Student Louise Brown’s “body positive and mental health awareness art” challenges harmful beauty standards

By Elizabeth Coop

Newcastle University undergraduate Louise Brown, 22, created goodstrangevibes in 2018 to sell her feminist, body positive and mental health awareness artwork.

Watch Conscious on Campus’ full interview with Louise

Louise has a very personal experience with the intersection of distorted body image and mental health issues. She started her business during recovery from an eating disorder. Eating disorders are serious and complex mental illnesses that are characterised by disordered eating behaviours. UK charity Beat says that recovery is difficult and eating disorders can be dangerously enduring.

Engagement in arts has been proven to promote mental wellbeing. Drawing her naked body helped Louise to improve her self-image. “I’m not claiming that my art solved everything, but it definitely helped me to recover”, she says. Goodstrangevibes allows her to share her art with a wider audience and “spread positive messages about diverse body types that encourage viewers to feel confident”.

Louise sells her work at markets like Home from Home. Photograph: Louise Brown

Approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. Females are disproportionately affected. Louise says that feminism and body positivity are inextricably linked, because women are held to unrealistic beauty standards. But, Louise’s work recognises that eating disorders impact all genders. Her website has a dedicated section about men’s mental health.

Marginalised and fat bodies are rarely celebrated in the mass media. This lack of visibility can have a significant influence on eating disorders. Louise says that she is often concerned about “taking up space” in the body positive movement on social media, because she is a slim, white woman. However, Louise displays an unwavering commitment to celebrating a diverse range of bodies. Her art is inclusive of all body types, races, genders, and sexual orientations.

Much of Louise’s work celebrates marginalised bodies. Image: Louise Brown

Goodstrangevibes had an organic beginning. Louise says, “I made t-shirts for myself and a few people told me they wanted one. So, I had made and sold some. It grew from there”. She says that business advisors from Newcastle University’s START UP team provide invaluable support and advice to help her run the business.

Juggling her art, business and studies can be overwhelming. The START UP advisors have helped her to cope, but she has also accessed mental health support from the student and staff wellbeing service at Newcastle University.

Ever the activist, Louise used a grant from Newcastle University’s Alumni Association Student Initiative Fund to help develop goodstrangevibes into an eco-friendly business. She is switching to plastic-free packaging, recycled paper and is experimenting with hand-drawing designs onto second-hand t-shirts.

Despite her success, not everybody is receptive to body positive art. In 2019, Louise joined FemSoc to hold an art sale and raise money for the West End Refugee Service at Newcastle University Library. The Tab reported that library staff asked Louise to take down an image of a naked female body, as it was potentially offensive to visitors.

A piece spotlights and destigmatises the individual challenges of mental health recovery. Image: Louise Brown

Today, her body positive artwork is more necessary than ever. Beat reports that demand for their services has increased by 50% during the Coronavirus pandemic. Louise continues to communicate inclusive and affirming messages through her vibrant work. She is an activist and she is taking a strong stand for those who suffer from eating disorders and other mental health problems.

Disclaimer: I am not a qualified mental health professional. Any advice I give is not medical, but based on my own personal experiences. Anybody experiencing mental health problems should contact a doctor or other healthcare professional.

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