Choose to Challenge female body-shaming in theatre

10th March 2021

It was International Women’s Day (IWD) earlier this week and we joined in by celebrating the amazing women we have worked with over the years to create some incredible projects and productions.

IWD continue its mission of working towards a gender equal world, while celebrating the achievements of all women and calling out inequality. Each year they run a different theme to give leverage to women to raise awareness and challenge gender bias. This year’s campaign is #ChoosetoChallenge

IWD say:

A challenged world is an alert world. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women's achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let's all choose to challenge.

We #ChoosetoChallenge female body-shaming within theatre and the arts. To show our support and solidarity we raise our hand to show we're in and committed to our challenge.

Body image’ is a term used to describe the way we think and feel about our bodies. How we perceive ourselves and our relationship with our body can have a profound effect on how we live our lives and also our wellbeing. Body image is extremely personal.

It is however a huge subject that is discussed a great deal within theatre, right from drama school. As soon as we start out, as women we are conditioned to believe we need to look a certain way in order to get specific roles. It’s teaching us to not love our own bodies and we have to change in order to become successful in the industry.

Giving young, impressionable, and vulnerable women these types of ideas is not healthy and puts unnecessary pressure on them and their bodies. These damaging body image perceptions are likely to stay with them for life.

In 2019, The Stage reported on a survey called ‘Making an Appearance’ which was carried out by Equity’s Women’s Committee and the Centre for Contemporary British Theatre at Royal Holloway University. It bought to light the level of body-shaming and negativity around body image within theatre.

From the 400 UK performers surveyed (both women and men), some of the results included:

  • 64% have been asked to change their physical appearance
  • Over 75% felt pressurised to look a certain way
  • Over 50% had had their appearance criticised 

You can read the full report here.

As you can see women aren’t the only ones who are body-shamed - men are too.

Every female actor is unique - unique in personality and unique in body type. As we get older, certainly after having children, our natural body shape changes and its increasingly difficult to get back to the size and shape you used to be - very often it’s impossible! 

This needs to be celebrated and not scrutinized. These are the honest messages we should be shouting out, not bringing people down about the way they look.  

In an interview with Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan she said: “It bothers me that we reduce women to the size of their body”.

She sadly has been body-shamed by not only individuals in the press and public, but in 2018 she was called an ‘overweight little girl’ by a theatre reviewer. Can you believe it? By a male reviewer within our industry who should have known better. Quite rightly she asked: “What about my acting?”

Instead of judging actors on their body types, its time they were judged on their talent and work. That is why we are here and why we have trained and worked hard to achieve. We should be assessed on that and nothing else.

Sadly, body-shaming has been around for decades within our industry. We have an insidious culture of negative body image and body-shaming within our industry, and society, which we must put a stop to. 

We must start having conversations with the industry around body image and do it regularly to make it the norm. We need to get people to fall in love with themselves and love their body. We shouldn’t be telling people what they need to look like, what they need to weigh or how they should dress. When has that ever been ok?

IWD enables us to get our voices heard and helps us to create change, but don’t wait for the 8th March each year. This is an ongoing campaign that we will stick to for the long term to continually celebrate women and our talent, success stories, experiences and achievements. 

So, make sure you join in – what will you #ChoosetoChallenge?

Watch this incredible piece created by IWD for some inspiration.