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Symphony Beneath The Skin - RTMFM

​Joanna Penso presents a sonic exploration of individual and collective attitudes regarding the human body. The show is a series kicking off the conversation with 'Between Disgust & Intrigue: an exploration of misophonia and ASMR', next is 'Celebration & Censorship: challenging which bodies are seen (and heard)' and lastly 'Floating Heads: the body when seen as a capitalist venture'. Every four Sundays at 15:00.


In episode 2 Joanna Penso speaks to Polly Robinson (a.k.a. Babes and Botanicals) about the evolving language we use to describe bodies and how visual representation might translate to auditory.

Listen here to hear my interview and discussion with Joanna. Below you will find a transcript and bibliography for the show. I talk about the origins of body positivity, fat liberation and the joy of farts! 

Please also check out Joanna's work here


[Joanna] Hello and welcome to: The Symphony Beneath the Skin.

I'm Joanna Penso and in this radio programme we will be exploring sounds of the body.

In this episode, I am speaking with Polly Robinson, also known as Babes and
Botanicals, about the politics of language surrounding the body positivity movement.
Why is it important to understand the evolution of words with which we describe our

Polly is an artist who works under the name Babes and Botanicals. Her work centres
marginalised bodies and identities aiming to find ways to positively represent, hold
space and celebrate typically less visible people. Polly mainly works through
printmaking, digital artwork and facilitating life drawing and Lino print workshops to
achieve this. With her art, classes and media platforms she strives to provide
intersectional and inclusive spaces endeavouring to help people feel seen and

Hello Polly and thank you for joining us today on

[Polly] Hi thanks for having me

[ Joanna] So i'm really interested to know -when did your focus in your practice
crystallize around spotlighting marginalised bodies?

[Polly] I started making the work im currently doing under Babes and Botanicals during
lockdown, I think I had quite a bit of time to really think and reflect on my own
relationship with my body I had recently had a lot of time off work due to mental health
issues and a lot of these issues I believe stem from how I felt about my body and how I
feel the world feels about my body. Through this introspection and also a lot of the
discourse over the pandemic kind of demonising, scapegoating fat bodies for
perpetuating and being a burden on the NHS and the pandemic it really... I guess drove
me to think about making work surrounding this. I also did a lot of life drawing classes
during lockdown on zoom and particularly one group of classes ran by fat life drawing
-they had lots of different representations of bodies that I hadn't really seen before in the
media or in classes... really helped me deal with some of my body images issues and
also I was creating work with these bodies and it kind of developed from there.

[Joanna] so it seems to me that you really found your voice through the pandemic
through you know saying ‘enough is enough’- this is the message I want to get out and
thisis how i want to do it and I think that's really beautiful

[ Polly] Yeah I think a lot of the work i was making at uni was definitely focusing on a lot
of interesting and more of the darker side of psychological aspects and life as humans, i
did my dissertation surrounding representation of death and so in some ways this

seems quite a turnaround trying to really focus on portraying positive things and making
artwork that is beautiful.

[Joanna] and it sounds like you also kind of grew in confidence in order to make work
that is more personal.

So let's move onto the topic of the episode which is about language that we use about
bodies so polly, you’re so knowledgeable so id like to ask you this question:
Why is the language we use important? For instance, where does the phrase body
positive come from, what are it's origins?

[Polly] I think for anyone that has lived in a bigger body or a different body erm language
has always been something that's used as a weapon and a lot more recently people are
reclaiming the word ‘fat’ to describe themselves, if they are a bigger person or a fat
person that it's just a neutral descriptor. The body positivity movement was originally
started by, or has origins from fat black or people of colour, jewish and queer people as
the fat liberation movement that it originated from, and a lot of that was not just about
wanting people to accept and love the body they’re in but also really fight for their rights,
their human rights. For example - medical fat phobia; so people might be less likely to
receive the treatment they deserve in hospital or in medical settings or people may be
paid less at work or not hired so it's fighting the discrimination that people face because
of the bodies they live in. As years have gone on this kind of body positivity that it’s
turned into has been seemed to be co-opted by white women living in straight bodies

predominantly, that might be showing that they have cellulite or maybe have some body
rolls when they lean over and it shows erm people living in smaller bodies celebrating
their bodies but it excludes the more marginalised people that the movement was
started for. And it centers more- this loving your body aspect of it rather than trying to
make real positive changes to change the lives of people in fat bodies, or black bodies,
people of colour and disabled people -who really need those changes.

[Joanna] So what you're saying- it seems a bit like the body positivity movement of
people just encouraging you to love your body lacks holding institutions and companies
accountable for the disscrimination that they’re giving people. The onus is on you to be
in front of the mirror and say you love your body and forget about the discrimination
that’s happening.

[Polly] Yeah and there’s nothing wrong with wanting...- everyone should be able to feel
like they accept and love their body that's still something that's important and is
especially for women. We’re all under the lens of the patriarchy and beauty norms,
societal norms of how to look but there's a bigger picture that body positivity seems to
loose focus of as well so it's important that we remember that

[Joanna] and so when you’re talking about your work what terms do you use in order to
describe the activism that you’re doing through your work?

[Polly] So I might use phrases like ‘fat positivity’ or ‘representation matters’ or ‘body
politics’ ‘fat liberation’ ‘body liberation’. So a lot broader terms that I think describe more
the activism aspect of it and I think acknowledges the more marginalised groups where
there’s the need the changes to happen for. I began talking about the word ‘fat’ and how
people are starting to reclaim that word as a word for just a general descriptor for a
body because actually there’s so many different kind of euphemisms for a fat person it
can be like ‘curvy’ or ‘big boned’ or ‘fluffy’ or ‘chubby’,’ plus size’ and it's all skirting
round it all or trying to yeah describe it without I guess hurting anyones feelings

[Joanna] as though this word ‘fat’ holds so much weight of shame that it's kind of like not
being able to say ‘he who must no be named: Voldemort’

[Polly] Yeah and it has obviously for a lot of people that is what it holds, it holds that
shame because it has been that word that's been weaponized against people. But if
we’re really going to dismantle that kind of system of fat phobia, ‘fat’ has to become a
word that isn't inherently negative and it's just a descriptor and there can be something
empowering about reclaiming that word. I think Sofie Hagen who is one of the... shes a
comedian and has also written a book called Happy Fat - she once, in a show that I saw
she said that - she could get away with murder. That they could get away with murder
because they would never in the description of who they’re looking for describe them as
fat so and shes like “I’m very obviously fat but because no one wants to use that word
someone’s gonna be looking for me, the murder, but they’re not gonna find me because
they’re not looking for a fat person because they cant use that word to describe me”

[Joanna] It sits with you that story and metaphor.
So what we hear time and time again, even our own government which you’ve touched
upon already, is this resistance to the body positivity or body celebratory movement- the
point of health. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you might respond to that

[Polly] Yeah so a lot of the time if someone is seen to be either body positive or fat
positive or discussing fat phobia or just showing themselves living life in a fat body a lot
of the come-back or the retaliation against that will be that fat doesn't equal healthy so
they’ll be discussion about body positivity is good and but not for health.

[Joanna] Health comes in so many diff ways it depends on how you're thinking about
health and from what standpoint you're coming from

[Polly] Yeah so i think the thing is you can't necessarily tell someone's health just by
looking at them. But it seems to be the last form of defense when people are trying to
promote fat acceptance or fat liberation or body positivity that still being fat is bad and
we can't accept it because of the health issue but the way that it's communicated comes
with so much shame attached to it and it perpetuates that cycles of shame and shame
is something that is never going to be positive for anyone's health. If you shame
someone that doesn't create any positive changes. There's studies with, for example
smokers if you shame smokers that doesn't make them stop smoking. What I'm trying to
say is if these people who are then attacking fat people who are trying to advocate for

their rights to exist really cared about the health issue - shaming them would not be the
way to go about it. Health is so nuanced that you can't look at someone and decide
whether they are healthy or not.

[Joanna] it’s a holistic thing

[Polly] Yeah it shouldn't be also the bar that you have to meet in order to have respect
as a human being.

[Joanna] kind of following on from that i'd like to discuss a quote i found reading The
Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor

“When we decide that people’s bodies are wrong because we don’t understand them,
we are trying to avoid the discomfort of divesting from an entire body-shame system.”

So, Polly this is a bit of a tough question but i'd like to discuss it- What might a world
without body-shame look like? Why is that important for equality?

[Polly] a world without body shame would mean freedom for so many people. I think the
freedom to live their lives to the fullest to their authentic selves i think the body shame
can make you want to hide and minimise yourselves and there's all these wonderful
people that are doing that to themselves which have so much potential to thrive and
enjoy life which is being inhibited by shame. So I just think that the world would all round

be a much better place for everyone because even the people that maybe shaming
other people for their bodies and have this deep rooted beliefs that types of bodies
shouldnt exist or should be shamed thats coming from somewhere inside of them and
there's a fear for them that it would relieve as well i think that shame really stops great
things happening. Shame can stop the vulnerability for people to push themselves
outside of their comfort zones and try things or

[Joanna] take risks

[Polly] yes

[Joanna] contribute to society

[Polly] yeah so in a capitalist society where people are valued for what they contribute
you know even for people who value that- the less shame there is the more people can
contribute so it would work for everyone

[Joanna] I'm interested in shame, exploring where it comes from and then challenging
that within my own work - this is where I see our practices overlapping somewhat. I look
at this from a sound perspective, highlighting our systems that keep our bodies living
such as breathing or digesting- sound as evidence of these systems that we all have,
regardless of the body we live in. I'm aiming to challenge our societal expectations of
keeping those systems quiet in public. The auditory evidence that we have bodies which

need nourishment, air, space, energy should not be something we are constantly trying
to stifle in order to be 'polite'. Being reminded that the person we sit next to on the train
has a body, might indeed be hungry and so the belly rumbles is not something to be
ashamed of. I feel that, difficult as it may be sometimes, being present within our own
body and unashamedly so has benefits for mental health, ensuring we don't burn
ourselves out and that we can challenge thought processes which lead us to damaging
our bodies in one way or another in the aims of 'keeping up appearances' and
producing for the capitalist machine.

Here is an audio piece I made which you kindly offered to sit for in order for me to
record sounds of your body, let's have a listen

This is Etude In ternal

[Joanna] Polly, I would like to know what your reaction to this audio piece was whilst
listening to it?

[Polly] There was a slight feelings of like, disgust and making me feel sick which were
quite automatic responses to some of the initial sounds that to me sound like high
pitched and plasticky and that's just an automatic response in me not necessarily .... A
body response rather than thought based. Like you can slightly identify each sound and
what they might be but then it's really interesting how you kind of abstract that and turn
it into something musical you know these sounds normally wouldn't be something that

people might value enough to make something - a lot of those sounds might be quite
connected to digestive elements of the body and I was kind of fine listening to all of that
when I listened to it at home though i had the windows open and was playing it out loud
and when it came to the bit with the farts ... I love a farting noise. I enjoy a good fart.. It
made me laugh but also my immediate reaction was to get my headphones and put
headphones on because i didn't want anyone to hear it walking past my window
because it was that shame or embarrassment attached to it. I thought that was quite
interesting how, even though I thought it was funny and I was enjoying it, I wanted to
hide it from anyone else in case anyone else hears it for fear that 1. Why is she listening
to farting noises or why is she farting so much- what's going on? That embarrassment
that it could be me and someone else has heard it.

[Joanna] OK Polly so, what is next for Babes and Botanicals?
[Polly] I’ve been thinking about doing a show or creating a body of work along the theme
of ‘coming out’ - this isnt necessarily just focusing on coming out as queer or lgbtqia+ its
focusing on many different aspects of the body or identity that people have felt shame
so I’m going to be creating an open call asking for peoples images and stories to help
create this. So next up I have a workshop- a life-drawing and lino print workshop at
Glasshouse which is on Brick Lane thats on the 13th December and thats in a queer
space so open to queer people but also friends that might be allies but are respectful of
the space we are in.

[Joanna] Make sure you go follow Polly on instagram babes_and_botanicals or check
out her website where you’ll be able to watch out and
hear first about her open call. Polly and I have been discussing this episode for a couple
of weeks now and she has so helpfully put together some brilliant references which in
my opinion everyone should read. And so you’ll be able to find that bibliography on my
website and also I'll be including that bibliography in the transcript of the show.

Polly Robinson thank you so much for coming, we’ve loved having you here

I’ll be back at the end of next month with another episode. But for now thank you and





Body Positive Power: How to Stop Dieting, Make Peace with Your Body and Live by Megan Jayne Crabbe 

Fattily Ever After: A Black Fat Girl's Guide to Living Life Unapologetically by Stephanie Yeboah

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings 

Happy Fat: Taking Up Space in a World That Wants to Shrink You by Sofie Hagen

The Beauty Myth By Naomi Wolf

The Body Is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon 



Shame vs. Guilt by Brené Brown

Fat is a neutral word - I want us to reclaim it interview with Sofie Hagen by Coco Khan


Academic Paper:

Fat, Black and Unapologetic: Body Positive Activism Beyond White, Neoliberal Rights Discourses by Anna Johansson 



The Body Protest 

Brené with Sonya Renee Taylor on “The Body is Not an Apology”,  Unlocking Us with Brené Brown 

Influencer Stephanie Yeboah - Ranting, race and chilling with her demons, Who Hurt You?

Becoming Happy Fat with Sofie Hagen, Go Love Yourself 

She’s All Fat by Sophie Carter-Kahn 

Malorie Blackman, the iconic Noughts and Cross Author on rejection, racism and the importance and representation, How To Fail

Fat Chat Live: Why representation matters 

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