Is it possible for someone who has dealt with a lifetime of negative perception and not one but TWO eating disorders to get five star reviews during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival? YES. Comedy actress and writer Juliette Burton has had her fair share of ups and downs when it comes to accepting how she looks but she has well and truly kicked self-doubt’s ass.
Juliette’s earliest memories involved a strange relationship with her body. From the age of 3 she remembers “feeling” fat. From the age of 7 she was overweight and from the age of 9 she was obese. Weighed and measured at hospital every school holiday, she learned to resent her body for all that it was not.
At primary school she was badly bullied for being physically different – that’s what bullies do. They pick on difference. She would regularly fantasize about cutting off chunks of her body to become thin.
In her teens she started to lose weight. She was diagnosed with anorexia aged 14 and was repeatedly hospitalised throughout her teenage years. Her resentment of her body increased as she longed to be anything other than what she was, anything other than herself. Through her illnesses she lost herself once again and lost her path in life. After being sectioned for anorexia, she eventually succumbed to over-eating disorder and went from size 4 to size 20 in around 6-12 months. She became suicidal, longing only for release from the thing she had learned to hate – her body.
It was only when she found something she wanted to live for – her career in acting and comedy – that she began to fight the inner voices she had so far believed. She learned, through an ongoing journey of recovery in therapy, that the more she invested in accepting her body, being kind to her physical self, the less hard it was to keep going. As hard as it was to make that effort to look after herself, she had found something worth that effort – people outside of herself. She found that making people laugh at her shows released her from her mind and her body and gave her the confidence she had so far lacked.
Over the years she has taken more and more risks with demonstrating her body confidence to herself and others – in 2012 she came out about her mental health problems publicly, in 2013 she performed her debut solo show about her mental health problems and in 2014 she posed nude for Cosmopolitan magazine, promoting a message of body confidence and body love.
Now her closest friends are those she’s met along the way – people with mental health problems and profound physical difference, those with facial disfigurements and physical disabilities who help her celebrate who she is and not what she looks like.
Her body confidence journey continues on a day to day basis and she now knows she doesn’t have to love her body but she must accept it because – like everyone – it’s the only one she’s going to get. And she may as well have fun in it and do all she can whilst she can!
“For so long there has been such a damaging emphasis upon a supposed idea of “beauty” that women – and men – young girls and boys are meant to adhere to. Our values and self-worth have been skewed to value this notion of physical “beauty” above all else. It is vital that very real efforts are made to not only challenge this idea of beauty but also to question why we assign so much meaning to our physical selves in any way. Beauty must be so much more than just physical. Like many people, I have a profound understanding of the effect a warped idea of “beauty” can have upon a person’s life. My health – both mental and physical – has been threatened by an unrealistic value placed upon an impossible idea of “perfect” physical beauty. From interviewing people for my latest show, their answers to “what is beauty?” were varied and insightful: “Something that sparkles in the eyes” “Something that moves you from one position to another” “Kindness, compassion, respect” “DIFFERENCE” “Subjective” “A balance between order and chaos” “A name ascribed to a favourable interpretation to a visual stimulus!”
We are willing to challenge the ideas of beauty being only physical now. And we must encourage every effort to challenge the prescribed notion of “perfect beauty” and celebrating non-regulation bodies, perfectly imperfect beauty diversity and body confidence. Don’t conform to body-normative conformity. Let’s bring out the weird and the wonderful! Let’s bring out true beauty in each other.”
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