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Body Maps

Contributed by
Insight Share

This activity is used to develop the theme of identity and self-perception and to increase the trust and connection between participants.


The process of creating a body map can encourage self-reflection and also develop self-esteem and confidence.
It creates a way to understand individuals' life journeys and experiences, and encourages respect for differences as well as highlighting common themes within the group. In general, sharing with others who are attentive and show interest builds trust and respect among the group. This activity has the potential to bring about significant, emotional shifts in the participants’ perception of themselves and others. It encourages people to connect with each other more intimately. Both of these things can positively affect the quality of future collaborative activities. Finally, it supports an expanded sense of empathy, namely, the ability to identify with and understand another person's feelings or difficulties.


A simpler, shorter version of the body map is a body autograph. Ask participants to lie on paper making a shape of their choice by positioning their body. The drawn outline becomes their "mark" or autograph and can be filmed and also cut out and hung up on the wall as a group.


  1. In pairs each person draws a line carefully around their partner's body to create a silhouette of their partner lying down. Use long sheets of wallpaper or newspaper.
  2. As a group, decide how to divide up the body: e.g. the feet are our roots, legs the places we have travelled, the stomach holds our fears, the arms our skills, the heart is for what we love the most, the head contains our dreams, etc. These can vary depending on the group’s wishes and connotations.
  3. Alone, the participants use paints and collage (cut out old magazines) to represent themselves, i.e. decorate their own body maps.
  4. In pairs, each person describes their body map to their partner. Some kind of active listening may be given.
  5. Next, each pair joins another pair and each describes their original partners’ body map. The person whose body map it is, can then clarify and add details.
  6. Ask each group of four to find common themes that might be interesting to explore further. Additional discussion can be prompted by questions depending on the context. For example, did anything surprising emerge from this exercise?
  7. Back in the plenary group, ask each person to say 3 words that came out of their experience. It is a good idea for the facilitator to model this and to keep to limitations.
  8. Hang Body Maps on the walls if possible.
  9. When used in the context of Participatory Video making the themes that emerge can be input into plots and narratives for short films created by the participants.
  10. If this is in the beginning phase of a longer term engagement, participants can return to their body maps later and adjust or add.

Adapted for the Recoms (Resourceful and Resilient Communities) Project

Place on U
15 minutes to 1 hour
Materials Needed

Colourful magazines and/or paints, glue, old materials (textiles) and paintbrushes

Design Thinking
Cognitive Frames & Mental Models
Emotional Intelligence
Surfacing Hidden Dynamics
Tip and Experiences
  • Allow enough time (at least 45 minutes for people to decorate their body maps because they tend to get really into the activity.

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