June 13, 2024 | University Partners

Impact of world-leading UWE Bristol’s Centre for Appearance Research celebrated on 30th anniversary

It has grown from two researchers and a PhD student to become what is considered the largest research centre in the world focussed on appearance and body image. Now the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR) has celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The research group was founded in a small office on St Matthias campus following studies into disfigurement led by Prof Nicky Rumsey with the support of researcher Emma Robinson and PhD student Diana Harcourt in the early 1990s.

Now part of the College of Health, Science & Society (CHSS) on Frenchay campus, CAR has grown into an internationally recognised centre of excellence, comprising 35 academics, researchers and post-graduate research students, for psychological and interdisciplinary, person-centred research in appearance, visible difference (‘disfigurement’), body image and related studies.

The centre staged its first conference, Appearance Matters, in 2003 and will hold its 10th  in June. The event series is the only international conference specific to issues around appearance and body image, and has grown from a one-day event with 115 delegates to a three-day conference attracting over 300 delegates from across the globe attracting world leaders in the field.

During its lifetime, the research centre has attracted external grant income totalling more than £25 million. Major areas of research have included body image in adults and young people, along with burns, cleft lip and palate, cancer, social media and sport.

Staff held an anniversary celebration of CAR on 23 May in The Space at Frenchay campus, attended by founding director Nicky Rumsey.

Professor Beth Daniels, Director of CAR, said: “It’s a fitting time to pause and reflect on the extraordinary achievements of the centre and the impact it has had in the past 30 years.

“Of particular note is the partnership between CAR and the Dove Self Esteem Project, which is in its 10th year and has seen 100 million young people receive its body image interventions. Another highlight was an EU-funded COST action, led by CAR, involving contributors from 36 countries.

“Also worthy of special recognition is the lobbying work that has been carried out to change awareness of body image issues and the provision of care for people with visible differences.”

Over the years, CAR has presented its research to Government committees and professional bodies, leading to tangible changes. For example, psychologists are now key members of all NHS cleft lip/palate teams in the UK as a consequence of the work of Nicky Rumsey and others to show the need for psychological support.

The impact of CAR’s work has also been felt in the charity sector, where their collaborative research is supporting the work of more than 25 charities from across the UK and beyond, on topics including cleft/craniofacial care, burn care, breast cancer care, wig provision and the promotion of diversity of appearance.

A more recent initiative for the CAR team has been the Appearance Matters: The Podcast series. The series which launched in 2015 now has a global reach, with more 80 episodes available for free.

Of the anniversary, Prof Daniels added: “It was wonderful to celebrate this important milestone for the research centre with a fantastic group of dedicated colleagues. The anniversary gives us an opportunity to not only look back at our significant impact but look forwards to explore other areas where we can make a difference with our world-leading expertise.”