Thinking about Body Image

I suppose nearly all of us are familiar with doubts over our bodies and the image they portray to the world.

Annabel’s work sometimes involves dealing with body image issues.  “In my way, I’m trying to battle the constant messages from the media, from society, and from ourselves, that make us think we should all look stick like….thin and preferably tall; or buxom with huge pouting mouths, etc.  With cosmetic surgery being widely available to everyone with a little money, these things are achievable and operations for altering breast sizes, injecting collagen, sucking out fat and face lifts are common place.  Life 7 was largely about this issue and trying to find happiness with what is rather than what is not.”

45,000 people had cosmetic surgery in the UK last year (this is chosen surgery, not done through medical need)

Life 7 – On The Shelf by Annabel Rainbow

“Even when I do other quilts than the Life Series, the same issues sneak in.”  Here’s a piece done specifically for the Orientation series of exhibitions with SixandFriends.

Dragonfly quilt by Annabel Rainbow

“I distorted the bodies of the 2 ladies by making the the torsos of the bodies much longer and thinner than the heads, shoulders and arms.

My local art gallery – Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum (notably the birth place of Through Our Hands!!) has a rehang at the moment called “Medicate” and other artists on show also deal with these issues.”

Here’s a local Leamington artist with his work “Shapeshifter”.  His explanation for the piece is below (taken from his blog)


Shapeshifter by Neil Moore, currently hanging in Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum as part of the Medicate re-hang.

Neil says: This painting of mine is currently displayed in Leamington Spa Art Gallery and Museum as part of the biennial rehang of the main art gallery. It is, too my knowledge, as yet the only painting of mine that has been acquired by a public collection (all my other works having disappeared into private collections). It is included in a “Medicate” themed rehang alongside works by Marc Quinn, Jason Oddy, Alexa Wright etc.. Why “Medicate”? Leamington, or Royal Leamington Spa to give it its full title, was until a few years ago famous for its healing waters and people came from far and wide to ‘take’ the spa water at the Pump Rooms. The art gallery is now in what used to be an NHS hydrotherapy unit within the Pump Rooms. In partnership with the Wellcome Trust, and in keeping with the buildings history, many works have since been collected with a medical theme. 

Many years ago while suffering from back pain I was referred by my doctor for treatment at the Pump Rooms and experienced the full range of hydrotherapy treatments under the supervision of the renowned, and I think last head of the hydrotherapy unit, the formidable Miss Golland. Alas, in my case, it didn’t help alleviate the pain. It was however an interesting experience (it is one of the many redeeming features of being an artist that even the unpleasant parts of life are food for the imagination!)   

At the time (2004) when I painted “Shapeshifter” I had become intrigued by western society’s increasing interest in cosmetic surgery. People’s apparent dissatisfaction with their appearance seemed to intensify with the proliferation of ‘celebrity’ culture. The illusory perfection of these airbrushed icons became achievable to anyone with enough self loathing and money. Sadly, if you desired Jennifer Lopez’s bum or Madonna’s breasts, there were plenty of surgeons willing to assist you – at a price. The emotional insecurity necessary to resort to such a drastic and often dangerous procedure is disheartening to contemplate.The use of same model for both the “surgeon” and the “patient” in the picture was intentional because it reflected my feeling that cosmetic surgery is often just a socially acceptable form of ‘self harm’.

I am always glad to have my work seen anywhere but I am especially pleased to be hung alongside works by Simon Lewty and Barry Burman both of whom I have known for many years (or, tragically, knew in Barry’s case – sadly he took his own life some years ago). I hope that you can visit the gallery. Like many small municipal galleries they have some artistic gems and it is well worth a visit. Many, if not all, of the collection has been digitised and can be accessed via their website