Emma Halliwell 1973-2021

A tribute from Diana Harcourt, Amy Slater and Chris Pawson.

It is with great sadness that we are writing this piece, in memory of our dear friend and colleague, Dr Emma Halliwell, who died on 3 October 2021 at the age of 48. 

Emma started her career in psychology and interest in body image research with an undergraduate degree at the University of Sussex, where she went on to complete her DPhil. Her supervisor and subsequent collaborator for over 25 years, Professor Helga Dittmar, remembers her as an amazing student and a truly independent thinker, whose work advanced the field through her innovative use of exposure experiments to examine sociocultural and media influences on body image.

Emma became a leading figure in the world of body image research, internationally known for her work around embodiment and well-being. She published more than 60 articles and book chapters, and was a leading scholar in helping to shape how we conceptualise positive body image. She developed and evaluated interventions designed to promote positive body image and well-being, and to challenge restrictive societal norms around appearance, gender and materialistic values. Her work applied and integrated social-cognitive theories of attitude change and embodiment theories. In recent years, she incorporated her love of yoga into her research and published influential articles demonstrating its benefit on women's and children’s body image and mood, with interventions in schools and health care settings. The Editor-in-Chief of the international journal, Body Image, Professor Tracy Tylka, has described Emma as ‘one of our greats’ – a sentiment shared by many.  

In 2004 she joined the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE), where she progressed to Senior Lecturer and then Associate Professor in Psychology. When she joined UWE, Emma brought her expertise and passion for body image research to the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR). Over the next 17 years she played a significant role in shaping the Centre’s portfolio of research and was a valued and influential member of the Centre’s Management Group. Her reputation attracted body image researchers from across the globe to come to the UK and join the CAR team.  

As news of her death has spread, we have received messages from her students past and present, and academic colleagues and researchers from around the world, all sharing memories of Emma and the love and respect they have for her. It’s tempting to refer to her as a respected colleague, skilled mentor, talented researcher, natural leader, outstanding supervisor and teacher, but she was much more than that to so many people. She was a wonderful woman – kind, caring, supportive, genuine, admired and inspirational on both a personal and professional level. Her warmth and enthusiasm shone through. She was adept at welcoming staff and students, putting people at ease, clearly valuing everyone’s contributions to the discussion, and bringing out the best in everyone. Emma had the sharpest, analytical mind – she was the person in the room who asked the questions that others wished they had thought of. Yet despite her very considerable qualities, she was always modest about her achievements – she was passionate about research for the sake of research, never for personal glory.  

She taught across the psychology programmes at UWE and held a host of significant roles including undergraduate programme leader, and dissertation module leader across a portfolio of Postgraduate courses. Emma gave all her students time and encouragement, gently leading them from very primitive thoughts to far more sophisticated outcomes. Her enthusiasm inspired many of her students to pursue a career in psychology.  

Her wisdom, patience and understanding made her a valued member of any team, including Departmental and Faculty committees. Emma was Associate Head of Research for the Department of Health and Social Sciences, Departmental Executive Committee member, and lead/co-lead for the Psychological Sciences Research Group, which she shaped into a vibrant and successful team. She was an excellent sounding board, with an uncanny ability to identify what was really important. In meetings, she was skilled at cutting through the waffle and focusing on what really mattered. The ‘Emma pause’ was a moment of considered reflection, before suggesting a course of action – which was inevitably a very effective one. She exemplified the notion of team spirit and has been described by a senior member of staff as a true exemplar of a colleague who would step up and contribute for the greater good.   

She had an infectious smile and a ‘wicked sense of humour’, even when times were tough. Several of our colleagues have described her as ‘a beautiful soul’, and she was ‘work Mum’ to more people than she could ever have imagined. 

It was whilst she was a student at Sussex University that Emma met fellow PhD student Paul Redford. Emma and Paul later married and, for all her achievements, the role that really mattered to her the most was being a wonderful mother to Ned and Nancy.  

We have been so lucky to have had Emma in our lives and to have known her as a dear friend. She was so loved and will be missed by many, but never forgotten. A light has gone out, but her legacy and inspiration will continue to shine.  

Diana Harcourt, Amy Slater & Chris Pawson

0n behalf of colleagues at the Centre for Appearance Research, the Psychological Sciences Research Group and the Department of Social Sciences, UWE, Bristol

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