Beverley Irving - She/Her
Illustrator and PhD Researcher
Beverley Irving is an illustrator, whose work predominantly concerns lived experience, gender stereotyping and expectations, and mental health. Beverley works with adults and children around the themes of gender and body image, and mental health. Currently completing her PhD, Beverley’s research concerns exploring how illustration, clay, and experiences of poor body image and eating disorders can address the wider cultural aspects of western body image. She designs craftivist engagement that uses her object illustrations to generate critical discussions with groups of women about cultural influences on body image. Other projects include working with adults around the themes of gender and body image and with a local charity preventing poverty whose members have experienced poverty and homelessness. Beverley has also worked with children collecting stories of belonging within diverse communities, and on mental wellbeing.
Please tell us about your career
After failing to reach my potential in school, I fell into hairdressing; just like my mum. Needing to have some control I became self-employed. Always bored or under-stimulated, my client base trusted me to leave to work in Ibiza, coming back when I was ready. I have been on this career journey since returning to college around eleven years ago; trying to disprove the ‘I’m stupid’ narrative I’ve internalised as an undiagnosed ADHD girl/woman. When I returned to college, I closed my business again to pursue my passion for illustration. I moved away and completed my undergraduate degree. During my final year I found feminist artists and theorists, and I embarked on an MA to apply this feminist intention to my illustration, hairdressing part-time. I found my passion to inspire change and was awarded the Arts and Humanities Faculty Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Academic Communities’ award during my MA at Manchester School of Art. Here, one of my tutors saw potential in me and highlighted an opportunity for a PhD Scholarship at Ulster University. I wanted to take my illustration further, using my own experiences of poor body image and eating disorders to help others. I was awarded the position (I still can’t believe it!) I was diagnosed with ADHD mid-way through my PhD. I’m now in my final year, and using my object illustrations to generate critical discussions on cultural body image pressures with groups of women. Since then, my research was awarded the Mary Ann McCracken Award as it aligns with the interests of Mary Ann - in education, social justice, social policy, poverty, modern day slavery, human rights and welfare rights particularly of women and children.
Do you feel that your job/industry is a good fit for an ND woman?
I am unsure if I will stay in academia; I think it has a long way to go in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion. However, I am excited about the future of illustration research and the good that it can do for people and society. It is under-recognised at the moment. Either way, I hope to contribute even more to illustration, and I am excited to use my skills and work with different communities to raise awareness of issues and experiences.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Find your people and don’t be scared to speak your truth. There are more of us out there than we’ve been made to believe. Even via podcasts or online platforms, speaking to and listening to women whose experiences you recognise can help to keep you feel sane, especially when newly diagnosed. Give yourself time to ride the grief rollercoaster without you, or others, putting expectations on where you should be on that journey. Practically, setting deadlines, body doubling, and the Clever Fox planner helps me visualise what I have done and need to get done each day. I get preoccupied with what I haven’t done rather than recognising what I have done. It also helps breakdown the day into achievable tasks. If you can wrangle some control over your role or work, do it. It might mean becoming less of a people pleaser, which can be uncomfortable, but we know work becomes soul destroying if it doesn’t feel authentic to us. *Oh, stop to breathe a little. Going at 100mph towards burnout shouldn’t be default mode to prove we’re not lazy. *note to self!
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the positives or give advice when we struggle so much. It’s not all positive and it’s important to recognise that we all experience our neurodivergence differently and to different degrees. Sometimes getting out of bed is an achievement in itself.