Shaping the Body: A Conversation

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“Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder” is a quote that has been frequently drawn upon in recent times to counter the apparent bombardment of media imagery and dialogue which promotes the idea of the “perfect body”. In our current society, it would seem that social media and television maintain that our bodies ought to look thin, toned, athletic and hairless in order to be perceived as beautiful and healthy. Some have attacked the media with a backlash to highlight the unrealistic expectations placed upon our bodies. Yet, is this public war surrounding body shape and beauty, with the associated implications surrounding our health, really a new phenomenon which has stemmed from our mass media age?

This question, alongside the themes of nutrition and diet will form part of an upcoming event titled Shaping the Body: A Conversation, to be held at the York Castle Museum on June 9th 2016. Following on from last year’s successful event organised by the York Castle Museum and the University of York’s Institute for the Public Understanding of the Past, the museum is hosting an interactive discussion aimed at the public. Last year’s event saw a group of historians, curators and ex-military personnel discuss a wide range of themes relating to the First World War. It included some challenging questions and made the audience think about how war is commemorated and remembered. Building on the success of that event, the York Castle Museum has decided to hold a similar discussion this year. The event will consist of a tour of the York Castle Museum’s new exhibition (titled Shaping the Body), followed by a panel discussion in the museum space with curators, fashion experts, medical professionals and academics working in the fields of body image and health. Audience members will be encouraged to ask questions and participate in this informal and interactive discussion. It is aimed to enhance the themes of the exhibition and to generate broader debate surrounding body image, lifestyle and nutrition throughout 500 years of history to the present day. It will explore the ways in which society has shaped the expectations of body image across the years and compare historical issues surrounding nutrition and health with the modern day concerns.

There are several benefits to organising an event such as this for the public to enjoy. Firstly, it will enable visitors to take an active part in learning more about the broader themes explored in Shaping the Body. The event will encourage audience participation through voting activities, asking questions and adding comments about the topics raised by the panel members.

Secondly, this event gives the general public a chance to go behind the scenes and learn about the curatorial decisions made in the planning of the exhibits. Curators of the exhibition will be present and will be able to elaborate on the choices they made when forming the exhibition. Visitors will also get the chance to ask curators and organisers of the event questions as they gain an exclusive tour of the exhibition before the panel discussion.

Finally, by organising a panel team to generate debate, the audience will be able to hear other interpretations surrounding the very topical issues relating to body image and to the changes in the human body over time. IPUP have enlisted the expertise of York Castle Museum curators, psychologists, medical experts and fashion historians to start the conversation and bring to life the ideas generated by the York Castle Museum exhibition space.

Meet the panel:

Beth Bell – Psychologist, York St John University

Beth Bell is a Senior Lecturer in Psycology at York St John University. Her research explores how young people react to technology and the media in relation to their body image and eating behaviour. Dr Bell’s knowledge will enable her to provide a contemporary perspective to the issues raised in the exhibition.

Alex Bowmer – Medic and Historian, King’s College London

Alex is a CDA PhD candidate at King’s College London and the University of Reading. His PhD focuses upon grass root conceptualisations of Epizootic and Zoonotic disease transmission in 20th century Britain, to establish how the public reacted, responded and understood disease transmission. As well as having a BA and MA in Modern History, he is also a qualified Intervention Healthcare Consultant. Alex has worked for over 6 years in pharmaceutical, emergency, psychological and sports medicine. He hopes to provide both past and contemporary understandings of body image, nutrition and health.

Glen Jankowski  – Psychologist, Leeds Beckett University

Glen’s research is primarily on men’s body image. He argues that men develop body dissatisfaction because businesses increasingly sell appearance insecurity in order to gain profits. He has published in the following journals: the Journal of Health Psychology, Psychology of Men and Masculinity and Body Image.

Sue Vincent – Cultural Historian, University of York

Susan Vincent is a Research Associate at the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) at the University of York. While working primarily on the cultural history of dress in the early modern period, she has expanded her research interests to include dress practices up to the present day. Her publications include Dressing the Elite: Clothes in Early Modern England and The Anatomy of Fashion: Dressing the Body from the Renaissance to Today, as well as shorter studies that range from acquiring clothes in the sixteenth century through to practices of glove-wearing in the twentieth. She is also general editor of the six-volume Cultural History of Fashion and Dress forthcoming from Bloomsbury later in the year.


With such a diverse panel team, the audience will be able to explore some of the complex issues which emerge from the exhibition surrounding contemporary and historical attitudes towards the human body.

If you would like to attend this unique and exciting event please click here to be directed to the Eventbrite page.

Tickets cost £5 (price includes an exclusive tour of the exhibition and access to the panel discussion held in the exhibition space).

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