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Showbiz Interview

Body Gossip interview: 'Advertising tries to make you feel insecure'

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Body Gossip - Ruth Rogers and Natasha Devon
Last month at the Cosmopolitan Ultimate Women of the Year Awards, the likes of Nicole Scherzinger, Tulisa Contostavlos and the Kardashians picked up awards for being super, sexy and sassy.

Equally worthy of the gongs were a clutch of less-famous figures, including Ruth Rogers and Natasha Devon of Body Gossip, who won the 'Ultimate Campaigners' prize.

Digital Spy wanted to find out more about the campaign, how it started and where it's going, so we got in touch and asked them all about it.

Why did you start Body Gossip?
Ruth: "I went to New York to study film acting in 2006... I'd been in my new apartment for about half an hour when my landlord invited me to go and play some sport with him. When I said no, he said, 'Well, you should probably think about losing weight if you want to be an actress'. It really got to me, and I got very angry. I've been at my healthy weight for the last ten years.

"I paid attention to him. I went running a lot and didn't eat much and for about a month I became quite upset with my looks. Luckily I snapped myself out of it and felt very angry about what I was asked to do. Then I thought, 'If I've had this tiny thing happen to me and it's upset me this much, what must other people be going through?'"



What's the campaign all about?
Natasha: "We invite everyone in the UK to send us thoughts, opinion or a story that relates to body image in some way. We take a selection of those stories and we turn them into live theatre events, short films, and most recently we published them in a book. We provide for real people to have their say. The second thing we do is teach self-esteem classes at schools, universities and colleges all over the country."

How tricky is it to talk to boys?
Natasha: "I know they have body issues because they email me sometimes, but they would rather staple their eyelids to a table than talk about it. They try so hard to pretend they're not interested and you can see it in their body language and everything.

"There are initiatives out there for teenage girls - they get it. They've already had that discussion. There's just as much of a need for boys, but it's harder work, and there are a lot of people who aren't prepared to take that challenge on."

Body Gossip girls Natasha Devon and Ruth Rogers with Craig Revel-Horwood

© Christina Wentworth



How much is the media to blame for the body issues people have?
Natasha: "There are so many organisations with the media - and celebrities as well - who feel very passionately about this and are doing great work. People always say, 'The media's responsible'. The media's huge and there's good and bad within it. I think the problem is very specifically advertising.

"Advertising is what unites all the media - it's how the media makes money. It's the only area of media that has a vested interest in making people feel insecure, because insecure people buy things. A lot of what I teach in the self-esteem classes are about recognising when you're being manipulated into insecurity for commercial reasons."

Ruth: "I don't think we can change advertising and the media's portrayal of unobtainable beauty, because it makes so much money. The only reason that companies want to make us feel ugly is so that we buy their products in order to look more beautiful. By constantly moving the goalposts of beautiful, we are constantly going out and buying £50 of facial moisturiser every month or whatever."



How much do celebrities stripping naked for glossies and saying 'I hate my body' help or hinder?
Natasha: "I don't think you can blame the individuals. There are people who make a career out of putting on and losing weight and they know that will keep them in the headlines. That's their job. What we've got to look at is the culture we've created where that's even possible. Where people have got something really interesting to say and people say, 'No, no, no, I'm not interested in that - I want to see your cellulite'.

"If we were in a culture where it was okay to be a human being, with bra strap marks and stretch marks and wrinkles and spots and all the things that people have, then we wouldn't be interested in seeing pictures of people in their bikinis. We've got to look at all the influences on us as a society, rather than blaming individual publications or celebrities. They are a product of their environment - they're not really to blame."

Body Gossip Ambassadors

© Cyan Rose


[Body Gossip Ambassadors L->R Zaraah Abrahams, Ortis Deley, Cerrie Burnell and Louisa Lytton]

Do you get annoyed by the phrase 'real women'?
Natasha: "I'm incredibly frustrated by the phrase 'real women'. Skinny women aren't holograms... Everyone has to accept that there are glorious bits of you and bits that aren't as glorious. The problem is people keep striving for 'perfection' - a created notion of perfection. Women who are more slender are getting implants, and women who are naturally curvy are killing themselves going the other way.

"Why can't there be variety? Why is it that whatever's trendy at a given time is what we're supposed to be aspiring to? Everybody can hold in their head the idea that Kate Moss and Adele are both gorgeous - it's not difficult to get your head around! So why can't we apply that to ourselves?"

Are people getting wise to airbrushing and digital manipulation of photos?
Natasha: "Your reaction to a photo isn't logical, it's emotional. You can logically look at a photo and go, 'I know that's been airbrushed', but it doesn't matter how intelligent you are, somewhere in your mind you're going, 'Why don't I look like that?'

"The specific way things are airbrushed, sometimes it's obvious, sometimes it's not... no-one's looking at a photo and thinking, 'I wonder if they've lengthened her neck'. It's not something that occurs to you. The Girl Guides came up with an idea to put a stamp on airbrushed photos saying, 'This has been airbrushed'... really for that to work you'd have to have a whole list of the changes!"

Ruth: "What Natasha's doing is arming young people with the tools to look an advert on a billboard or magazine, and go, 'Yep, I know that's not real - and I know that I am the best version of me'."



Is Body Gossip more about changing the mindset of individuals affected with these issues, or of society as a whole?
Natasha: "It's essential to take a dual approach to it. The education side of it is changing the minds of individuals and the theatre side is changing the minds of society. We're trying to broaden people's understanding of what is normal by putting the stories out there. By working with teenagers when their minds are more open, we hope that we're giving people the armour to deal with the world how it is."

Ruth: "If you write your story down, it's cathartic. It gets it out of your head on to a page. We've had so many people emailing us to say, 'I don't mind if this never gets turned into a play or turned into a film, I just feel so much better now I've said it and got it off my chest'. Anyone who reads or watches one of those stories will realise that they're not alone.

"What we try and do is initially ask people to think about their bodies more, so that eventually they'll think about them less. Body worries are taking up too much of our time, and people aren't fulfilling their potential that they have because they're too crippled by low self-esteem. There'll not be another female Prime Minister if she's too crippled by body image problems."

Body Gossip at the Cosmopolitan awards - Ruth Rogers, Natasha Devon, Fearne Cotton


Is this something that's getting better or worse?
Natasha: "We live in a culture where we talk endlessly about body image, but we talk about it in the wrong way. We're very obsessed with extremes, especially on television. It's almost Victorian freakshow-esque, the way we point at people who are either morbidly obese or borderline anorexic, or have had surgery that's gone wrong, or have a gym addiction or whatever.

"We turn these people into entertainment and there's this huge swathe of people who don't think their body issues are worthy of note. That's what we're trying to do with the real stories. Everybody deserves to have their say... so many organisations are doing fantastic work - in a way it's counterbalanced by things like Supersize vs Superskinny - which is the devil's programme and should be taken off air immediately. It's a constant battle really."

What was it like to win that prize at the Cosmopolitan awards?
Natasha: "Incredibly surreal! The entire evening. I remember being sat there going, 'That's Mark Wright. That's Alesha Dixon. That's Nicole Scherzinger'. You've seen these people in magazines and suddenly you're in a room with them. It was so amazing to have our hard work acknowledged."

Ruth: "I was so excited for the campaign. I haven't really allowed myself to get excited for me yet... Natasha and I aren't famous, yet somehow our campaign is becoming famous and that means more people will benefit from it, which is just amazing. That's what I felt - the recognition of how two normal girls who were at school together had managed to get Cosmopolitan magazine noticing them - I was really chuffed!"

Read more about Body Gossip on its official website and give your support to the campaign via buzzbnk

Buy Body Gossip: The Book here - with foreword by Gok Wan and stories from Jermain Defoe, Alesha Dixon, Nikki Grahame and others.

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