‘Breaking apart the sick girl trope’ project launched by Westgate costume designer

A girl reads to a convalescent while a nurse brings in the patient's medicine. Image Watercolour by R.H. Giles. Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). Reference: Wellcome Library no. 18206i

Thanet-based costume designer and textile artist Katie Hogben has launched a new creative project, Breaking apart the sick girl trope. All women and non-binary people with experience of chronic illness or disability are invited to join five free online sessions.

Breaking apart the sick girl trope is an Arts Council England funded project that explores the language used in storytelling about women who have a chronic illness or disability. Looking at all forms of storytelling – including novels, short stories, plays, poetry, film, TV, fine art, and video games – the project will explore through costume design common ‘sick girl’ stereotypes that are damaging, and it will offer authentic alternatives.

Image credit: A sick girl in bed being counselled by a nun while another woman looks anxious. Mezzotint by S.W. Reynolds, 1829, after R.P. Bonington. Wellcome Collection. Reference: Wellcome Library no. 17871i

Katie will be creating four costumes exploring common damaging tropes and authentic experiences of women with a chronic illness or disability. All four costumes will be influenced by five free online creative discussion sessions. All women and non-binary people with personal experience of chronic illness or disability, or carers, with an interest in storytelling are invited to take part in the Skype sessions, led by Katie. Participants can share their own examples and interpretations, or just listen if they prefer.

The final session will discuss authentic representations of women with a chronic illness or disability. Participants will be invited to create their own costume pieces expressing their experience and will be able to submit these costumes for consideration to be part of the exhibition at Pie Factory Margate later this year.

Katie is a costume designer, textile artist, writer and producer who lives in Westgate. Since 2010 she has led on costume design and production on over 20 theatrical productions, films and photoshoots, receiving training at London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins. She has an MA in Screenwriting from the National Film and Television School. Katie also works in arts marketing, her experience including Power of Women festival, Turner Contemporary and Philharmonia Orchestra.

Image credit: Bertha from Jane Eyre, It removed my veil from its gaunt head, F. H. Townsend, 1868-1920, via Wikimedia Commons

In her creative work, Katie has a particular interest in the experiences of the most vulnerable in society. In 2012, she set up the project Revealing the Invisible, which explored the aspects of chronic illness that are invisible, such as Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue, Brain Fog and Depression, through fine art exhibitions, writing and film.

Katie lives with incurable immune system illness Lupus which has symptoms including joint and muscle pain and an extreme tiredness.

Find out more about Breaking apart the sick girl trope, artist Katie Hogben and how you can get involved in the project at www.thesickgirltrope.wordpress.com

Accessing the creative discussion sessions

If you are a woman or non-binary person with experience of chronic illness or disability, and would like to take part in the free online discussion sessions, please email your name and contact email address to [email protected] with ‘Take part’ in the subject line.

The sessions will be held on Skype. Katie wants everyone to be involved in the project who wants to be, so if Skype isn’t your preferred method of communication, there are other ways to get involved. Find out more at www.thesickgirltrope.wordpress.com/get-involved

Other ways to get involved

All people with an interest in the project, including women, non-binary people and men, those with and without experience of chronic illness and disability, are invited to sign up to the mailing list here and to join the Facebook group here, through which the presentations and discussion summaries will be shared.

If you have questions, email Katie at [email protected]

Dates for your diary

The five sessions on Skype will be at 7pm for an hour on:
Sunday 24th April
Sunday 15th May
Sunday 5th June
Sunday 26th June
Sunday 17th July

The exhibition will be at Pie Factory Margate from Friday 28th October to Wednesday 2nd November, opening times to be confirmed.


  1. You have to wonder how much of the “creative industry” is self sufficient as it seems that a huge number of the projects and artists are supported ( to some degree) by the taxpayer either directly from central gov. Bodies or local councils , in some form or the other. At which point do these creatives have to stand ontheir own two feet and make a living like a carpenter, bricklayer , accountant etc. The nation hardly has coffers overflowing with excess cash having ensured that the basics of health , education , housing are catered for properly and so what remains can be frittered away supporting such fripperies as this.

  2. Not so long ago, art was the preserve of the rich
    like decent health care or houses etc. “Art” was paintings and sculptures that the proverbial starving artist would produce in the hope that someone out of a tiny wealthy few would buy it. Family portraits sold well.
    So the artists might be seen as “making their own living” like other tradespeople.
    But most people were outside this narrow definition of “art” so, presumably, “art” got a bad name.
    Now a tiny proportion of our national wealth is spent trying to expand our experience of art and, no doubt, it’s a bit of a shock. As it’s moving on and changing.
    One problem has been the way some cynical operators have turned “art” into commodities for financial speculation.(Stuffed sharks in formaldehyde are still rising in price, apparently!) And we are invited to imagine that Rembrandt must have risen from his grave, paintbrush in hand , and carried out millions of pounds worth of improvements to all his paintings as they keep going up in price so they must keep getting better!(All of this is ,of course, funded by private money in that “real world” of imaginary “common sense” that is supposed to exist out there somewhere.)
    Maybe this particular project does not appeal. But let’s not imagine that there is a “real” art out there, waiting to be appreciated free of charge.
    If we are to have the chance to enjoy all kinds of artistic endeavours, like a range of TV programmes, there are bound to be bits we like and bits we don’t like. But that would be no reason to abolish the Arts Council and its grants in the belief that something better will come along if we just left it to “the free market”.
    That would take us back to starving artists producing vanity projects for a tiny few.

    • All very well but too much of what is purported to be art is politically motivated and often little more than jumping on a bandwagon or creating a new one, in this article the multiple references to those with different lifestyles and preferences , why can’t it be a case of “ all are welcome”. It may be a tiny portion of the nations wealth but that tiny portion may well be better spent on education and health in the usual sense of the word.
      We have the absurdities of this project, the newgate gap exhibition space ( chucking money at an ex con with fraud convictions may be a good idea to those doling out taxpayers cash but unlikely to be essy to convince private donations, the weird and wonderful FLINTS seemingly being funded by the distributed assets of a failed charity led before its demise by a somewhat disreputable chap. The exhibition of art at the TC that is nothing more than promotion of a section of society , the art being no different from any other produced by similar age groups of any background.
      It’s got more to do with social engineering than art.
      In a nation that can’t afford to get the bare basics right ,supporting artists ( in doing creating the illusion its a worthwhile career option) to create such “ art” is just pointless.

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