Interview with Gaia’s Womb Community Co-Founder, Lucy Robottom!
Today we’re speaking with Lucy Robottom, co-founder of the recently launched Gaia’s Womb Community! In addition to discussing everything the new initiative entails, we’re also discussing Lucy’s views on body image, her experiences dealing with mental health challenges, the reasons why participation in the World Naked Bike Ride turned out to be an overwhelmingly negative experience, and more!
Britain Uncovered: Hi Lucy! You’ve always been a very strong advocate for mental health, and via your work for the NHS and Let Luce Yoga – your very own yoga community – you’ve been able to help people in a number of different ways. When did your interest in mental health matters first come about, and at what point did you decide that you wanted to help those suffering from these types of health issues?
Lucy: I would say I’ve always naturally been drawn to supporting people. I’ve always felt that people should work together and support each other, and I have a lot of compassion and understanding for just being a flawed human being – along with the tolerance to deal with that, I guess. I’ve always been interested in mental health and I think I have quite a natural intuition as well, and a very strong empathy too.
It’s taken me quite a long time to realise that mental health was the area I’m most drawn to with work. I really struggled to know what I wanted to do with my life when I was younger because of my own mental health, and I think I gradually and inevitably moved in that direction without being able to choose. Because every time that I have tried to do something different to that, it hasn’t suited me, or it hasn’t felt fulfilling to me. The only thing that feels right for me is about bringing the truth of human experience out into the forefront and making it manageable in the society that we live in.
BU: Turning our attention specifically to body confidence and body image, what role do these concepts play with regards to an individual’s mental health and overall well-being? Is it fair to say that they are intrinsically linked to an extent, and that a lack of self-love and confidence in your own skin could lead to mental health issues and vice versa?
Lucy: I think yes, everything’s intrinsically linked – so definitely yes. I guess you can only really talk from your own experience, but I think body image, when it’s too prevalent in your world, can take away from your overall lived experience of life. Pretty much constantly if you’re not careful. Obviously body image can impact you in different levels in different ways at different points in your life, so it really depends on that, but for me, I’ve gone through phases of life where it’s hard for me to remember that everything else is more important, because it’s so in the forefront of my lived experience. And then when I can switch out of that state, I suddenly just feel like me again. So I think it can be really, really dangerous when body image goes wrong.
But when body image goes right, you’re just really accepting of fluctuations and change and the fact that as we age, we progress and our bodies are different. For me, a big part of that is also taking steps to accommodate that - even something as simple as buying a nice bra that I like that fits my breasts well in breast-feeding, rather than just getting a crappy one that I don’t like that makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to waste money on bras that I know I’m not going to need when I stop breast-feeding, but it’s that self-care again, I guess, and respecting the value and importance of your own experience.
If I do that stuff, then suddenly I can just feel relaxed and I can feel beautiful in whatever way I look. Because I can suddenly see myself as a human, as an animal, and somebody whose potential is huge. I’m not just looking at my skin, or whatever rolls or little details that I hone in on when I’m in that negative mindspace. I’m not thinking about that stuff – I’m just seeing myself as an existence and as something that’s interacting with the rest of the world, which is a much nicer place to be.
BU: One of the NHS’s online tools that’s proving particularly controversial is its Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator as – due to its rather simplistic nature – even seemingly happy and healthy people are being diagnosed as ‘obese’ based on the very limited data it requests from the user. Do you think this tool has a place, or is it harmful and perhaps contributing towards eating disorders and body dysmorphia?
Lucy: I hate BMI calculators and think they are completely pointless and useless. Arguably, in the hospital when they’re using BMI to get a dosage for a medicine, fair enough – that kind of makes sense. If it’s just to get factual numbers to help make a decision on how much medication someone needs, then fine.
But if it’s about whether or not people are too heavy for their natural state, it’s absolutely ridiculous. It has absolutely no use to anyone, and it actually just causes problems. That’s my quite strong opinion. One specific issue is that it was made based on men only, so that’s obviously not going to help women because we’re very, very different in biological ways. But not only that, all people are! And obviously there are so many factors that go into what’s a healthy way to live for each individual. For that we can’t have a blanket rule. And actually, if we’re going to be supporting people to navigate a healthy life, then I think it needs to be very much based around understanding that person and helping them to work out what they need. There’s no rulebook we can follow – it’s all about trial and error.
My body is healthy in a different weight at different points of my life, all of the time. I was over my BMI when I was pregnant, but I know that’s the weight I needed to be when I was pregnant. I have no doubt for a second. And there are so many factors into even just deciding how much you’re eating. Emotional eating is something I do, but actually I’m okay with emotional eating sometimes because it can be helpful overall in the bigger picture. Other times I’m doing it when it’s not helpful, and if I recognise that then I might question it. But again, maybe sometimes it’s okay to do something that’s not helpful! We can’t be perfect, and we’re not perfect. BMI calculators are just a way of trying to make us feel worse about ourselves. I’m sure that’s not the intention, but that’s what they do.
BU: As many of our readers will be aware, Britain Uncovered seeks to promote the ways in which social nudity experiences and accepting your body without clothing can make a positive impact on an individual’s relationship with, and perception of, their bodies. Is this a theory you subscribe to or agree with?
Lucy: I agree with it for a lot of people, and I disagree with it for others. I think that it’s definitely true for me – massively true. It’s a practice in accepting yourself, and I am someone who lives in extremes quite a lot, and so doing something bold – where I don’t have a choice but to face myself and accept myself, or else I’m not going to enjoy the experience, so I have to just go all in – that works for me really well. But there are also other experiences where it can be much more gentle.
So for me, the first time I was publicly naked was at the World Naked Bike Ride in Brighton, so it was quite intense and a big moment of being out and proud! But for my friend, her first time of being publicly naked was at a naturist spa where it was calmer and more relaxed, and she was just hanging out with her friends, which maybe suited her better. But really, I think it’s all got to be down to your own experiences, traumas and vulnerabilities as to whether or not that’s something that’s going to suit you. Nothing suits everyone, but I do think that public nudity and the acceptance of public nudity is really valuable. Something else that was really valuable for me was actually just being around other people and seeing that nobody’s bodies under their clothes were as perfect as I had thought. I wasn’t looking at everyone like, “Ugh”! But I just mean that nobody is Photoshopped.
BU: I guess in day-to-day life, courtesy of the mainstream media, we’re still being shown pretty much the same body type over and over again.
Lucy: Yes, and I didn’t see one of those bodies when I was at the Brighton Naked Bike Ride, and there were a lot of people. I saw people who I thought would have those bodies, but under their clothes they didn’t look like they look in the bikini shots on the websites.
BU: And I think it’s healthy for people to see real bodies like that, because it then means we don’t have to hold ourselves to the same standards that the media expects us to.
Lucy: Yes. Because if we do that we’re actually working towards something that’s impossible, and it makes us unwell trying to get there.
BU: For readers who are perhaps unaware, the World Naked Bike Ride is a series of annual protest events held across the globe which seek to promote the message of a cleaner, safer and more body positive world. What were some of the factors that led you to want to take part in this event, and how comfortable were you with the nudity element of the day? Could you share with us some of your feelings and emotions as the day unfolded?
Lucy: The main reason I wanted to do it was impulsivity. My friend asked if I would like to go along to the ride in Brighton with her, and I said, “Yeah, that sounds fun!” That was really it for me. And it definitely felt nerve-racking, but I love doing things that make me a bit nervous and where I get an adrenaline rush. Originally, I hadn’t really thought it through much, and it was just for fun and because it seemed a bit wild – and I think I like doing things that are a bit different.
I was fairly comfortable with the nudity element of the day. I was definitely nervous, but I think because everyone there was going to be naked, and it was for a cause I care about (the environment), I thought, “Yeah, I can get behind this.” It felt like fighting a fear, I guess. So I wasn’t comfortable in the sense that I thought it would be easy, but it felt like fighting a fear in a way that felt positive, and in an environment that felt positive.
Although having said that, once I was there, it wasn’t that experience at all – and unfortunately, despite an atmosphere of zero tolerance for any disrespect, it made me very aware of how vulnerable women are in our society. For example, this random guy came up to me and my friend and asked for a photo with us, and he was dressed in costume and it seemed like fun. Everyone was getting ready in the tent, putting make-up on their bodies and suchlike, so we said, “Yeah, why not, what fun.” We said yes, had a photo, and then suddenly there was a queue of old men, desperate to have a photo with us. We went with it for a couple of people, thinking that maybe it was the atmosphere – but also that it was a bit odd – but then after a while I said to my friend, “Why does everyone want photos of us”? And then this old man said to me, “Well, you’re some of the youngest, most beautiful bodies here.” And I thought that was so wrong, and that that wasn’t the point in this. I thought, “Why on earth? That’s really creepy.”
And I then suddenly felt really looked at, and suddenly it felt like all the men around us were salivating and desperately searching for all the young bodies. And I felt it was grotesque, and suddenly the value of why we went seemed to disappear.
My friend and I hung out with some men who said, “We will make sure that you don’t get too much trouble.” We had to stay with them. So that wasn’t really what I was hoping for in that event, and I think that was the main reason why I didn’t do it again – and unfortunately we did meet lots of people who were lovely, but the people who weren’t… one guy followed us around with a video camera desperately trying to get shots just of me and my friend the whole time. And these weren’t even people who were naked or involved with the bike ride in any way – they were merely onlookers, and it was really disrespectful. Even when we got out of the sea naked at the end of the day, suddenly a sea of cameras popped up from the shore as soon as we stood out of the water. I was like, “What on earth”? It was a really unusual experience.
BU: We’re so sorry to hear that this was such a negative experience, and judging by comments provided to us by Alice, one of our previous interviewees who also participated in one of these events, it’s disappointing that this doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. Which is such a shame, because from the outside looking in, these darker overtones aren’t necessarily easy to detect – but hopefully your testimonial above will be of value to others who might be considering taking part in the event in the coming years.
Lucy: Some people unfortunately took it as permission to prey and that was a real shame, because it really ruined it. And the organisers did what they could with the bike ride to prevent that, and that’s why we were safe, ultimately, but it wasn’t nice to feel that perspective. And it really made me more aware than I’ve ever been of how vulnerable women are, unfortunately.
It was liberating as well though – so long as we blocked out that side of it. Which we did a good job of, but you didn’t want to have to. It was really lovely connecting with the people who were in the right mindset, and biking naked down a hill and then running and jumping in the sea with loads of other people. It was really amazing, but it’s just unfortunate that that wasn’t all of the experience. There was a lot more to it than that.
BU: It makes it seem like there’s still so much education required, in the UK especially, around desexualisation of bodies. I still think some people look at a naked body and see that as a sexual thing 100% of the time, whereas in other countries it’s more accepted and attitudes are generally more mature – and nudity isn’t intrinsically linked to sex. But here, any kind of nakedness can automatically be deemed sexual at times, and I think there needs to be more education around that still.
Lucy: I think it’s also probably because it’s so taboo in England, so when it happens, it’s like, “Oh my goodness.” Whereas if it happened more often and was more relaxed, I don’t think you’d have that level of extreme interaction with it.
BU: And actually, looking at it from afar, the nudity at the WNBR does appear to be quite casual and blasé – and not exhibitionist, in a sense – so I’m surprised it was perceived in such a sexual light.
Lucy: I was also really surprised, because it felt like the purpose of the nakedness was really to draw attention to the protest. It’s just an extra level that means people are going to pay more attention, and might look at why we were protesting, and I think that did work as well. And then it was just fun for the people partaking to feel that liberating freedom, but unfortunately it didn’t remain like that. It can be difficult to experience an environment where there isn’t the same level of attention while being naked, but one time, in Skiathos [Greece], me and my husband went to a nudist beach a lot, and that was much more relaxed, and nobody made a big fuss of anything from what I could tell.
BU: How did you enjoy this experience in comparison?
Lucy: I loved that experience! I just felt relaxed and it’s just a simplified version of human existence. I think my husband found it really liberating as well, just being able to see the truth of bodies, and both of us being able to just go, “Okay, we are normal”! It’s that feeling of, “Am I normal, am I not, why’s this bit of me like that” etc. and then at a beach like that you just see the truth of what a human body looks like: and actually, I can see that it’s beautiful in other people, so therefore it’s beautiful in me, and I can just relax.
BU: That makes perfect sense, and I’m glad the bike ride didn’t put you off these types of experiences for life!
Lucy: No, not at all, but it’s just made me a lot more cautious and I have less faith in men, to be honest! Because of the sheer quantity of men who behaved like that, and it came across desperate and really quite repulsive, and it was quite a shock. But maybe one that was useful as a learning experience. But I hope that one day that the world won’t be quite like that.
Having said that, if I lived in Brighton I’d probably take part in the Naked Bike Ride every year regardless, just because it would be easy. I wouldn’t venture there especially for that experience anymore, or pay loads of money to travel to it, but I’d still recommend doing it once if it’s not an area where you’re vulnerable. But if it’s an area where you’re vulnerable, I would steer well clear.
BU: What were some of the main things you learned about yourself following your participation in the bike ride, and would you say it changed or improved the way you perceive your body and/or your relationship with it?
Lucy: In all truth, at that point in my life I had an eating disorder, and I was at a point where my body was not how it would naturally look – and I was more pleased with it than I normally would be. And actually, if anything, the reaction from all the men being so obsessed with how our bodies were was kind of the wrong information; because it was telling me that I was doing the right thing. So I wouldn’t say that it did help in that sense, but it did break the fear of being naked in public enough to mean that once I was later at a point where I didn’t have an eating disorder anymore, and I was trying to accept my body, I knew that being around other naked bodies could give me comfort and perspective, I guess. So it gave me that information, but at the time, I wouldn’t say that it did help me.
BU: Fast-forwarding to the present day, you recently launched Gaia’s Womb Community, which is aiming to “connect mothers through the intense transitional reality that is parenthood, whilst alchemising their challenges into growth gold and laughing/crying at the sheer chaos of it all.” Could you tell us a little about how this lovely community come to be?
Lucy: So Gaia’s Womb was created because myself and my friend Rachel Harper, who has a little toddler the same age as mine, were both pregnant at the same time, and we’ve both taught yoga in the past and we both felt that loneliness again of being self-employed and not having that sense of community anymore. We were talking about how we wanted to keep doing the work we’re doing, but we don’t really like working on our own, so we decided to have a think about what we could potentially do.
And then it’s kind of just come about through both of us trying to work out how to manage – as mothers, in the world that we’re in with the brains that we have – and just trying to work out whether our experience is unique to us, which bits are shared, and in what ways we are actually all just being really hard on ourselves because we think everybody else is managing things that we’re not; when actually nobody’s managing, we’re all just pretending. Which is something that I’ve really found is pretty much the truth! I’m not saying nobody, as there are obviously variations within that, but there’s a lot of shared experience in just feeling like we shouldn’t be feeling what we’re feeling, or thinking what we’re thinking.
And so basically we just wanted to find a way to give people permission to own their experience, and then work with it. And then when you own your experience and the truth of it, that’s when you can actually start to learn what you need to learn, or change what you need to change, to make it easier to deal with it. But also you’re not trying to change everything, or every single part of you. You’re giving yourself love, and that’s huge.
BU: How’s everything going so far, and what can you tell us about the various different retreats that Gaia’s Womb Community has coming up in the not-too-distant future?
Lucy: We’re loving it so far! We’re now at the nitty gritty bit where we’re trying to work out what our base offer is going to be, but at the moment it’s looking like monthly retreats for mums for the mornings, because realistically mums can’t get much more time than that away.
The process of it is about ‘offloading’ at the start, because we will all come into the room with our motherlode weighing on our backs! So it’s about taking that off, sharing it, understanding it, accepting it and giving warmth to it. And then we move on to ‘play’, which is going to look different at every retreat depending on the theme of it. The final part of each retreat is focused on ‘rejuvenation’, because rest is hugely lacking for all parents, I think. So it’s just a matter of getting everything we want into one session, and that’s why we’re doing longer retreats – because this way, we don’t have to sacrifice anything.
For the next retreat it’s going to be about coaching tools relating to planning and goal setting, and just getting an overall view of what your life looks like, what you want it to look like and how it feels – all that stuff. But at our previous session, it was all about somatic movement, and shaking off the energy you’re feeling and just dancing around. So it’s going to be different all the time. We might do an artwork-themed retreat in the future, or one around writing/journalling, so there will be all sorts of different themes. Again, that’s because mothers very rarely get the chance to really think about how they can explore their own experiences of life; it’s very much about creating somebody else’s.
BU: And finally, having given birth for the second time in 2022, how would you say motherhood has impacted your relationship with your body, whether good or bad?
Lucy: It’s been a massive, massive thing. I think the good stuff, for me, is largely around the fact that it’s not only my experience I’m protecting now. So if I see myself drift into a mindset that’s unhelpful, and that’s starting to take over too much of my thought track and my energy and time, I have a lot less tolerance for it being there and I notice it a lot quicker – because I don’t want it to impact my mothering.
So when that starts to happen, I can see the damage that it’s causing a lot more quickly than I used to be able to. And that might be partly because I also had already recognised that in the past, but for me, having my boys is something to be accountable to. I want to look after myself for them. So even when I don’t feel confident enough to be looking after myself for me, I still want to for them.
By ‘look after myself’, I don’t mean ‘be healthy and lose weight’, I mean not to be too hard on myself, not to have too high expectations of myself, and not to hate myself; because I don’t want them to learn to hate themselves, and I don’t want to pass that on. So I need to find my way through this, but I don’t always know how, and it takes time. And that maybe brings more pressure, because suddenly I feel like I should be able to not be a flawed human being who struggles with things – and motherhood definitely brings a lot of pressure in every area!
The other side of it is claustrophobia. My body often doesn’t feel like my body anymore (especially during pregnancy, obviously, when it isn’t), but even with breastfeeding, my little boy right now while we’re talking is stood grabbing at my t-shirt, and I will pull it down and give him a boob because he will want one – and it doesn’t always feel like my breasts are mine anymore. But having said that, I’ve gone through all sorts of journeys with that where I’ve then learned to be empowered about actually, “No, I’m not in the mood to feed you right now and I know you’ve had enough milk, so I’m not going to feed you right now.” I’ll instead distract him while recognising it’s okay for me to value what I would prefer, because it is my body, and it’s not just my duty to offer my body to whatever environment it’s being demanded in.
So it’s been a very interesting time. There’s also things like your boobs change, your stretch marks might come in, and then it’s about figuring out how you interact with these imperfections on your body. There’s also the patience of waiting to see how your body is going to end after you’ve gone through this journey of growing two humans, and each day that I live is moving closer and closer towards how my body is going to settle.
But I think even that is a misconception, because it probably won’t ever settle. There’s so much mud, and for me, I’ve tried to switch my focus from trying to work out the mud, to trying to just clear the mud, and then keep carrying on questioning in each moment, “Am I happy right now? Do I feel restless right now? What do I need right now”? And trusting that my body will do what it’s going to do, and that whatever it looks like when it’s doing it, I need to be okay with that because it’s not in my control; and it’s beautiful because it’s serving so many amazing purposes.
For more on Gaia’s Womb Community, along with full details of each of the upcoming retreats - including a special Mother's Day session on March 18 - head on over to www.gaiaswombcommunity.com where you can find all the information you need. You can also keep tabs on Lucy and Rachel’s journey over on their dedicated Instagram page @gaiaswomb_community.