Anupa Roper has always been on the smaller side, and from a young age experienced shaming just for being a skinny person.
While grown-up Anupa was busy being a teacher and raising a family, she knew she wanted to help young people to NOT feel bad about their bodies.
Writing Sparrowlegs was not how she initially envisaged doing that, but as we hear all the time on this podcast, the path is rarely straight and clear.
In this episode we find out how Anupa found her voice and about her continuing work with words and positive body image for young people.
Clubhouse: @clairewaitebrown and Creativity Found Connect club
Artworks: Emily Portnoi emilyportnoi.co.ukSupport the show
Today's guest is a Anupa Roper, who has found a way to use her creative flair to communicate an important message and recall her own lived experience. Hi, Anupa. Hi, Claire, it's lovely to speak to you at last. And you. So your newly embraced creativity is a combination of subject matter and method of getting that across. Tell me how you have started to express yourself. So yeah, I was a primary school teacher for 17 years, and life has pretty much been pretty standard, you know, go to school, go to college, go to university, get a job as a teacher. And then you know, the C word hit like it did for a lot of people and reevaluating, and all of that. And so I wanted to share about my story really have my body image issues. And I guess I don't know, the instant thought was, the best way of doing that is to write about it and share my thoughts in words. Brilliant. What role did creativity play in your life as a youngster? So when I was younger, I don't think it was part of ever, I never saw it as part of my bigger life in terms of career or what I would do when I was older. As children do, you know, I used to love to doodle and to colour and to pain and all of these things and play some musical instruments at school. But it was never, I never really thought about it as the main part of my life. When I was growing up, it was always little hobbies that you did, but never really the real thing that you did. as I've grown older, I reflect now on being a youngster and realise that all of these things were part of my, you know, who I am as a person and I am a really creative person. And I see that now that I see it in my daughter that actually that doodling you know, on every piece of paper that I could find was something that was inbuilt in me and not something that was just a side hobby, but something that really existed. Was it encouraged in the household at school? No, I don't think it was really I never really felt like it was encouraged at school and at home. It wasn't discouraged. But it wasn't something that was really spoken about. And my parents were born over in East Africa, their parents were born in India. And so the culture was very much you know, not outspoken. But just the sort of culture that you felt around you was very much that successful careers where being a doctor or working in medicine or going into mathematics or being a lawyer, all the things that kind of suck the creativity out of you, I guess, did the did the academic subjects suit you at school? I think they did suit me I was very academic. And I think you know, I did really love I love doing maths and not so much English which is funny because that's quite creative. And obviously that's what I do now the writing and everything but I did definitely lean towards sort of sciences and maths. And as I got older I guess I chose some subjects that could be argued to be creative, a bit of psychology and sociology and so more sort of thinking rather than academic but yeah, I would say they did suit me and I didn't think that it was out of place to be doing those subjects. I definitely didn't feel that I was forced to be Doing those subjects, but there was just always this other creative side. Did you continue with those subjects? And did you go to further education? So at university, I did psychology and sociology. And then I went on to be a teacher. So I did my teaching qualification, you know, when I was teaching, I guess, but you know, lots of the subjects that I enjoyed, were more of the creative subjects. So doing the art with the children, reading with the children, teaching them about writing, teaching musics much more. So then, like maths and science, which I would have thought I would enjoy more immediately after university. Now I know that you were made redundant at the tender age of 23. And that was before you came to teaching. So what work had you been doing immediately after university, I went to a recruitment agency, actually, just to ask about jobs, because you know, having done psychology and sociology isn't jobs that are immediately available, you have to be looking and find the right thing for you. So I went to a recruitment agency, and they said, Actually, we've got a job in house, you can come and work with us doing some recruitment. And I thought, You know what, while I'm waiting, let's go and do that. And then a friend of mine worked for a big bank in Nottingham, and they were sort of opening their HR department. And I knew that I had this recruitment experience, I went there and worked in their recruitment department, it wasn't fulfilling, you know, it wasn't something that I really wanted to do. My heart wasn't in it was a job, I was earning money. And I feel like it was a bit of a blessing that I got made redundant at 23. So I had a choice really, then whether I, you know, set her down, got a house maybe bought something of value, or, you know, change my career. What I did do is I went and travelled around Australia for a year and did a little bit of work out there. So it kind of gave me time to reflect really, which is really nice at that age, because you can get carried away and just carry on doing doing the do and not really thinking about what you want to do. So I remember being on the plane on the way home after that year and thinking, what is it that I really want to do? And the two things that sort of sprang to mind because I'm a people person was either teaching or going into counselling, and I went down the teaching route. I think I've always loved working with children. But I also thought if I go into counselling, and then I ever have struggles myself, would I be able to cope with it? I think you'd have to be really careful. You know, and if you're working in, you know, something like counselling, I think you have to really be aware that when you have struggles that is going to come into it. I mean, it could have been either it really could have been either, but I think I just Yeah, I think I just thought you know what teaching, I would love to work with children. So that's that was the pool that took me there really brilliant. I think that's a very sensible way of thinking about it actually thinking about your future. So you said at the beginning, you were a teacher for 17 years, did writing fit into your life at this time. Not so much my personal writing, obviously, as a teacher, you're continuously teaching children to write and going through the process. And at the beginning of my career, I was working more with the younger years. So year one and two. So it's more about, you know, letter formation and phonics and all of that sort of stuff. But as when I went back after I'd had my children back into teaching, I actually was then placed in year five, and six. And what I really noticed was, it was lovely to have that creative side and write stories and really use our imagination. And there were times where we wrote stories together. But there was times where I had to model writing a story. And so and I realised how much I enjoyed doing that. So it didn't play a part in terms of my personal story, but it did play a part in terms of realising I enjoyed that process of writing. Okay, that's really interesting. So then when did you begin working on your own story and your own subject matter? Yeah, so that was just all by chance, really. So again, like I was teaching up until you know, the pandemic began. And then I wasn't able to teach anymore, because I was a cover teacher going from class to class, and in the back of my mind, so I'm 43 now, and probably from very late 30s, I kind of thought, I'd love to speak about my story of being on you know, the smaller side being a skinny person, the shaming that I received, and maybe things that people wouldn't understand, you know, the names that you get called and the way that it's different from maybe living in a larger body. So I had that in the back of my mind over those last few years. And then when the pandemic struck, I thought perfect opportunity to start sharing my story, but I wasn't quite ready to, you know, write a big book about it, and I thought the best way to do it would do something on social media. So I set up an Instagram account and started to write about my story, but it obviously it's quite brief on Instagram. Um, you know, you can have a slight amount of coffee, but it's not a huge amount. So I also realised that I'm good at writing, you know, without having a big head. But people used to say, oh, you know, oh, your posts are really good. And the way that you're writing is really well written. And I noticed how quickly I would sort of write something and then edited straightaway in my mind, and I knew that it didn't quite sound right, and how to make it sound right, with a bit of grammar and punctuation. And maybe that's the teaching side, maybe it's just my love of writing. But that's how the story of my personal story started. And then I was given a couple of opportunities. So the first opportunity for writing, I was kind of in a big group of, you know, mums in business, really, I joined a group on Facebook, and it was just about having that support around if I want to continue this work. And at that point, I had no idea that I wouldn't go back to teaching. But if I want to carry on doing this work, I might need people to help me to maybe build an audience on Instagram, or maybe better to set up a Facebook group or whatever it was that I wanted to do. And then yeah, somebody asked for ladies who wanted to write stories that were showcasing resilience really through life. So things that people had overcome, and the way that they overcome it. And I thought, perfect. This isn't me writing a book, which was quite scary to put your own name out there. This is a book full of stories of all sorts of women, and so a little bit more hidden, you know, to start with. And so yeah, just I jumped at the chance to write about my own story. And that was lovely, because it wasn't really long, I think it was about 3000 words, the perfect amount to tell my story, the perfect amount to showcase my writing style, very, very cathartic, because it was my story, and the things that the experiences that I've had growing up, and I just loved it, I just really, really loved that whole process. Yeah, that's, that's a really good point about the support. So you're in a book with other other people who are writing as well. And that you were able to write about something that you'd been that had been playing on your mind that was your subject matter. But your book that is out currently, is a children's book, isn't it? So how did that come about? In the back of my mind, originally, it was probably going to be the diary of a skinny girl or something like that, you know, it was going to be my experiences growing up, I guess the thing is, you have to feel creativity is inspired, you know, and it's about taking inspired action. And at that time, I wasn't necessarily inspired to write a big long novel or a big long story. But what I knew is that I could use my writing to support the young, I could use my writing to put something out there. That will mean that the young don't have to grow up the way I did feeling bad about their bodies. And I thought, how can I do that then, and I happen to be speaking to somebody about going into schools and talking about body image and supporting children. And I said, One day, I might write a children's book. And this person that I was speaking to said, just write it, write it now, you know. And so, one day I sat down, I sent my husband out with the kids. I said, oh, we'll just go for a little walk because I want to just have a look at writing this book. Not thinking that it would get done that day, but just that it would I might spark ideas. What kind of book do I want? Do I want it for younger children? Older children? How's it going to work? How am I going to send this message? And literally, honestly, Claire, I sat down for about 45 minutes, and the book was out. That was it. It was on paper, it never changed. I haven't edited it in any way really apart from the odd bit of punctuation. But it was simple because it was a story of me. And it is a rhyming story. And it's for under sevens. So you know, it's a short book, but it just kind of sends a message straight away. That's what I decided is that, instead of writing a book that was to teach adults or to let them know about my story, I thought what would be more impactful is to use my creativity to support the young first, brilliant creativity. found.co.uk is the place to go to find workshops, courses, supplies, kits and books to help you get creative. So if you're looking for your own creativity found experience, go have a browse to see what's on offer so far. And if you can help adults to find their new creative passion, please get in touch on social media, or through the contact details on the website. That all sounds fabulous, and the writing is coming fairly easily to you. It's a personal story. It's coming out from the inside out. How do you feel then about other people reading it? And why did you feel it was important to get it out there? And were you concerned when it did go out there? Did you have anxieties Yeah, I mean, I think everybody does, don't they, I mean, you know, you're using your creativity, it's very personal. You've written something that you love, but you don't know if other people are gonna love it or receive it the right way. And so I was really, really nervous. But on the other hand, I think what I also built, aside from this creativity is this huge passion and drive to support the young. And like I say, it took me many years to realise that I had been affected by words that had been said to me throw away comments, the way that people had treated me on the basis of that my appearance, my body size, and I thought this cannot happen. I can't let this happen to my children, and to other people's children. And so I guess that driver, the passion to make that difference was bigger than my level of anxiety. And so, obviously, on release day, it was like, what are people going to say, you know, and I was scared about this book arriving on their doorsteps, and they open it, and what if they think it's awful? Or? Or what if they think she's not a great writer, you know, I think more to do with not so much my story, because by then, I had already shared my story. So that part wasn't so much of a worry. The bit that was a worry is, you know, Am I really a writer? Am I going to stand up and say, I'm an author? I do say, Yes, I'm a children's author. But it took a few months, actually, after I even wrote my book, I kept saying things like, oh, it's only a short book. It's only a children's book. It's not really about the book. It's not really about the writing. It's more about the message. But why is it not about the writing? It's my writing, you know, I have to own it. Lots of people say that about calling themselves a writer, or an artist or yeah, really having that understanding and being able to own it, like you say, But it's strange, isn't it? Because if you're a doctor, you say, I'm a doctor, I'm a lawyer. I'm a solicitor, why can you not say I'm an author or a writer is what you do? It's what? Yeah, I think it's a judgement factor, isn't it? If you're judging yourself, tell me about the illustrations for Sparrow legs. A friend of mine was helping or had helped me to do my logo, which was just, you know, basic logo for my Instagram. I said to him, Well, you've got this, you know, design agency, can you just not be a political logo, you know, I'm out of work. I've got money. So I just reached out to a friend. And then he happened to have interviewed two graduates recently qualified from a university doing like art and design or illustration. And so he said, Do you want me to pass you their details or let you know their Instagram account. So I said, Okay, then. So I looked at both of their Instagram. And Becky, who has illustrated my book straight away, her work just really completely resonated with me, and I thought, I have to have this girl illustrate my book. And the wonderful thing is, like I said, so many things sort of piece together. So when I spoke to her, the way I talk about body image is also the link with mental health. And that obviously, the way that we think about ourselves and the way that we look, the way that people perceive us, obviously has an effect on our mental health. And when I spoke to Becky, she also said to me, you know, that she had struggled with her mental health, not necessarily to do with body image, but you know, finding that connection. And she was a girl who was a graduate very young, so different to me, you know, a different time of life. So it was nice also to connect with somebody that was, was in a different part of their life, but it could still resonate with the story I was telling. And she completely understood the story, and was on board with the, you know, the message that I was trying to send. And so she did a little drawing a sparrow initially and sent that to me. And that was it, then it was like, yeah, definitely, let's go and illustrate this book. You've written your character. And often authors will say, when their books are made into films, for example, it can be difficult to imagine that visually and the same when people read books, they may imagine the visual to be different, but you obviously really liked what Becky did with Sparrow. Yeah, because she also uses like, the traditional technique of watercolours. So she all the pictures were done in watercolour, and then obviously uploaded rather than just using computers, which I know a lot of people do now. And that's fine. But for me, I also am that's the thing so much, like I said, resonated with me, because I'm such a traditionalist as well, like, even as a teacher took me a long while to get used to those smartboards. I mean, give me a whiteboard any day. It took me a while to get into that technology. But yeah, because I was so traditional at heart. I love the fact that she was using a traditional technique and that that would be where our book came from. So yeah, it was lovely. It all just fell into place. And I love I just love the look of it. And you know, there's always things you could have done differently and there's always going to be things that you look at and go oh, we could have improved that a little bit or because it was such a quick process and something I was so new to, lots of artists will say they could keep going and go and go. And they can see things that they think need improvements. But that really don't. You've mentioned that you stopped working as a teacher now. And I know that you're continuing to use your writing to help spread the word about perception of the body, and you briefly touched on language used around body image as well. How does that look for you on a daily basis now? And what are you planning for the future? It's really strange, actually. Because I feel like I'm busier than ever, I know, you know, that feeling, I feel like I'm busier than ever, but in a way, not doing much, you know, it doesn't look like much on the surface. But there's lots going on, and eventually come out. So I did say to you, you know that I have written the second book, but at the moment, there's been things going on in the background. So I've built sort of a little website. And my first aim is just to get a little course out there. I think, for parents, carers, teachers, just a basic body image course, because what I'd like to do is support the adults first around the children just about to go somewhere to reach out for a little bit of support. And again, that's really me being creative, you know, in writing my course and thinking about how that will appeal and what answers people want. So that's the first step, this second book, in my, in my wildest dreams, I'm just hoping that somewhere, somehow I can get published, because what I'd really love is a set of books and an education pack. But I think, you know, there's nothing wrong with self publishing at all. But again, I'm quite traditional, I would love to go down the traditional route, I would love for it to be a bit more widespread. Because the thing is, we're self publishing, you can only sort of market so far, even if you reach out to every branch possible. And everybody tells all their friends and their friends and their friends, it isn't as well marketed maybe as the big publishing companies. So I'm putting it out there, someone's gonna be listening today, Claire, you know, someone like nosy crow Penguin, they're gonna be listening, and they're gonna go, That's the girl we want her. So I think that's going to be my focus is just reaching out trying to do lots of things. And I think for me, it's not about an end journey, I decided to leave teaching, because I want to focus all of my energy on the work that I'm doing now. But there isn't necessarily an end journey. It's about just spreading the word becoming visible, you know, saying what I want to say, and it feels great, it feels brilliant, just putting my words out there and saying, Well, this is my beliefs would the world be wonderful if the next generations know that, you know, being unique is fine, being different to other people, I sit here we've both got I've got a little bit less curly hair. It hasn't been done very well today. But you've got your curly hair, you know, and it's red, and I've got dark hair, and you're not wearing glasses, and I'm wearing glasses and, and yet somehow in this society, we've got this vision of this one view of beauty. And there isn't one view of how to look the right way. And so my message is what I want to spread and whatever way I can do that I will continue to. Yeah, good on you. It's amazing that that message still needs to be spread in this day and age with such a focus on other elements of uniqueness. But I completely understand, as you've mentioned, the language of it, and that your friends didn't necessarily realise that language they were using was hurtful to you. So that would be really super to be able to get that out there. You spoke at the big beginning about maybe historical, cultural, slight prejudices towards creativity as opposed to academia? How do you think that has changed for the next generation? And does your own experience influence how you might advise or encourage your children now? Absolutely. I think the world is ever changing, isn't it? And also in all sorts of different ways. In fact, before I answer that question, I will just say, you know, like with body image, there have been changes, but there just needs to be more changes. And it just needs to be quicker. And like, you know, like you doing these interviews or talking about creativity, even now, there probably is a bit of stigma attached to those creative subjects or those creative careers compared to those more traditional careers. So tight things are moving slowly, but like with everything, it takes people time because we're stuck in this, you know, this mindset that this is the right way and this is how it should be or has been, but for me, definitely, it's changing my children. My daughter in particular, is so musical is so artistically talented is so creative, and I never say anything to her about you know what subjects you should be doing or what she might want to do in the future. I can see a change happening in my personal household for definitely Things are completely different. And I can see that my children will make their own choices. And if that's creative, it's creative. If it's academic, it's academic. And if it's something in between, then you know, that's fine, too. Brilliant. Thank you so much. And Luca, how can people connect with you. So I do have a website, but B kind is just starting. So it's not got everything on there, but it's spiral legs.com. If you want to find me on Instagram, I miss berry legs, if you want to find me on Facebook, I've got a group, which is no surprise, it's called spiral legs. And the group on Facebook is a lovely community of parents, carers and teachers where we all talk about different subjects and I share articles that are relevant and just a space where we can all learn together because another thing that I do want to say is, all of the work that I'm doing is out of my own lived experiences. I'm not, you know, I've not been trained in body image, but I have a passion and that's what makes my mission really. So all of the work that I do is from my lived experiences, but I think that we're all always on a journey anyway, you know, even if we have done a million courses on a certain topic. We're all on a journey together. And I think that we're all moving forward in our learning. That's fabulous. Thank you so much. That's fine. Thank you, Claire for having me. I've loved talking to you today. You're welcome. Creativity found isn't openstage Arts production. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please subscribe, rate and review. If you would like to contribute to future episodes, visit K O hyphen F fi.com/creativity found podcast. If you contact any of the artists featured sign up to their workshops, or buy their products don't forget to mention creativity found podcast on Instagram or Facebook. Follow at creativity found podcast where you'll find photos of our contributors artwork and be kept abreast of everything we're up to