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'I am Me'

For quite some time, I’ve been recovering from Anorexia Nervosa and Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Even though I have moved on leaps and bounds from where I once was, it still has an impact on my day-to-day life and could potentially do so forever. Eating Disorders and body image issues are lonely and debilitating and sometimes it can feel like nobody understands. Not just for the sufferer, but for those who care for them too. My mum and dad for example, are now Echo peer coaches for Beat, because they want to give the support to parents and carers that they felt they missed out on. They found a way to ‘give back’ in the best way they knew how to and so, I decided that I needed to do the same.

I’ve just completed my 3 years of university at Norwich University of the Arts, studying BA (Hons) Illustration. Whilst writing my dissertation, I explored the depiction and exposure of mental health issues in children’s picture-books. Children’s literature and illustrations had been my greatest focus throughout my studies, and I’m fascinated by the impact that picture-books can have on a child’s emotional and cognitive development. Although I already felt there was room for more discussion of these topics in storytelling, I was astounded by the obvious lack of representation and the very slow progression in diversifying characters and their struggles. It’s important that the audience can identify with the protagonist, especially at such early stages in life when getting to know yourself is crucial.

This is when I had my lightbulb moment and chose to use my own experiences to produce something positive. When you’re a creative person, I believe you naturally gravitate towards topics that you understand personally and want to focus on raising awareness for. Designing for purpose is rewarding and it’s very exciting to see people become engaged with something you’ve created. I’ve taken advantage of my passion for picture-books and educating young audiences - to produce an outcome that I wish had been available when I was young and struggling with my individuality. The ultimate aim is to provide an opening for conversation to be had between the young reader and an adult. Encouraging children to express how they feel about their bodies could break down the barriers that allow eating disorders and negative body image to manifest themselves.

Unfortunately, in society we are surrounded by so many expectations – we must look a certain way, achieve certain things, tick certain boxes. Kids today are so immersed in social media and what’s presented on tv and in magazines. Hopefully ‘I Am Me’ can provide some positive material for young, impressionable people. We shouldn’t need to get to our twenties to start realising that we are so much more than what the media tell us!

To make the physical book an outcome for this project and generate a budget for printing, I started a Kickstarter page to allow backers to purchase a book in exchange for monetary donations to print more copies – some of which are due to be distributed by Beat and others that will be donated to schools and libraries in the UK. Excitingly, the fundraiser had exceeded its goal in less than 24 hours and 500 copies of ‘I Am Me’ have been produced! Hopefully this means lots of young people will have the opportunity to read, learn and raise awareness for everyone affected by eating disorders.

For someone that might be considering fundraising whilst studying at university, my biggest piece of advice would be to not doubt your abilities and just go for it. With such a project, there does come challenges. For instance, ensuring the narrative went in depth enough to encourage change, but not too specific to be problematic. I was fortunate enough to have Lara from the fundraising team to reassure me and my tutor Alice going above and beyond with guidance and advice! Overall, though, you must remind yourself that you’re doing an amazing thing and people will want to support that. By weaving your skills and what you know how to do best in with your drive to raise awareness and make a positive change, I don’t think you can fail!

Contributed by Lauren