"If I had to give one tip for juggling so many different things it would be – NEVER underestimate the power of a to-do list."
- Natasha Devon, Co- Founder of Body Gossip
Can you give us a brief overview of what Body Gossip is all about
In its simplest form, Body Gossip is a campaign which allows people of all ages, races, shapes, sizes and sexualities to explore their relationship with their body, make their own body rules and live their lives free from body shame. We do this through an education programme, an arts programme and politics.
Tell me more about your careers outside and before starting Body Gossip?
Ruth and I both have other jobs outside of Body Gossip. Ruth is an actor, director and puppeteer. She was recently in the cast of War Horse in the West End (with a starring role as a horse’s head).
I am a writer and TV pundit. I co-author and ghost write books with scientists, psychologists and celebrities – most often ones that focus on mental health and body image but I’ve actually done books on all sorts of varied topics (my last ghost writing job was the autobiography of Strictly Come Dancing’s Pasha Kovalev who has actually had a really fascinating life). I also write articles in the press for the Independent & Telegraph Online, the Sun and I have a column in Cosmopolitan. I appear on a range of television and radio programmes as well, as a pundit commenting on a range of current affairs and news stories, particularly those relating to mental health and education.
Occasionally, people think it’s strange that Ruth and I both have jobs in media when so much of what we do with Body Gossip appears to be critical of that industry. It’s actually essential to engage and work with the media if you want to change it for the better. There are also so many people who want to do good who work within it, it’s ludicrous to write off the media or advertising or celebrities as ‘evil’ – there are heroes and villains in all industries and sometimes change happens gradually, from the inside out!
Prior to Body Gossip, I was a model between the ages of 18 and 22 whilst also somehow managing to get my degree. Then in the 5 years prior to becoming a professional writer aged 27 I did just about every job you can think of, trying to work out what my niche was, including PR Assistant, Trainee Paralegal and Waitress! I also studied Law and Psychology during this time, which has been invaluable in helping me run Body Gossip. At the time I thought I was just meandering about aimlessly but all the knowledge has helped, even waitressing, which taught me how to deal with drunken knobheads (a crucial life skill)!
What inspired you to launch Body Gossip?
For Ruth it was being told (at 5 ft 10 and a size 10) that she needed to lose weight to be an actress. She had this sudden realisation about bodies as commodities and the pressures that are put on people to conform to an unrealistic and dangerous body shape.
For me it was my experiences in the fashion industry, which resulted in my having an eating disorder for almost eight years of my life. If you’d have met me back in school, you’d have thought I was the least likely person in the world to get an eating disorder. I was robust, confident, healthy and a high achiever. Yet going to war with my body robbed me of what should have been the best years of my life. I wanted to ensure no other young person sacrificed their potential in that way, yet I didn’t want to preach or patronise. So I decided to create a lesson that gave students the benefit of my experience, but without focussing too much on what I went through or making it about me.
How did you manage building Body Gossip alongside your other work?
Juggling Body Gossip, which is pretty-much a full time job, with our other jobs, which are also full time, has meant a lot of sacrifices for both Ruth and I. Right now, I am sitting here answering these questions (and will go on to review a BG Funding Application form) on a Sunday. The sun is shining. I can hear people laughing and drinking and playing music outside. I’d love nothing more than to go to a pub garden somewhere but I can’t, because there is stuff that needs doing!
As I travel all over the UK to deliver lessons, quite often, entire books I have written have been typed out whilst I’ve been sitting on various trains! My work phone is never off and for the vast majority of my late twenties and early thirties I was single because I didn’t have time for a romantic relationship.
Having said that, a major health scare eighteen months ago combined with meeting my partner has forced me to get a work/life balance and now I do make time to relax, exercise and socialise. I’ve realised it isn’t all about work.
If I had to give one tip for juggling so many different things it would be – NEVER underestimate the power of a to-do list. Prioritising is essential. And sometimes you need to just leave it and let it marinade for a day to come back to your challenge with a fresh head. You’ll work 20 times faster if you’re feeling energised and inspired.
What’s been the biggest highlight?
I’m sure I’m meant to say either having some of my students perform their Body Gossip stories to HRH Will & Kate, winning Cosmopolitan’s Ultimate Woman of the Year or working with Gok Wan on his documentary ‘Gok’s Teens’. But in all honesty I have to say nothing beats getting an email from a young person saying “I just wanted to say thank you because your lesson has really helped me think differently and I feel so much better”. It’s corny, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the best feeling in the world.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
Funding. We’re just not specific enough in our focus for most funding bodies. We’re a campaign that excludes no one and have always been proud to be so, but most pockets of money available for charities and campaigns are specifically allocated to an issue or to a demographic. If you put together all the hours Ruth and I have worked for free on Body Gossip you could probably build an entire town or discover the secret behind teleportation, in that time.
You’ve had some fantastic press and worked with some high profile celebrities, experts and thought leaders. What’s your secret?
Persistence. Also, proving yourself. The reason we were invited to work alongside the Government was because we could show that we had put on 3 sell-out theatre shows, worked with thousands of teenagers in schools and published a book with minimal funding and through our own initiative. We also measured the impact of everything we did to illustrate how we were making a practical difference. There’s absolutely no point in going to a celebrity or an expert saying “I have a really good idea/stuff to say on this”. It’s what you actually do which will make you stand out from the crowd.
What advice would you give to other women who dream of starting their own business?
Know your own worth and remember that, no matter how intimidating someone’s job title, they’re a human being – and they have a daft orgasm face!
What’s next for you?
I have a book coming out in January in my own name (hurrah!), the details of which are secret for now. I’m also planning a political move related to the petition, which I also can’t tell you about, annoyingly. Sorry that’s rubbish! You’ll have to stay posted.
Ruth is establishing a venue called The Canvas, which will be our base and where we host Body Gossip events in the future.
What’s your favourite quote?
“Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde.
Ruth Rogers is an actor, entrepreneur and founder of the Body Gossip Arts Programme. She lives in South London with her partner Dan and her eccentric ginger cat, Leon.
Natasha Devon is a writer, TV pundit and founder of the Body Gossip Education Programme. She lives in West London with her partner Marcus and several David Bowie posters.
To find out more about the Body Gossip Campaign and how you can get involved, you can check out the Body Gossip website here
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