Talk for Parents and Teachers - Andy's Blog
Wednesday 11th February 2015

Our first workshop at our new home at The Canvas in Shoreditch was a huge success.

Hosted by The Self Esteem Team's Natasha Devon, and organised by Body Gossip founder Ruth Rogers, this talk for Parents and Teachers about Body Image and Self Esteem was attended by members of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, Mumsnet, Tender Domestic Violence Charity, Beat, and our friend Andy from the Diogenes Sun Club, a body-confidence naturist club in the Chiltern Hills.  Here, Andy tells us about the evening.

Only I could do it! Emerging into the bitter cold from Aldgate tube I headed expectantly towards The Canvas Cafe and took a wrong turn. Suddenly the mass of heads-down commuters and skinny- trousered hipsters gave way to a rather dark street that looked nothing like where I should be. Sheltering in the dim yellow glow of a doorway, I squinted through the raindrops on my glasses at my well thumbed A to Z, only to realise that I had indeed gone left a tad early. Pressing on, I wove down a couple more equally dimly lit side streets, before plunging headlong into the light and bustle of Brick Lane, where the equally cold looking chaps with their upturned collars, hustling for my custom outside some deliciously fragrant restaurants, came fairly close to diverting me from my mission.

Turning into Hanbury Street I was soon warming up in The Canvas, a steaming cup of very fine tea in hand (loose leaf of course!) and chatting away to Ruth Rogers, who was multi-tasking by welcoming visitors, as well as staffing the counter in the cafe and directing others downstairs to the basement function space. The Canvas screams creativity, positivity and inclusiveness from every brick and the reason for the name soon became clear - visitors can write their own messages or thoughts on the white walls, a gesture that for me at least gave rise to a delicious frisson of Bohemian rebellion so great that I just couldn't, lest my late father's ghostly hand reached out and slapped me across the wrist!

I'd never met Ruth, and was looking forward to doing so, having interviewed her at some length for British Naturism magazine a few months previously and been inspired by the whole message of Body Gossip - 'rock your own brand of gorgeous' - as well as Ruth's engaging manner and obvious passion for her work. I was honoured to have been invited to this event on the back of this interview, and also on behalf of the naturist club of which my family are members, Diogenes Sun Club in Buckinghamshire.

As naturists we see every year how newcomers to our way of life embrace their own bodies and come to find of their 'own brand of gorgeous' for themselves, their first-time nerves soon giving way to smiles. There's no false imagery in our world and we are only too aware of the rich diversity of the human body in all its glory. To accept our bodies as they are, recognising that our scars, our lumps and bumps are part of the story of our life's journey, is a tremendous self esteem booster and simply great for wellbeing. To become a naturist is to shed a whole heap of baggage and we hear truly inspirational stories all the time, so naturally the Body Gossip agenda resonates.

However, naturism aside, I am also a parent to two wonderful daughters and so my parental curiosity was also fired up. I'm only too conscious of the tremendous pressures heaped upon them that were simply not present when I was growing up so I'm obviously keen to know that I'm doing my best and approaching these issues appropriately. Would Natasha's tips and strategies show me as the wise and nurturing father I fondly imagine myself to be (through rose tinted spectacles of course!) or was I destined to leave at the end of the evening beating myself up, doomed as an incompetent doofus who should stick to 'dad dancing' at social events?

Fortunately, it was more the former than the latter! Natasha held our attention as she took us through the key approaches, sprinkling her useful and inspiring presentation with some nice irreverent touches that extracted some chuckles from what is of course a very serious issue. The talk was illustrated by some clips of beauty industry advertising, which, when the sheer scale of the false images was pointed out, made me feel both angry and yet slightly depressed. That these are presented as ideals and aspirations to a generation is truly troubling, yet as Natasha pointed out, there is hope, there are strategies.

The reality is that there isn't going to be a let up in this tsunami of digitally manipulated 'perfection' any time soon, so let's empower young people, encourage them to challenge what they see and recognise it for what is. Essentially Natasha gave us tactics for a positive way forward, hope that through nurturing discerning young people, who are not afraid to critically challenge what they see, we can build self esteem and not allow their inner monologue to be dominated by negativity .

Of course, I can't do justice to the pointers Natasha gave us in this short blog, but her new book 'Fundamentals' co-authored with Lynn Crilly offers accessible and straightforward guidance for parents teachers and carers and covers self-esteem, dealing with mental health issues and instilling a positive state of mind. I'm avidly reading my copy already, and it's a great read.

After a break for some tasty canapés, it was time for some questions for Natasha, all of which were answered in thoughtful detail, followed by the opportunity to network a little with our fellow attendees before donning our coats and heading out into a night which had certainly not got any warmer or drier in the previous two hours!

As both a naturist and a parent, the evening left me full of positivity and ideas. My wife and I are already re-opening our conversations about body image with our daughters and I'm also looking to how these positive messages can support people as they consider naturism.

I have to say that I left The Canvas more buzzing than I have been in some time, and as I trudged through the icy rain back to Aldgate I was on my mobile to my wife babbling on at one hundred miles per hour about the evening I'd just had...only to find I'd taken a wrong turn again and was in another dark side street - would you Adam and Eve it, as they used to say round here!

Now if only Natasha could do a guide to London...



Body Gossip workshop for Parents and Teachers on body image and self esteem
Body Gossip workshop for Parents and Teachers on body image and self esteem
Body Gossip workshop for Parents and Teachers on body image and self esteem
Body Gossip workshop for Parents and Teachers on body image and self esteem

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