From Botticelli to glossy magazines, women have been idealised and misrepresented for centuries. Performance poet Lydia Towsey reveals how her own near-fatal eating disorder set her on a path to explore new ways of looking at female bodies

Botticelli’s painting of the Birth of Venus was the first female nude painted and exhibited life size, and in many ways the medieval blueprint for every covergirl to come. It was about the birth of beauty, sexuality and glamour. But what would happen if, instead of washing up on an ancient Cypriot beach on her magnificent scallop shell, the Roman goddess were to arrive naked and vulnerable on a UK beach in the 21st century? This question is the starting point for my show, The Venus Papers.

It’s about lots of things – a theatrical performance combining poetry, humour, art, movement and music, in which I introduce Venus to my world. She encounters customs officers, tabloid newspapers, the male gaze, bars, Primark, life modelling, the perils of breastfeeding in public and something I’ve previously struggled to talk about in my work – the eating disorder I had for approximately seven years.

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Mental health is a level of psychological well-being, or an absence of a mental disorder; it is the "psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioral adjustment".

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