Interview with theatre maker, Louise Barron!
In our final interview of the year, theatre maker Louise Barron - who recently joined us for a body positivity photoshoot at the Belt Craft Studios in London - talks to us about the body issues she faced growing up, the ways in which poking fun at herself has inadvertently had an adverse effect, and why learning to love yourself is not always as easy as Instagram makes out.
Britain Uncovered: Hi Louise! It was very fitting that our recent body positivity photoshoot tied in with this year’s World Mental Health Day, as we feel that there’s such a strong connection between physical and mental well-being. How important do you feel it is to have a day like this that raises awareness of mental health disorders?
Louise: Being open and honest about mental health is something that is incredibly new, and whilst I think that this is wonderful, I also think it’s important to recognise how delicate we should be whilst talking about mental health. World Mental Health Day is a day where people can come clean with those they love, the world, and with themselves about how they may be struggling/recovering – and I think that that opportunity is not only fantastic, but also compulsory.
It is also a day in which platforms such as social media suddenly become flooded with stories of people's journeys to healthier and happier lives. This is wonderful and heart-warming, of course, but can also be really invasive for people who might not yet be on that journey towards better health. 2020 has, overwhelmingly, seen national mental health plummet, and I know that it has been hard for a lot of people to be so exposed to so many (sometimes) triggering tales. A lot of these stories involve professional support, and during a time when so many mental health resources have been cut/limited, it is hard for someone struggling mentally to find similar paths to better health.
Another thing I’d like to question whilst discussing this; does having just one day of the year dedicated to such an overridingly key part of our modern lives give an excuse to do less work raising awareness around the rest of the year? Why don’t we have mental health taught as a fundamental topic in biology in schools, alongside those oh so fundamental lessons in cell structure?
Schools shouldn’t be presenting just one PowerPoint every October to their students about anxiety/ depression just because it’s World Mental Health Day. They should have the funding and the supplies to teach this all year round. It affects us all, in varying degrees and in varying ways. We should be educated enough in mental health to know about what’s happening to us, when it’s happening to us. OR, the government needs to provide the general public with the proper resources to do that for us.
Britain Uncovered: Before our photoshoot took place, you mentioned that body positivity was a subject you were really interested in – not only from your own experiences, but also from those of your surrounded family. Could you tell us a little more about why this is such an important subject to you?
Louise: My relationship with my body has been a really difficult one. Yes, I’ve massively struggled with confidence about things like my weight – is my belly too big, are my legs too lumpy, and why does the skin around my arms flap so loosely – but I think the thing that I’ve struggled with the most here is allowing myself to like my breasts. My knockers. My chebs. CHRIST, I have grown up hating my chebs.
We are (on the whole) getting better at talking about how important body positivity is when someone is branded as too big, too little, or not quite ‘right’, but what about when someone is the owner of a body that has two boulders of fat stuck to it that are seen as, for all intents and purposes, quite sexy.
Picture this. A child, aged ten, looks down and suddenly has a chest that is slightly bigger than her classmates. Bam. She’s wearing a training bra, it hurts to run down the stairs, and ultimately, people look at her differently. I’ve been sexualised since that age, and I’m yet to remember a time where that has played in my favour. Even occasions where stereotypically having big knockers is a plus, i.e. landing a free drink in a bar… there’s never a feeling of empowerment or strength left in that, always just a dirty echo of the word ‘slut’ – sneered all too many a time – ricocheting round my head.
It would be nice to believe that if I were able to talk to my younger self and say: ‘Don’t listen to them’, ‘You are strong’, ‘Beauty is about so much more than what you look like’, it would have made much of a difference. But actually, it isn’t just the young gxrls who we should be teaching to feel beautiful. We should be teaching everyone, young and old, to stop talking about womxn’s bodies as much as we do. Especially when these ‘womxn’ are still children or teenagers who are still learning about what the world is, what to make of it, and what it’s making of you.
Britain Uncovered: In October 2018, we had the pleasure of seeing you perform in Deptford Wives, a production that you were also involved in as musical director. Does being up on stage in front of audiences on a regular basis make actors and actresses more aware or self-conscious about how they’ve being perceived physically, and consequently, do they perhaps face greater self-image challenges than those not working in the limelight to such an extent?
Louise: Oh my god, theatrical people are so self-conscious. We make a living by being seen; we are constantly staring at ourselves through a screen, mirror, or metaphorically through some deep/dismal character-development workshop.
I don’t love going on about how difficult an actor's life can be – when push comes to shove, a lot of people have it a lot worse (and as an already dramatic bunch we are oh so great at moaning) – however, one struggle of this career path is definitely our relationships with our bodies. Ultimately, our ‘image’ can either get us work, or can leave us without an income. A lot goes into that: are you thin enough for the part you’re auditioning for tomorrow but curvy enough for the audition the following day? It’s impossible to keep up with.
I guess I’m lucky as my focus is often on creating my own work as opposed to trying to fit other creative’s moulds for their different visions. I’ve just had to learn very quickly that you can’t please everybody. After all, the overall aim is to look as ‘human’, or ‘real’ as possible. Supposedly.
Britain Uncovered: Confidence (or lack thereof) has the potential to be hugely disruptive in all forms of life, no matter the individual involved or the job at hand. Would you generally consider yourself a body confident person overall, and if so, how are you able to achieve this outlook?
Louise: This is something I’m really not very good at doing. I mean, people think I’m really body confident, but I think I’ve achieved this in quite an unhealthy way. I rip on my body image a lot, and I allow/sometimes encourage people around me to do the same. In my mind, I guess it adds to my sarcastic and tough exterior.
A couple of years ago I lost some weight quite quickly and, due to my newfound confidence, a culture of fat shaming myself materialised – genuinely because I believed I didn’t have anything to worry about anymore. Of course, I eventually put that weight back on, and this poking fun at my weight continued. It’s unhealthy as shit, and it really does affect me in those times when I’m feeling less confident about myself.
I’ve had some long conversations with myself and my peers very recently, just making sure we’re all on the same page in terms of how this recurring joke now gets to me. It’s helped a lot, and that’s something that I think is really important about body confidence: honesty. If you’re feeling shit about yourself, it is so unhelpful to continue to exert a positive image. Instead, I’ve found it helpful to just say to the world, ‘Hey, build me up for a bit to help me find some love in myself again. I’m struggling on my own.’
Britain Uncovered: What advice or guidance might you offer to somebody not feeling quite so at ease in their own skin?
Louise: Be forgiving with yourself! Talk to your peers. Recognise that these feelings are more than likely due to a dip in mental health/self-love as opposed to an actual physical change in yourself and your body. Even if you have physically changed, really try to find ways to make it easier to love these changes in your body.
I’m hesitant to say, ‘Love yourself regardless!’, and leave it at that. Loving yourself is HARD and everyone on Instagram encourages it as if it’s going to be so easy – like an on/off switch. Whenever I’m feeling under confident about something body-wise, I spend some time doing things that might make me feel beautiful in other ways e.g. doing my nails, waxing my tash, or whacking on some fake tan. If I’m feeling up to it, I might also take some selfies, find bits in them that are hot, and show people I’m close to saying ‘Don’t I look good in this?’. This is just me though. Find what works for you.
Britain Uncovered: All of this ultimately led us to our photoshoot in early October, which took place at the Belt Craft Studios up in North London. What was it like taking part on the day, and did it differ to what you’d anticipated ahead of time? Did you feel quite relaxed, and did having another model there help you feel more at ease?
Louise: I was terrified, to be completely honest! However, it was an absolutely amazing experience to be working with Elizabeth (the other model), and I brought my best pal Ami along with me too. Gxls, whenever you’re feeling the slightest bit nervous about any kind of shoot/job, just bring a pal along. Even if you feel awkward about it, just bring them. It’s better to have needlessly brought someone along and for them to feel slightly spare part-esque than to find yourself wishing you had someone with you.
Britain Uncovered: Finally, do you feel enough is being done to promote bodies of all shapes and sizes by the mainstream media, and would featuring a more diverse array of body shapes on TV and in advertisements help people feel more accepting of themselves?
Louise: Of course not, but things are getting better. Noting and talking about progress obviously can danger future progressions (for example, ‘Our power is getting cleaner – solving the climate crisis? Completed it mate’!); however, I think there is comfort and hope in recognising that things are improving.
Hopefully soon we will be living in a world where a daily social conversation about someone's body is a thing of the past, and we’ll be worrying about more important things (like Avril Lavigne – is she alive? Or did she die and get replaced by a clone named Melissa?)