February marks the second anniversary of our Scarred FOR Life campaign to raise awareness about the challenges of living with a heart condition from birth. This 'patient led' photography exhibition was created by Jenny Kumar & Caroline Wilson & me, on behalf of The Somerville Foundation. Fashion & portrait photographer Kirsty Anderson captured portraits of eight adults, each born with a heart condition, displaying our scars as a symbol of survival. Launched at Glasgow's prestigious Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in February 2015, the exhibition has since toured several venues including The Scottish Parliament. It has been well received by the public gaining national media attention & due to its success the project has now been replicated across the UK.
The aim of the project was not just to raise awareness about the estimated 250,000 adults, born with a heart condition, living in the UK (over half of whom will experience medical and social problems at some time in their adult lives). We hoped that by using art informed by psychology the exhibition would challenge negative perceptions about scars and the notion that they should be hidden away. One of my favourite quotes from our visitor book is from a mum who noted she visited the exhibit "...with a 2 yr old CHD boy. Great to see images out for all to see. 2yr old enjoyed spotting ‘zip lines’, like his own".
We also hoped that the project may have a wider impact on prevailing cultural ideals about body image. Why? Consider these facts from the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, for which 10,500 women were interviewed:
Of course, body image is a complex issue which can be grounded in abuse, low self esteem and mental health problems. However, when girls (and boys) are raised in a culture that judges their worth based on narrow, idealised stereotypes we can only expect these shocking statistics to increase. These prevailing attitudes limit our lives in every way as we focus inwardly on our appearance instead of looking out to the stuff that actually matters such as health, experiences, learning and relationships. This can only have a detrimental impact on our mental health and wellbeing.
As someone who has experienced life long health problems, I find this incredibly sad. Over the years, my body has faced many brutal challenges. Even when it is working well it does so with the help of modern medicine, covered in scars, hosting a pacemaker. I won't pretend it has been plain sailing, but these experiences have taught me to respect my body as the conscious, vital, transient, force of nature that it is. For that lesson, I am truly fortunate.
Our bodies are amazing, fact. Let’s celebrate them!
The Dove Self Esteem Project
Katie Piper Foundation
L to R: Liza, Dr Alan Houston, Paediatric Cardiologist, Maggie, Dr Doig, Paediatric Cardiologist, Caroline, Eamonn Murtagh, Cardiac Physiologist, Scott, Karen, Mr Pollock, Cardiac Surgeon and Heather. Photo Credit: Peter Sandground.