Body Positivity — A call for a Social Movement

By Design Innovation: How Might We Encourage Body Positivity at an Early Age?

Service Design Reflections — Building up the underlying research methodology, mapping the problem, co-creating a shift in the mindset in a socially viable environment

A 2-week group assignment as part of M.Des in Design Innovation and Service Design course at Glasgow School of Art, unfolded the ordeal behind a social issue that is deep rooted in different cultures across the globe. The impact of how body image is tackled at the young age tends to affect us throughout our lives.

The genesis of this project was initiated with a reflexive investigation into our life’s events, moments, and encounters with the world around, encompassing our social, cultural and political associations. During this auto ethnography process, we used journey mapping techniques and identified the critical issues that rose out of each one’s life journeys. The glimpses of opportunities emerged during our group discussions, which led us to delve into various interconnected issues such as bullying at the young age at schools or colleges or even as early as the pre-school child care. The demoralizing role of body image and body shaming was also a pressing revelation through our self-observation.

The Research which Opened Many Doors:

Starting with the issue of ‘body shaming’ and reading through the online resources, news articles and personal blogs we did lose our way while formulating the strategy for enquiry. Reflecting upon and tracing back our research process, I was able to better formulate a structure that we had followed.

The epistemological positioning of our research was deep rooted into ‘Constructionism’ where we strived to build upon the experiences of our individual lives, constructing the meaning around our lived experiences (our team belonged to different parts of the world –China & India) and uncovering the perceptions of our participants who had been subjected to body shaming either throughout their lives, or at specific points in their journey.

The theoretical perspective of our research involved the basis of ‘Symbolic Interactionism’, to recognize how people establish meanings and interpret situations based on the past notions of body image. We wanted to enquire how body shaming is associated with low self-esteem and investigate how people deal with it on a daily basis.

The obvious research methodology that came up was ethnographic enquiry by interacting with our participants and hearing about their lived experiences. We went into the participant interviews with a well thought of questionnaire which soon gave way to an unstructured and non-directive form of questioning.

Drawing insights from each conversation and then reorganizing them through affinity mapping brought up a plate full of opportunities all directing us to address this social problem through a social solution.

Hurdles: The team was located in different cities and conducted the entire research through online mediums. The interview of participants was through zoom and over phone calls. We might have missed few crucial insights which we might have retrieved through face-to-face interviews in an ideal scenario. Nevertheless, we embraced this as part of learning and adapting in the current scheme of things.

Define | Sketch | Decide — ‘Body Positivity as a Social Movement’

Normalizing how people perceive appearances and advocating the acceptance of all body types, it was imperative that we veer the mindset from body shaming to body positivity. This alone was not solving our intentions of creating a society where the inherent values and traits of a person presides over appearances. With these intentions, we started co-creating a social movement WITH the teenagers and FOR the teenagers, empowering them to create a long lasting impact through their collective actions.

Unattended Wishlist: An unfulfilled step during the project was designing engagement tools for a participatory design workshop with the teenagers and interaction with the organizations working for the youth. An observation study of how these youth organization work with teenagers would have been an icing over the cake.

Instigating a social change require addressing the issue at various touch points. Our movement #lovewhoyouare was directed towards teenagers as stakeholders and targeted at the school level interactions. As facilitators of this event, our goal was the PLAN, EXECUTE & CREATE AWARENESS.

PLAN: #lovewhoyouare will contact the neighboring schools, associate with teenage volunteers to plan the activities, decide the date & location and promote the event

EXECUTE: A full day workshop will be planned for the students of the school hosting the event. There will be ‘Engaging’, ‘Connecting and ‘Collaborating’ exercises, backed up by informative lectures and brochures as takeaways.

CREATE AWARENESS: Word of mouth (we expect teenagers to walk out of these workshops carrying a positive personal image and embracing the new mindset of looking within for the core values of each person); online awareness through social media and an informative website.

Storyboard that followed

Prototype & Test

Some of the workshops planned for the first event to be held post pandemic:

1. Engagement exercise: Tee — shirt Painting

The participant can select any one of their body parts which they like/dislike the most. They will paint an illustration of it on a white tee-shirt (Tee-shirt will have pre-printed logo). The participant will be assisted by volunteer artists to create an interesting illustration of their own body parts. The intention is to release the built up notion of their body image and celebrate it by wearing your fears/misunderstandings. Accept and love your body #lovewhoyouare

2. Connecting exercise: Looking beyond the appearance of my Friends

This is a group exercise. The first participant has to get a picture of the body part clicked which he/she dislikes the most. This image will be pinned on a board. The first participant’s friends have to select 3 words that define the traits of the person from the list of magnetic cutouts of words given to them. The list of words could be: funny, caring, outgoing, intelligent, sporty, vibrant, adventurous, helpful…and so on. The goal of this exercise it to look beyond the appearance and admire the core values that your friends see in you.

3. Collaborative exercise — What others say

Here the participant needs to get her/his photo taken and posted on the exhibition wall. This exhibition wall has 2 sides (front and back). There is an assortment of body part icons in the basket. The participant has to select the icons from the basket representing the body parts that she likes or dislikes the most in her body. The front side of the wall is open for the rest of the visitors to select the icon of the body part that they admire the most based on the picture posted on that wall. The aim of this exercise is to make the participant aware that what they think about their body image may not be true for others. Someone may admire the features that you most dislike in yourself, so stop bothering about your appearance.

www.lovewhoyouare (dummy url)

The website is designed for

  • Engaging teenagers by showcasing the past activities and real life narratives of teens
  • Information sharing through latest news, articles and fun facts
  • Community Discussions
  • Broadcasting information regarding latest events & activities

Brochure: A medium for knowledge sharing which can be distributed at each event. Content of the brochure will depict the definitions of beauty in different countries and time periods at home and abroad, highlighting the rationale that beauty is a subjective. Inspiring the teenagers to accept oneself regardless of physical ability, features, gender, race, or appearance; and falling in love with yourself and your core values. Maybe the problems that bothers you are not problems at all.

Testing with the stakeholders: Here the project took an intriguing turn. The testing revealed the relevance of this project at the school level and the curiosity associated with it. The 2 teenagers we managed to test gave us feedback which affirmed the necessity of addressing this social issue in a participatory way. Indulging and engaging with teenagers who face body shaming on a regular basis and recreating a social environment which encourages body positivity.

The team collaborated between different time zones over zoom and the MIRO board. (Team: Weixuan, Xingyi, Junan, Yuwen & Vinishree)

Note to Self: This problem is real, prevalent and waiting to be addressed urgently. Take that extra step, investigate the potential of this project and connect with the stakeholders, especially the organizations working with the youth.

Service Designer | Practicing Lighting Designer | Industrial Designer | Architect