Fatima Lahham - Why musicians need body positivity
Photo taken from Beautiful Recorders
Earlier this month, Megan Crabbe (known online to her huge social media following on Instagram and Twitter as @bodyposipanda) wrote a book called Body Positive Power. I had already been considering how valuable body positivity might be for musicians, and as I read this book I could not help but think what a useful introduction and practical guide it would be. I decided to write a review of the book, along with some of my own thoughts on why more musicians could benefit from body positivity... Please note that this article contains a brief discussion of eating disorders.
You may wonder what a review of a book on body positivity is doing in a magazine for musicians.
Yet, as musicians, the relationships that we forge with our bodies are central to what we do – our bodies are a fundamental part of our toolset, and from them we demand an incredible amount. We expect our bodies to carry us through intensive practice sessions, to suffer endless travelling (often while carrying an instrument), to get through hours of teaching. And at the end of all that, we expect and demand that our bodies look a certain way onstage, and may even face public criticism on our weight or body type in a professional context.
It is undeniable that as musicians we not only make huge demands on our bodies, but also inhabit our bodies in a very conscious and present manner through our music making. Thus body positivity is not only relevant, but should be something that musicians embrace – in the most simple sense, should we not feel positive about something that can be such a fundamental part of what we do?
On the flip side, we don’t often talk about what happens if we don’t have a good relationship with our bodies. In July 2017, an article caught my eye. It discussed a recent report on eating disorders in musicians, surveying a sample demographic of 301 musicians working across different genres. Just over 85% worked in the classical industry, just under 20% were jazz musicians, and nearly 16% were pop musicians. The study found almost a third of the participants to have experienced an eating disorder – a pretty high proportion given that the estimated number of adults affected in the UK (which has a population of c. 65 million) is 1.6 million.
Two of the issues identified as potentially leading to these statistics were disordered eating from constant travel, and the pressure to look a certain way onstage, both of which would no doubt only be intensified by baseline causes such as the deadly ubiquity of diet culture and the negative body image provoked by mainstream fashion industries and their irresponsible advertising campaigns.
This study confirmed something I had sensed for myself for some time: the unique demands we place on our bodies and the unique combination of factors that may contribute to eating disorders and negative body image in our community mean that classical musicians need body positivity to enter our discourse sooner rather than later.
I’d like to recommend Body Positive Power by Megan Crabbe as just the book for the task. Clad in virulent pink covers, this book is joyful, gloriously loud, unapologetic, and most importantly, bountifully practical. So much is covered – from a brief history of the fluctuations of (female) body standards, to a devastating critique of the diet industry and its mentality, to an exploration of the idea of ‘intuitive eating’.
The book starts with a chapter on Western society’s obsession with thinness, and the profitable industry of getting us to hate our bodies, forever attempting to achieve a necessarily unattainable ideal. The second chapter tackles diet culture and the quasi-religious nature of weight loss groups, and challenges the normalisation of dieting for weight loss. This deconstruction of diet culture is built back up into a healthier structure in the following chapter, which focuses on identifying and shedding unhealthy patterns of eating that arise out of diet culture and discusses how we can re-learn to eat intuitively and leave behind ‘food guilt’. The book also devotes a chapter to how the fantasy of weight loss holds people back from living life to the full in the bodies they currently inhabit, and faces head on the uncomfortable and shocking reality of living with an eating disorder. Crabbe also discusses society’s preoccupation with hating fatness and dishes out some truths about ingrained beliefs on the links between weight and health. Finally, she touches on the need to liberate exercise and fitness from the shackles of weight loss and ‘making up’ for what we’ve eaten, and leaves us with a wealth of practical tips for body acceptance and positivity.
We know from recent studies that children as young as three and four start to develop body image issues specifically linked to weight loss. This early start builds into a depressing set of statistics by the time we reach adulthood: eating disorders are on the rise and a significant proportion of people report suffering with negative body image issues.
In many ways musicians can be particularly vulnerable and susceptible to these pressures, and I strongly believe that this is a topic about which we need to educate ourselves, and that we should be able to discuss without stigma. From providing musicians with practical tips on maintaining a positive attitude towards food while on tour to working on positive body image when we stand up to perform, this book will be a useful resource for everyone and a valuable addition to all musicians' libraries.
Body Positive Power is on sale now.
Fatima Lahham is the founding editor of Revoice! Magazine. When not thinking up article ideas and writing reviews, she plays the recorder with Improviso and teaches a wide range of musicians from 5-year-old pianists to students at the Royal College of Music, London. Fatima read Music at Magdalen College, Oxford from 2011-2014 and graduated with her Masters from the RCM last year. Her interests include Brahms, marathon running, Arab food, and sheep.