiration for these unique pieces – are they generated from scratch, or do you work from submissions?
Sian: The pieces are usually generated from submission images. I started with my friends (those who were comfortable), and then I started to pick up commissions from Instagram, which I absolutely love!
Britain Uncovered: What has the feedback been like thus far, and do you feel embarking on this project has made you feel more empowered and body confident in your own self too?
Sian: I’ve actually been so surprised about how positive the feedback has been thus far! I started off being quite timid with my posts online and didn’t reveal the page to a number of my friends until recently. I’m often very overcritical and honestly didn’t think that the paintings were that good!
The first two commissions that I sold had such amazing feedback:
“It’s sooooo uplifting to see nudes that look more like my body type”
“I feel honoured to own your work and have it adorning my wall, and I hope you continue to paint more. Keep painting more of us beautiful fat ladies”
It’s so rewarding to help spread this wonderful body positive message, and I hope to continue to!
What has been amazing is that I feel more body confident and empowered through painting. Painting so many beautiful women has helped me to recognise that we’re all different, but all these variations carry their own unique beauty.
I love my body now, it’s mine and it’s here to stay.
Britain Uncovered: You mentioned in a recent Instagram post that you were somewhat taken aback by how greatly the media objectifies the female body – particularly in relation to breast feeding. Can you tell us a little about your views on this, along with why you feel the media’s behaviour can be so damaging?
Sian: So I actually came across this whilst studying post-partum depression at university. I had seen anti-public breast feeding forums and videos of abuse towards publicly breast feeding mothers and was completely horrified that men and women were so against this. I was (and still am) horrified to know that something so natural can be seen in a negative and crude light. Breastfeeding, and being able to nourish a baby with food packed full of antibodies and nutrients, is one of the body’s most amazing feats.
The era of page three models and sexual advertising has taught society that breasts are something that should only be seen in a sexual manner, leaving women to be ashamed of them. Obviously this isn’t just limited to breastfeeding – one of my friends has lovely big boobs and whilst out for the day in a low cut top, an older lady had stopped to tell her she looked 'like a slut’.
I believe that this is so damaging to women’s mental health. If you have to feed a baby whilst you’re out, you have to worry about being verbally abused? But if you don’t go out, then you risk being stuck inside all day without a break to collect your thoughts. I don’t think that women should have to be careful in the way that they dress or feed their babies just because society sees their breasts as an object of sexual shame and indignity.
Britain Uncovered: Is your art an effort to re-claim female nudity, and if so, how are you helping to spread the positive message that every body is beautiful?
Sian: It absolutely is an effort to re-claim female nudity! I would like it to help break the stigma that our bodies are something that we should be ashamed of due to the sexualisation from others. I experienced this so heavily whilst on a gap year in Australia.
Up until a couple of years ago, I had this pre-conceived idea that women’s worth to men was thanks to their assets, or how sexually enticing their bodies were. I feel so desperately passionate about removing this sexualisation from female nudity – it’s been painted for generations in art history, and the female body is a work of art in its own right.
I think that having a painting up that is representative of what you look like, something that you can wake up to every day and think, ‘Yea that’s my badass beautiful body’, is something that is so magical and helps to reverse the objectification and preconceived ‘body ideal’ that has been so ingrained into our generation.
Britain Uncovered: Many of your posts make mention of the phrase ‘body dysmorphia’. Would you be willing to share some of your experiences as it relates to this, along with any words of wisdom for those who may be suffering from this condition at present?
Sian: Yes, of course! I feel that body dysmorphia is very common amongst girls/women, and when I was younger had always felt incredibly self-conscious and uncomfortable in my own skin.
Naturally, I grew up very self-conscious of my body thanks to my boobs, which were never properly growing in. I was mercilessly teased at school by friends, which knocked my confidence into adulthood.
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in feeling like this, and that changes happen to your body that you can’t control. Your body helps you be you, and that’s pretty amazing.
I’m so fed up of seeing so many ads for fitness programmes with ‘before and after’ pictures. You do not need a flat stomach to be happy or feel good about yourself. You don’t need to grow a booty to be confident. Your body is fantastic – your life’s purpose is to LOVE your life, not shrink yourself to be smaller.
It’s natural to feel down sometimes, and admittedly I often have lapses – but when I do, I write down the reasons why I love my body e.g. it never stops pumping blood through my veins. It’s been my home for my whole life. It lets me move and experience the world. It keeps me alive.
Britain Uncovered: As part of your Octavia Creates project, you are generously donating profits from certain works over to Beat Support, which does such great work as the UK’s leading eating disorder charity. What was is about this charity, in particular, that made you want to contribute to the cause?
Sian: Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, and lockdown has been a particularly hard time when it comes to eating disorders and body image. One of my close friends really struggled with one when we were 17 and I could see how much damage it was doing to her physical and mental health, as well as to her relationships with family and friends.
There was a lot of pressure to lose weight during lockdown and I’ve witnessed so much toxic content on Instagram and TikTok that has been encouraging disordered eating habits. I worry that a whole new generation will be left with eating disorders or disordered eating as a result of the pressure they face now on social media platforms. I know that the donations for the charity had taken quite a hit over the past four months, and I wanted to contribute however I could.
Britain Uncovered: What are some of the pieces you’re most proud of, and what other projects do you have lined up in the future?
Sian: It’s truly hard to pick which pieces I’m most proud of. I have honestly loved working on each piece and I particularly enjoy working closely with ladies on commissions when they have had such a hard time with their body confidence.
I have a project coming up which centres around body changes around pregnancy. The series is called ‘ENCEINTE’, and I will be using interviews and images of ladies during pregnancy to hopefully create beautiful pieces of art! It’s inspired by one of my close childhood friends and I hope it will send a powerful message to those who are struggling with body changes during pregnancy.
Britain Uncovered: Finally, with nudity featuring prominently throughout this project, do you feel that clothes-free experiences can play a helping hand in making people feel more confident?
Sian: I think that everyone should try social nudity at some point. I was 19 when I visited my aunt who lives in Corsica – she is the definition of a crazy aunt. She used to dance nude in the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris and took me on a tour of all the nude beaches in Corsica.
At first I was so embarrassed and couldn’t partake in the nudeness, but after a few visits it almost felt rude to have my bikini on! Once I took off my kit, I felt so liberated, and I lost the embarrassment and shame that I had once associated with nudity and the way my body looked. I have met many life models (nakey models for art classes) of all shapes and sizes who felt the same and were quite clearly proud to be in the skin they were in.
- To see more of Sian's art, including the full 'Octavia Creates' collection, head over to her Instagram page by clicking here.