Devi Living

The Feminine Body – Interview with Performer Verena Schmitt

This interview is very special to me as I get to interview my wonderful, adventurous, and inquisitive second cousin Verena Schmitt. Verena lives in Nuremberg, Germany, where she was born and where she studies to become a teacher.

What strikes me about Verena is her ability to engage and explore. She loves travelling and to spend time with people in her life that support and challenge her at the same time. She feels that traveling takes her out of her comfort zone and gives her the opportunity to grow and face new challenges.

To me she is a woman who pushes boundaries and expands her awareness in many different ways. I predict she will experience a life full of exciting growth and experiences. 

Recently Verena was part of a play called Ideale Körper (Ideal Bodies), directed by Katharina Bill who is a performance artist from Germany. Based on the body images that society and social media present around women’s bodies and what they should look like, the play attempted to ask the audience to think about the images the play presented.

The intent of the play was not to deliver a specific message but to introduce possibilities that would trigger the audience to find new perspectives by following the thoughts about what they saw.

Here are some of the questions the play attempted to explore.

Why do we have certain body ideals and how do these body images influence how we act?

Why does a good and healthy body mean happiness and success?

Why does a physical beauty have such a high status in our society?

What scares us when it comes to bodies and images about the body?

 How do we react when the body fails?

 Are we able to look at a body without judging or rating it?

Are we able to look at a body without judging the person behind the body?

What must happen for us to stop evaluating bodies?

Devi Living – Before we begin talking about the play,  can you describe Nuremberg with a few words when it comes to new and alternative ways of seeing the world?

VerenaYou need to have a closer look to find the alternative side of Nuremberg. The alternative scene is not too present in the daily life. Once you find it, the more unconventional side of Nuremberg begins to reveal itself. 

There are some great shops, exhibitions, restaurants, and bars that have opened by and for local artists that try to push the subculture of Nuremberg. Unfortunately, the subculture has to fight for a presence in the traditional cultural scene of Nuremberg.

Devi Living – How did your journey with Drama/theater begin?

VerenaI have been doing Drama basically my whole life, at least what I can remember. I think the first introduction to Drama was in kindergarten. It always gave me a feeling of expressing something and to find a way to communicate with myself about things that were important to me and that made me think.

With the possibility to study Drama with my teaching degree I got the chance to engage in a more professional way. In the future as a teacher, I am hoping to offer opportunities for children and teenagers to experience and explore Drama.

I have had so many intense and profound experiences during my Drama plays. I think the essential element is play because it is not about right or wrong. It is about getting into another state of mind, to discover things again.

Devi Living – You have been performing in the play Ideale Körper (Ideal Bodies). The play is about how the media and the broader culture influence how women see their bodies. How has the play influenced you personally? What challenges did you face? 

VerenaFor this I want to tell a little story: During the rehearsals for the play, we spent three intense weeks together. In that time, we were basically in our own little bubble. I felt so inspired and deeply engaged with the process that I did not even question some of my body insecurities. I felt really good in my own skin and I was just really satisfied with me as a person, both mentally and physically. I didn´t worry about a pimple, a hair I didn´t shave, my sweaty skin, or my belly. It just didn´t seem like there was time or even reason for it.

When I saw the pictures that the photographer had taken at our last practice, I instantly started to look at myself first and began criticizing myself in the pictures. “Oh, bags under the eyes here, and there my hair looks weird and here in this picture my belly doesn’t look flat.” I felt so bad about myself after looking at them.  I asked myself ‘how can this be?’. I am looking at pictures that were taken at a time when I was so confident and there are still so many things that I criticize. But why? That made me wonder and I am still figuring out why this is. I think this is the biggest challenge I am still facing.

Devi Living – I imagine being immersed in this topic and with the women-only cast would have made for an interesting deep dive into women’s issues. What did you learn about this and what are you hoping the play will transmit to other women?

VerenaWhat I learned about it is that even though, as women, we have had different experiences around these issues in our own individual lives, we share the experience. As women, we can connect and identify with the issues that comes with being a woman.

I also learned that some of the issues that women are facing are issues that comes from how women get presented in society. It is worth asking how that influence creates those issues.  If society presented women differently, we would not have the same so called women’s issues around body image.

Devi Living – Apart from this important play, can you think of other creative ways to beat society’s influence on how we as women see ourselves?

VerenaI think it is about women becoming empowered (and all who identify as female) and giving us a voice. It is also about breaking so called taboos. For example, even though it is 2021, menstrual bleeding is still one of those taboos. These taboos need more visibility in real life and on social media so that we can finally begin talking about them openly.

Maybe a little bit of provocation can help to start this conversation. And maybe that is the big possibility of art – to ‘provoke’ and make people talk to each other about it.

Speaking of provoke – we had some age restriction put on our YouTube video of the play and we are still trying to figure out what was so provocative that we got this restriction!(Devi Living – unfortunately, the video of the wonderful play is protected by rights and cannot be shown here).

Devi Living –As a young woman, what has been your own experience around the stereotyped female body?

Verena – It always comes with expectations and as a result often causes insecurities. It doesn´t matter if I look in youth magazines, on social media or even in a store window. A certain female body is always presented.

It is not ‘only’ about the ideal body that you either have or don’t have. It is also everything that comes with the stigmatized female body and of being female. Is my dress too short for this event? Can I wear such a top with my belly? Was my outfit to offensive? Did I give the wrong look? Was I too furious? Did I move ladylike enough? Do I laugh too loud?

It is all sorts of questions that reduces women to their body, it must be in a certain way and must also behave in a certain way.

Devi Living – Intuitively, what do you think is most true – Women fear other women, or Women feel safe around women? Where are we at as women? If there is fear, can you imagine how we can overcome it? 

VerenaI would say it can work both ways. It can be hard sometimes to feel safe around other women because it is so easy to compare ourselves to them. Comparison often comes with bad feelings. But I think as soon as women (and people in general) open up towards each other and understand that everybody experiences some insecurities, they can begin to feel safe around each other. We might even feel safer because we can connect through the experiences we share as women.

Devi Living – Do you think men buy into the ideal female body as much as women do?

VerenaI think that we all buy too much into ideal bodies and especially into women´s bodies. This is what gets presented to us in so many ways. There is some development about presenting bodies as they look in real life. But they don´t just get presented, they get labelled. Why do we have to call them ‘plus size models’? Can we not just call them models? Is there actually a need for a label?

I personally think it would be a huge and important step if we stop using labels and just start presenting all sorts of different people with different shapes, sizes, ethnicity, skin color, sexuality, and such.

When you put a label on something you somehow make it special and different from what we consider is the norm.

I got inspired to think about labels by the Australian model Stefania Ferrario who claims herself as ‘a model FULL STOP’ even though she gets labeled as a ‘plus size model’.

Devi Living – What words of youthful wisdom would you give to a young woman who struggles with a negative body image?

VerenaI am not sure if I can speak from wisdom, but I think it can be helpful to focus on what the body is capable of.

Instead of focusing on the ‘beauty’ of the body or the ‘ideal body’, we can think of all the possibilities that our body gives us. Laughing, eating, kissing, and crying are possible because we have a body. It doesn´t matter if the body conforms to the ideals of beauty. A body that can laugh and live is ideal enough.

Devi Living – If the Feminine Body had a message to women, what do you think the message would be?

VerenaNourish your body and soul in ways that actually feels good for you. It is different for every body and everybody. Don’t try to optimize your body all the time, stop participating in this constant race. You don’t have to try to be the better version of yourself all the time.

Devi Living – What is next for you now? Did the play open new doors for you in some way?

VerenaEssentially the work with the play gave me the amazing opportunity to dive deep into this topic while having a really good time and so much fun. The play raised my awareness of and for myself and all those topics that are connected to these issues.

I got the chance to get a new perspective on some things. The work on the play empowered me to stick with the things I do and to make that part of my work later.For now, I look forward to the next opportunities that come and being involved with a topic I can dive into.

Verena, thank you so much for engaging with this important issue through the play and through this interview. You are an inspiration, not just for your honest and open sharing but also for highlighting an issue that causes so much pain and self doubt in so many women.

Imagine a world where we as women feel free and beautiful in our bodies and in ourselves, regardless of what society tells us. When we claim our birthright to be free to be ourselves, imagine what possibilities can unfold and the positive change we create. Lets love ourselves!

To contact Verena you can email her – or send her a message via Messenger – Verena Schmitt.

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