Here, we have the pleasure of speaking with artist, Izzy Canning, about her body positivity artwork that is celebrating everything that makes our bodies unique and beautiful! We also touch on the body image pressures that come with being a theatre performer, why striving to feel ‘neutral’ about our bodies can sometimes be enough, why Izzy’s art is boosting her body confidence levels, and more.
Britain Uncovered: Hi Izzy! It was back in June 2020 that you reignited your love of painting, and you’ve been painting the female form ever since, in the hopes that it makes you appreciate your body more and see it in a brand new light. In the nine months that have passed, and with hundreds of paintings under your belt, do you feel as though you’ve succeeded with this initial aim?
Izzy: Like so many people, I have been on my own personal journey with battling to accept my body. I’d spent several years working on this, reading countless books, learning from inspiring people online, and I continue to do so today. I’ve always been very open about sharing the things I learn online in the hope that they might help others too, and for a long time I felt there was something more that I could do to express my passionate feelings about the subject of body acceptance. I considered writing a book, or starting a blog, and although I never imagined myself as an artist at all, I’m so glad that it led to this!
Painting nudes has had a huge impact on my life in so many ways. It’s given me a brand new perspective of my body, and just the female form in general. Ever since I started painting, after being inspired by the phenomenal artist Sophie Tea to try something new, I have felt increasingly in awe of women and their incredible stories, and equally empowered within my own body to see it as the wonderful thing that it is. And who knows, maybe some day those other things (creating a blog or writing a book) might still happen too. I feel I have a lot to share and put out into the world!
BU: Our past interviews have explored people’s relationships with their bodies to a great extent, and a common thread linking each of these unique stories together is the fact that body confidence fluctuates, and that it’s nigh on impossible to feel body positive day in, day out. You recently confessed that, “There are sometimes days when it can be hard to look in the mirror and feel anything but criticism” – so what are some of your coping mechanisms to get you through these types of days, and what advice would you offer to anyone in the same situation?
Izzy: When I first started to learn about body positivity and body acceptance, my understanding of it was quite different to how it is now. I used to think that if I didn’t love my body all the time then I wasn’t ‘doing’ body acceptance ‘right’, and that I still had things to unpack in order to get there – as if body acceptance was something to be achieved, and would never be reversed.
But of course, this simply isn’t the case. Just like it’s impossible to be happy all the time, it’s pretty difficult to love and embrace your body day in, day out. Having bad days, going through hard times, and experiencing difficult emotions are all simply a part of life. We wouldn’t be human without them! It’s imperative to experience these things we see as ‘negative’ to have a more rounded experience of life, and to appreciate the times when we are happy and when we do feel good about our bodies. I’m learning that being on this journey means coming to terms with the fact there will be days when you fiercely embrace your body and its imperfections, and days when this feels incredibly hard. In these times, striving to simply feel neutral about our bodies is enough.
Most of the tools I know and practice that help me during these times I learnt from the queen of body acceptance, Megan Jane Crabbe. Her book Body Positive Power completely opened my mind to all things self love, and I think some of the ‘belly love tips’ she shares in it are just brilliant. Here are some of my favourite coping strategies to help on those down days:
- Take a minute to sit and look at the shapes your body makes. Does your stomach roll like a breathtaking mountain landscape? Does the skin on your thighs ripple like waves calmly brushing the shore? Remind yourself of how beautiful those shapes and textures are when they’re found elsewhere in the world. Why should they be any less beautiful when they’re found on your body?
- Try some self massage or simply stroking your skin, feeling its warmth and softness. Imagine how lovely it feels to be embraced by a loved one, and give this attention to yourself. This really helps me to feel more connected to my body and appreciate it as a living, breathing thing; not just something aesthetic.
- Get outside for a walk, and spend some time away from social media. I find that simply being amongst nature and getting some fresh air helps put my worries into perspective and I feel more connected to the world around me. I try to remember that however I am feeling about my body on any particular day, there is always something to be grateful for about it. My heart beats blood around my body, keeping me alive. My legs allow me to explore and go to amazing places. My hands help me to create wonderful things (and feed me yummy food!)
BU: As an actor and performer who makes a living by ‘being seen’, do you perhaps feel an added pressure with regards to body image – and does the industry you’re in by its very nature lead people to second-guess their bodies and how they feel about themselves?
Izzy: Within the performance industry, especially musical theatre, there is an entire additional dimension of body image and diet culture, that it really is a separate conversation on its own. Being an actor, there is so much pressure to look a certain way. We are constantly being compared to each other and are in competition for roles, so it’s inevitable that body image struggles and disordered eating problems are heightened. I think this is such an important issue that needs to be addressed. In an industry that is already brutal as it is, it’s so important for performers to rally together and support one another. Even moreso to be kind to ourselves, and know that no matter what we look like, everyone has something that makes them wonderfully unique, and it is this that we should hold onto and be proud of.
Although things are slowly changing, with more diversity in all areas being acknowledged within theatre, there is still a way to go. It is so important to see body diversity on stage and on screen. People should be able to see themselves represented in a variety of characters and stories, and I think it is vital to break down age-old stereotypes and casting that we still see so often. I believe it is only when we see a more diverse range of body types on stage and screen, particularly seeing more larger bodies, that we will then see an improvement in not only performers’ negative body image and disordered eating, but that of the general population, too. We all know how impactful the media we consume is, and I think theatre definitely plays a part in that.
BU: A large portion of your impressive portfolio is made up of commissioned paintings, and you’ve painted an extraordinary number of these in a fairly short space of time! What do you most enjoy about these types of personal pieces, and do they impact you in a different way than non-commissioned pieces do – especially when you may know or have a relationship with the individual you’re painting? What has the feedback been like from those you’ve painted thus far?
Izzy: Painting commissions is such a joy! It's such a wonderful feeling knowing that a commissioned piece has helped someone to accept and appreciate their body a little more. That's all I could wish for!
Admittedly, sometimes I can feel a little under pressure to create something that meets expectations, especially when people are so brave to have shared their pictures and their personal stories with me, which can be a hugely significant thing to do in itself. I just want to create something really special for them that they'll love!
When I paint non-commissioned pieces, generally I am much more laid back, using the piece to explore new things and for my own expression, really. But for commissioned paintings, having talked with the individual privately and knowing how significant the piece will be for them, I am much more aware of taking my time and putting lots of thought and care into the painting.
I feel incredibly grateful to everyone who has had a commission done thus far - it really is an honour to create something for women to celebrate themselves. Seeing the joy and body confidence that the paintings have brought to people has been so fulfilling, and is the main reason I love making art.
BU: At the start of the year you decided to take a break from these types of commissions, noting that they can feel quite pressurising and that you weren’t always having quite as much fun. Although the end product can often feel hugely empowering (both for you as the artist and the model being painted), can it also feel demanding doing justice to somebody on canvas and making sure you end up with a depiction they’re happy with?
Izzy: During my break from doing commissions, it has been so wonderful to spend time working on other paintings, trying different things, creating posters – it's just what I needed, really. But I have indeed missed doing them and I’m very eager to be back (I'm planning to reopen very soon!)
Aside from the empowering impact the commissions can have, one thing I've missed most about commissions is trying out the wonderful colour schemes that customers request. Sometimes they are combinations I may not have considered before, and it's a lot of fun seeing how they turn out! I also love seeing some of the poses that people come up with. I always encourage customers to really get creative and try a range of poses out, and some of the poses they come back with are so sassy and powerful! It's just so great to see women getting excited about having a piece of art done of themselves, and really getting involved in the process. That's definitely the most rewarding part of doing commissions that I'm looking forward to reconnecting with.
BU: Throughout your journey you’ve made a very conscious effort to be inclusive of all genders, minorities and body types, and even asked your followers to ‘call you out’ on it if they felt that this wasn’t the case. With specific regards to body types, do you believe there’s still work to be done to normalise seeing bigger bodies on social media, and if so, how can you go about helping with this via your artwork?
Izzy: The discrimination of larger bodies on social media, particularly people of colour, is a huge problem and something I care about deeply. We regularly see slim bloggers and influencers posting content baring all, so why should it be any different for people in bigger bodies, with photos and content that are just as beautiful?
Clearly there is still so much work to be done to normalise seeing bigger bodies online, and this is something I will always try to reflect within my work and my account. If I can raise awareness of these issues in any way with my artwork, by committing to painting as many (if not more) larger bodies than slimmer ones, then that’s what I will endeavour to do. Inclusivity is so important to me, and I think anyone with any kind of platform has the opportunity to spread these messages and create positive change.
BU: You have also highlighted male body image issues in several of your recent paintings, noting in the captions that perhaps men’s body confidence issues can sometimes be overlooked. How strongly do you feel about this notion, and is this something you’re likely to raise awareness of in your upcoming work?
Izzy: Body image is something that we all struggle with, and it's an important topic to address for everyone, including men. Although I think women are more targeted by the beauty industry and diet culture, men's body image issues are equally as important, though often overlooked. Just like women, men see images of the so-called 'perfect' body and can develop a range of disordered eating habits and low body confidence as a result of efforts to attain it.
We all deserve to feel confident in our bodies, regardless of our gender, ethnicity, sexuality or ability. I paint women mostly because generally there just seems to be more of an interest and demand for it! However, I am very passionate about the inclusion of men within the discussion of body positivity and I’m aiming to work on this very soon in upcoming work.
BU: Finally, we really loved seeing your recent ‘All Bodies Are Beautiful’ collage poster that features some of your favourite ladies alongside one another, highlighting that each body shape is wonderful no matter the differences between them. How enjoyable is it for you to be able to share such a positive message in such a creative way, and do novel concepts such as these new posters help keep things fresh for you, as the artist?
Izzy: I've wanted to create posters using my paintings for a while now, and after being inspired by other artists, I decided to give it a go! For my latest poster, 'All Bodies Are Beautiful', I chose five of my favourite ladies of a variety of body shapes and sizes to highlight the fact that all bodies are equal and worthy – none better than another. I’m so happy with how the design turned out! I have lots more ideas like this in the pipeline, so do keep an eye out for those!
I feel so honoured and grateful to be able to do what I do and put out this message into the world that I care so deeply about. By painting nude art, I hope to inspire people to view their bodies through their own eyes, and not through the gaze of others. When we see ourselves as a work of art, it can be incredibly empowering and help to build confidence in owning our bodies.
It is so important that we normalise all the things we are taught to see as 'flaws' to be fixed or changed, that are just a normal part of the human body. Now more than ever it is so important to be kind to ourselves, and I am so incredibly passionate about people embracing their wonderful bodies just as they are. There are so many other amazing artists who are also making statements with their art - it’s truly amazing to see women of all shapes and sizes finally being celebrated, and I am delighted to be a part of it.