Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield

“We believe that all bodies are normal and we're proving it one portrait at a time”

Body neutrality project Normal Bodies celebrates the launch of its beautiful new book, in which everyone is invited to feel normal, worthy and seen.

Front and Back copy

After launching Normal Bodies in 2019, co-founders Sophie Bellamy and Cecy Lizcano Lopez have finally put the finishing touches on their stunning first book, set for international release this month. I chatted to Sophie to hear more about the project and the book release – and why the notion of the ‘perfect body’ needs firmly consigning to the past.

Hi Sophie. Lovely to meet you. First things first, can you tell us a bit about yourself, and where you think we are, societally speaking, when it comes to accepting the bodies we exist in?

Lovely to meet you, too. I'm Sophie (she/her), a 35-year-old writer from Sheffield and the co-founder of Normal Bodies. Our project combines beautiful, hand-crafted watercolour portraits with raw, honest captions from the people in the paintings. We believe that all bodies are normal and we're proving it one portrait at a time.

Growing up in the 'heroin chic' era as a chubby girl, I felt that I was never slim enough. I vividly remember worrying that I was 'too fat' from as early as ten years old, and by 17 I'd joined a diet club. I was obsessed with my clothes size and what the scales said, and would avoid eating on my weekly weigh day. I thought that I was less worthy of love, happiness and success than my thin friends, and I was so ashamed of my rolls and curves. I ritualistically sold myself short and I wasted a lot of my youth worrying that I wasn't good enough because I wasn't 'slim enough'.

In terms of where we are with accepting our bodies, I think we're heading in the right direction but still have a long way to go. As I said, I grew up in a time when the best thing a woman could be was thin, and any other body type was societally unacceptable. There's still a massive issue with the underrepresentation of marginalised communities and body types, but many incredible people are working hard to change that. Our hope is that Normal Bodies can be part of the movement to 'normalise normal bodies'.

Open book

Was there a particular moment that set you on the path to founding Normal Bodies? And if so, how did it manifest?

There was! In 2018 I was in Mexico City and had an opportunity to model nude for an incredible Mexican artist. At that point, I still hated my body but it felt like too good an opportunity to pass up, so I went for it. To say I was terrified is an understatement, but it turned out to be the most freeing experience of my life. As I posed for the artist it slowly dawned on me; all bodies are beautiful, we've just been taught not to see it.

From that moment I started thinking about how I could bring an experience like that to as many people as possible in a safe, accessible way. That's when I had the idea for people to send nude photos to be painted anonymously, so they could see themselves as art like I'd had the chance to. Soon after, I met Cecy (she/her), the artist on the project, and we launched Normal Bodies on Instagram in 2019.

The book comprises 100 original nude paintings, alongside 100 stories. How did you find the models who feature in the book? And can you share a couple of your favourite moments from the creative process?

Cecy and I agreed that we should share our own paintings first, and we were lucky to have friends volunteer for the first 20 or so portraits. Then, people we didn't know began approaching us through our DMs to be painted. That was an incredible feeling because it proved to us that we were creating something meaningful that could actually make a difference to people.

Receiving stories from the participants is my personal favourite part of the process. I can say with complete honesty that every story we've been sent has moved me or taught me something. I also love that Cecy doesn't read the stories until she's finished painting the person. She wants to come at each portrait from a place of total objectivity, and not knowing the participant's own thoughts on their body allows her to do so.

Book cover

Normal Bodies favours 'body neutrality' over 'body positivity'. Why is this?

To me, body positivity is a 'succeed or fail' kind of system. It says that if you don't wholeheartedly love your body then you're doing something wrong. Body neutrality, on the other hand, is a lovely grey area where we're allowed to just 'be'.

It's normal to have days when we don't love what we see in the mirror, and wobbles in self-confidence are to be expected when we're constantly bombarded by media and advertising touting the 'perfect body'. Body neutrality is about noticing negative feelings and continuing with our days regardless. By detaching our worth from our appearance, we're free to focus on all the other things that make us, us.

All of your hard work comes to fruition this month, as the book launches worldwide on 10 November. How will you be celebrating?

Yes, we are so excited about the international launch on 10 November! The project has been ongoing for three years in total and for the past 14 months we've been working flat out to get the book ready, so the launch feels like a very special moment for us. We'll be celebrating with a launch party where we'll exhibit the 100 original paintings for the very first time. We'll also be toasting with plenty of wine, of course!

It feels like the book is just the beginning for Normal Bodies. What are your hopes and plans for the future?

The reason we wanted to create this book is to reach a wider audience with our message that all bodies are normal. We'd love to continue to build that movement with our book and our Instagram account, where we post new paintings and captions.

We also think it's important for young people to know that their bodies are normal because so many of us learn to hate ourselves at an incredibly young age, as I did. So we're starting to plan a follow-up book with educational, age-appropriate content aimed at a younger audience.

by Felicity Jackson (she/her)
Filed under: 

More Arts & Culture

The Right to Continue Dreaming

Those fighting for a better world continue to do so, whether that's in Palestine or Peru. A double-bill film screening in Sheffield on 19 February celebrates the links between culture and politics, in Latin America and beyond.

More Arts & Culture