Interview with body positivity artist, Bethanie Olivia!
Following a dissertation on the effects of body positivity on Instagram, Bethanie (@b.o_art) has now launched a successful female-supporting community of her own. Here, we discuss how the project came about almost by accident, and Beth explains how it's helped with her self-esteem and body positivity outlook in the process.
Britain Uncovered: Hi Bethanie! You recently completed a really interesting dissertation on the effects of body positivity on Instagram. Can we start by asking what prompted you to choose this as your topic to focus on?
Bethanie: I chose body positivity as it was starting to become a huge thing over social media… I wanted to study its effect – if there was any! Personally, it had a really positive effect on how I thought about my own body, but I wanted to put it to the test!
Britain Uncovered: What were some of the key findings of your study, and did you conclude that social media channels such as Instagram can have a significant impact on an individual's self-esteem?
Bethanie: I’ll break it down into my four main findings:
1. Through a quantitative self-esteem survey carried out at the beginning and the end of a body positive focus group discussion, I found that 88% of women’s self-esteem rose. Within these discussions, we spoke about body positivity on Instagram, and likes/dislikes/effects. These open discussions proved to positively effect self-esteem. However, this does not find its sustainability.
2. Instagram can be a really positive place – if used in a particular picky way. I found that most women who choose art or body positive pages to follow, rather than celebs, were more likely to gain higher self-esteem as their comparisons with other women were limited. I found this out through qualitative semi-structured interviews and focus groups.
3. Women supporting women is the way to go. Through focus groups, I found women just gained a higher self-esteem from sharing their real body stories, sharing likes/dislikes and the whole thing was truly empowering. The focus group side of my dissertation just uncovered that maybe social media is the problem, as there is a constantly blurred line between reality and fiction.
4. I found that a large amount of women follow body positive pages, and have their personal favourites (Chessie King being a main queen).
I concluded that social media body positivity pages can cause a significantly positive effect on women’s self-esteem. However, it is the community and conversations that make it more sustainable.
Britain Uncovered: You also highlighted in a recent post that “When we look at our bodies for what they do for us, we detach from our body’s appearance”. A few of our previous interviewees have touched on this notion too, but would you be able to elaborate on this for us please?
Bethanie: Yes, of course! From my study, I found this really resonated with female participants. This is because they said it stopped making them look at themselves subjectively. I am bad for looking at myself subjectively – it’s difficult in the world we live in not to. However, look at how your heart keeps you alive and how your legs take you from A to B and take you on many a journey.
Looking at your body as a shell of who you are is so important, and every day I try to tell myself these things. For example, that cute little lump at the bottom of our bellies (which most women have) is actually protecting a womb. Which is amazing – our bodies can create life and that’s their purpose. Also, I say to myself, ‘Marylin Monroe had that lovely lady lump and she was known as the sexiest woman alive’!
Britain Uncovered: Since graduating, you’ve gone on to launch the b.o_art_ channel on Instagram, an inspiring feed chock full of empowering body positivity art. Why was this your next step following your dissertation, and what was the original concept for this project?
Bethanie: I didn’t aim to create an Instagram account; I started doing this because I was inspired by the beautiful discussions within my dissertation to start making body loving art. My friend then suggested I make an Instagram page to showcase it. I’ve loved every second of it, as I’ve kind of lived what my dissertation found!
Britain Uncovered: In addition to creating your own artwork from scratch, you also offer personalised pieces and encourage people to participate in the process. Is a significant amount of your content now generated from user submissions, and if so, what type of feedback have you received from those who have volunteered?
Bethanie: I have had a few interests in this, and so far it has been really positive and I believe has helped people look at themselves as art rather than merely as a body to scrutinise! I have had some people who have been unhappy with my creations of their bodies which has personally been really tough as my aim is to empower, but art is so subjective and sometimes it doesn’t look as first desired. Every single woman I have painted has been truly beautiful, so I find it so difficult when they cannot see how amazing their body is.
Britain Uncovered: When we launched Britain Uncovered, one of the key themes of our project was to look at the important role of social nudity experiences and the ways in which these can help people to achieve greater levels of body confidence. Do you feel that nude art is significantly more empowering than perhaps other, more conservative artwork?
Bethanie: Yes, I definitely agree that nude art is so empowering, and even just nudity in general. Society has sexualised the female body, and through spreading normal nudity, it should over time hopefully change sexualisation. However, part of me believes that sexualisation is so deep-rooted, it may never change. BUT WHO CARES – nudity should be done whatever; it’s the sexualisers’ problem.
Britain Uncovered: You've built up an excellent portfolio of work in a short space of time. Do you feel that your art is having a positive impact on people and helping them to feel more body confident?
Bethanie: My art has 100% had a positive effect on people, and the amazing feedback I get after every piece just warms me up! It was interesting when I got sent my first female nudes – this kind of links to the nudity empowerment question actually! At first, I felt like I couldn’t look because it’s so private, but then I felt so empowered through the trust and female community that it created. I genuinely think every female should send nudes to each other because it breaks down sexual comparisons, as we are all just humans with different casings. Normalising bodies is so important!
Britain Uncovered: How has your own body positivity journey evolved since embarking on this project, and what's been the biggest thing you've learned during the course of this new venture?
Bethanie: My body positive outlook has changed so much! This is such a great question! Like I said previously, I have lived what my dissertation found out. I created a female supporting community with which I have connected with some amazing people and have seen really beautiful bodies, and just a positive, loving community.
Previously, I would heavily scrutinise my body for not being ‘perfect’ (which isn't real or achievable), but since launching my Instagram page and creating this art, I don’t look at my body with such scrutiny which has been so refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, there are still slightly low days – but that’s okay!
Britain Uncovered: With the Instagram feed proving so popular, is this something you’re likely to focus on the foreseeable future?
Bethanie: I would love for this to flourish, I really would! However, I only have my one small flat with very little room to complete large quantities of artwork! I am also training as a primary teacher which is taking buckets of my time up (all for a great reason, of course).
I will definitely keep this page as busy as possible as I think it's positive for people, and if my content helps in any small way I will keep it going! Likewise, if the opportunity came up and this was something I could do full-time, that would be amazing (haha)!