This website aims to chronicle ‘my journey’ as I navigate through the Doctor of Visual Arts program at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University. My doctorate study aims to investigate alternative visual design strategies utilising typographic forms when addressing body image communication, and especially the promotion of positive body image. My official research question is: can the use of lettering assist in depicting body image diversity in contemporary Australian intervention and awareness campaigns.
Why I’m doing this
Negative body image is a serious and widespread social issue. Having a negative body image can often be underplayed as someone ‘just feeling bad about themselves’, but can develop into serious mental and physical health issues. Behaviours like chronic ‘crash’ dieting and extreme exercise regimes are often seen as ways to rapidly change body shape and have been linked with negative body image. Body modification, cosmetic surgery and substance abuse are also linked to negative body image and are becoming increasingly common occurrences. Clinical-level, disordered eating conditions like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia have been repeatedly linked to negative body image along with a number of other issues such as depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts.
My interest in this area started a few years back when working within Liveworm on projects for the excellent (and criminally underfunded) organisations Eating Disorders Australia (EDA) and the Eating Issues Centre. These projects had similar aims, to raise awareness of body image and eating disorder issues, and try to promote positive body image messages to combat the negative status-quo.
Why a visual designer is looking into a (seemingly) unrelated field
I had no idea where to start with these projects. Knowing visual designers are very much a part of creating a culture that promotes negative body image messages, I wanted to avoid perpetuating the problem with what we produced. I was amazed to find there is plenty of research on intervention and awareness programs (see the great work produced by people such as Jennifer O’Dea at the University of Sydney), but, there was very little out there investigating how these outcomes should look. It occurred to me that visual designers, when faced with such delicate and complex issues, have no real guide on how to go about producing visuals that would be able to best support these positive messages.
Faced with this, I fell back to my default, learned position and approached the project using the traditional service provider marketing-based model. Looking at the various intervention and awareness programs in Australia, you begin to see this is a common strategy. Although there is no malice involved, in many cases the visuals are effectively working against the aims of the project, rather than supporting it. It’s clear that for all the great work being done on researching intervention and awareness to be effective, the visual nature of them needs urgent attention.
What I’m trying to achieve
So, I’m hoping to work out how to do it better, and along the way try to come up with strategies, outcomes and guides for others in my field to follow. As an aside, I’ll hopefully earn a silly doctorate hat!
I’m also looking to connect to like minded researchers, designers, potential collaborators, and other interested parties. I believe that visual designers have a responsibility to address this issue and can also make significant contributions to getting positive body image messages out there. Make sure you get in touch.