It all started in Edinburgh with a white sofa, inviting people to write one sentence about their body on a it.
After experiencing discrimination and judgement toward her own body, especially in the harsh acting industry, Ruth decided our bodies needed a voice. Her goal was, and is, to break down barriers for conversation between people. The white sofa acted as a safe, anonymous way for people to share their own struggles, and more importantly, what they love. She would ask people: What do you like about yourself? It sounds like a simple question, but it is not one that we ask ourselves enough. It can be hard to see the good while living in a world that always highlights what is wrong with us, what we need to change.
"People were being more honest with the sofa then they were being with their own family and friends."
This one sofa turned into many. By providing people with a canvas, Ruth sparked a movement.
She registered Body Gossip as a nonprofit, and now takes stories written by real people, and empowers them on stage. 7 theater performances and 9 short films with scripts written by the general public have come from this movement. Body Gossip has traveled all over the UK, From schools, to streets, to variety shows, to performing for royalty; all helping people come together to love themselves.
300 body stories have taught over 15,000 young people to fulfill their potential in life free from any body shame.
Now, they also have a home.
The Canvas Cafe in Shoreditch, London is a social enterprise. All proceeds are donated to Body Gossip and help to fund the program in lower income schools. The real magic is on the walls of the cafe.
“Each wall has a question designed to make you reflect, dream into the future, and see the good in the now. It helps reaffirm people's faith in humanity. There is so much talk about "us" and "them". When you see the walls of the canvas cafe, you realize we are all equal.”
Q: What is one of your favorite stories from the canvas couch project?
A: This is definitely from the Vitality Show when two ladies were sharing their stories. One lady wrote ‘Fingers Crossed!’, and her friend asked her what it meant. I remember so clearly what happened next. The lady turned to her friend and said ‘I’m pregnant.’ After a series of miscarriages, she had finally got to the point when she felt she could start getting excited. She said she had planned on telling her friend later that day, but that this seemed more appropriate. But she told the sofa first! That’s when I realized I had found a really powerful concept that celebrates and reaffirms humanity, compassion and personal stories.
Q: How has your own body confidence involved with your Body Gossip journey?
A: When I first heard my landlord in New York tell me I needed to lose weight to be an actress, at first I felt upset, but that was swiftly replaced with defiant anger! My own body confidence has since been pretty separate to what I want to achieve with Body Gossip; I’m more interested in sharing, celebrating and empowering real people’s body stories than I am focusing on my own, strangely.
Q: What goals do you have in the future for the organization and the cafe?
A: I want The Canvas Café to be a thriving community creative space, with live theatre and music, film screenings, events every evening. It’s already so close, but there’s much more I want to do; youth theatres, groups for the elderly community, a diverse live performance programme. We’re the next fringe venue in London – with happiness at our heart!
Q: Who is one person dead or alive that you would love to have dinner with?
A: Anita Roddick. I am hugely inspired by her, and what she did with the Body Shop; she took a brand, and then created so much positivity, activism and social change around it. I wish she hadn’t left us so young; imagine what she would’ve achieved had she survived.
Q: What is a song that inspires you?
A: I would like ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen to be played at my funeral! And in the early days of opening The Canvas Café, when things were exceptionally tough, I would often put ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen on very loud to help me get through cleaning the café every night!
Learn more about the Canvas Cafe here, and be sure to stop by if you are in London to say hi to Ruth!