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Dalhousie researchers tackle queer body image issues through art

'Rainbow Reflection: Body Image Comics for Queer Men' focuses on health and body image issues facing queer men.
'Rainbow Reflection: Body Image Comics for Queer Men' focuses on health and body image issues facing queer men. Provided

Three Dalhousie University researchers are using art in an effort to help queer men open up about their health.

Phillip Joy, a dietician who identifies as a queer man, is one of three researchers who recently created a new comic book called Rainbow Reflection: Body Image Comics for Queer Men. The comics focus on health and body image issues facing queer men.

“Sometimes, gender’s not always considered within nutrition so it’s nice to explore and have those conversations,” said Joy.

READ MORE: Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth more likely to have eating disorders, finds study

The team started the project a year and a half ago after the Canadian Institutes of Health Research put out a call to researchers to “hack the knowledge gap” and help make academic literature more accessible.

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“Me and my team decided a comic book anthology would be an interesting and fun way to kind of take academic research and make it more user-friendly,” said Joy.

Dalhousie researcher Phillip Joy speaks to Global News.
Dalhousie researcher Phillip Joy speaks to Global News. Ashley Field/Global News

Joy said his team put out a call to artists, asking for personal art tackling issues of emotional and mental health, sexual health and nutritional or physical health.

“We can have the science and we can have the knowledge but we also need the life stories of people,” he said.

According to Joy, the team received a “great turnout” and eventually narrowed its list down to 40 artists from around the world.

‘It felt liberating’

Three Halifax artists contributed work to the project, including James Neish. He drew the cover art and contributed a personal comic strip.

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“I tried to make it really true to life so I drew my old university and my old home and even the person I was with,” said Neish.

“I’d never done that before. It actually felt really good. It felt liberating.”

WATCH: Helping youths deal with body image

Helping kids deal with body image
Helping kids deal with body image

Neish is a freelance artist who has been creating art since he was a kid. His work was published by the time he was in the fifth grade.

“Comics have always been an avenue for me to tell stories,” he said.

“The reason why I love comics is because they really helped out when I was growing up.”

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He’s now happy to leave his mark on a project aimed at helping others.

“It feels very good to be part of this project — fulfilling,” Neish said. “I feel connected. I feel like I said something that really matters to me and I just hope that somebody can relate or feels like they connected after they read the comic.”

‘It was kind of like Christmas Eve’

Joy said the anthology features a range of talent — from black-and-white to colour illustrations, some hand-drawn and others done digitally.

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“It was kind of like Christmas Eve when the art came in,” he said.

“Some of them struck really close to home and dealt with issues I’ve dealt with myself. There’s a good range of personal stories that many people can relate to.”

READ MORE: Health Canada lowers blood donation abstinence period for men who have sex with men

Freelance artist James Neish works on his computer.
Freelance artist James Neish works on his computer. Ashley Field/Global News

Health inserts featuring academic research will accompany the art. Joy hopes the anthology will not only be used as a teaching tool but as a way to “start talking about the issues and what are the impacts on our health from all of these body standards that we have.”

‘Rainbow Reflection: Body Image Comics for Queer Men’ will officially launch on Friday, Sept. 13 at the Halifax Central Library. Five hundred copies have also been printed and will be donated and distributed to sexual health centres across Canada.

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