Hello to the deaf community! It’s taken us a while but we’re finally now offering fully transcribed versions of each episode from now on.
Read on for the transcribed version of episode 2, season, which is available to listen to wherever you get your podcasts. We spoke to Ben Whit and Dan Richards, two of the hosts on Channel 4’s Naked Beach, about body image and boys.
The Transcribed Episode…
Welcome to Body Cons! A collection of conversations about bodies. I’m Lottie Story; Writer, Trainee Counsellor and Psychology geek. And I’m Molly Forbes; Broadcaster, Campaigner, and Body Image influencer.
Lottie: This week’s episode is one for the boys. We are chatting about body image and boys, and the things your teenage son needs to hear about mental health from a male perspective.
Molly: We’ve got my Naked Beach pals and fellow hosts Dan Richards and Ben Whit, and they are just the most lovely human beings and doing brilliant things opening up a conversation for guys to talk about these subjects. With Dan’s background in the army and Ben’s background working on construction sites, they come from typically quite macho industries. But they’re working to bring conversations into these areas and make it OK for guys to be able to talk about their feelings.
Lottie: I found it quite surprising actually because it was the first time that I’d met them. They both come worlds that could be really sort of toxically masculine, so it was an eye-opener for me how honest and open they were.
Molly: It’s a subject I’ve wanted to talk about for while but I haven’t known how to get into it because I have no experience. I have no “lived experience” – that word that we always hear. I’ve got a sister, I’m raising two daughters. Of course I’ve got guys who are friends and I’m married to a guy but I’m not a mum to boys.
But I know from working on Naked Beach that this is definitely a subject that affects men too. Body image is not just a female issue and of course we know men can experience mental health issues too. I’m excited to share our chat with Ben and Dan with you later in this episode.
Going up / Going down
Molly: So it’s that part of the show where we share what we’ve loved what we have loved less about body image this week. It might be something that we’ve seen in the news. It might be a new Instagram account. It could be a conversation that we’ve heard online or a new podcast.
OK Lottie this week I’ve got a… going UP! It’s a new mini series. I have just devoured on Netflix called Tales of the City. Basically it’s based on a series of novels that’s been made into a TV series.
Lottie: Ah yes are the books by Armistead Maupin? And was it made before?
Molly: Yes, back in the 90s! And the lady that plays the main character, Anna Madrigal, is Olympia Dukakis who played the same character in the original show. I want to now and read the novels now because it’s so great!
I loved the way the show features such a diverse cast. We talk about representation lot on this podcast and the importance of representation, and I know that something that has been debated before in the trans community is when they have trans characters who are then not played by trans actors. One of the characters in Tales of the City is played by someone called Garcia who is a non-binary, trans actor. Garcia plays a trans gay man in the series. And Jen Richards, who is a trans woman, plays the young Anna Madrigal. Jen is a trans writer, activist and actor and I love the fact that this show is using these actors for these these roles. It also stars Ellen Page who I adore and Laura Linney too.
Lottie: I need to watch this! Did you watch Pose on the BBC too?
Molly: I started watching but got distracted by Tales of the City! So what have you got for me this week?!
Lottie: I’ve got a… going up! It’s a film called Booksmart and you will love it so much. It’s directed by Olivia Wilde and it’s absolutely amazing. It’s about these two high school girls who realise on the eve of their graduation from high school that they’ve just been really square the whole time and missed out on stuff. There’s this pivotal scene where one of the lead actors (played by Beanie Feldstein) goes into a unisex bathroom. There are some other kids in there who are in the trendy gang and she overhears them being really mean about her. But what’s really great is that none of their comments about her are to do with her outward appearance, so it feels like it’s quite progressive in that sense.
So she overhears them and starts laying into them saying “Yeah but I’m going to Harvard” etc And then they respond with “Yeah and I’m going to Yale, I’ve been recruited by Google etc”. And she suddenly has this realisation that she could have had fun and still been a real high achiever too. So her and her best friend decide that they’re just going to do all of the stuff that they didn’t do in high school in one night!
Beanie Feldstein has been talking about what a progressive film it is in terms of body image. She’s been in five films in her career and all of them have been exemplars of her personal politics and ethos, so you can pretty much guarantee that anything you watch with her is going to be amazing.
She did this great interview with Teen Vogue about the body image side of of this performance and it’s just a really wonderful accepting joyous film that I would watch over and over again.
Molly: It sounds great! So it gets away from the typical teen movies like the ones I grew up on, like She’s All That, Clueless, etc? In She’s All That the main female character has a makeover to change the way she looks and get with Freddie Prinze Jr. I remember I fancied him so badly! And I thought I really wanted to look like the female lead. Basically those are the teen movies that I grew up with and there was no diversity and it seemed to very much be selling the message that thin = pretty and popular. It went without saying.
Lottie: Well you’re gonna love Booksmart! It’s really kind and all the characters are so well drawn and it’s so funny. It’s funny and really smart.
This week’s topic
Lottie: This week’s topic is body image and boys. It’s a subject we often wrongly assume only applies to women, and as we know, this is not the case. The the kind of issues the boy’s face might be slightly different from the issues that girls face, but they’re still there and they’re still powerful.
Molly: Obviously we have really the different experiences as mums because I’m raising two girls and they’re younger than your boys – they’re four years old and nine years old. I’m raising my girls in a positive body image environment which is something I feel really passionate about. That basically informs every piece of work I do. And I’m really aware of how aggressively women are marketed at and often made to feel not good enough. But that as a mum to boys is this something you’re really aware of too?
Lottie: I think boys are aware of the messages that are marketed to girls, and although they might not land in quite the same way for boys they are definitely there. I think there’s a lot of pressure around for boys too, especially if your children like sports – there’s a lot of pressure around men to have that kind of ripped six pack.
Molly: We were just talking about some of the teen films around when we were growing up – the actors around when I was growing up were people like Freddie Prinze Jr, Ryan Phillipe, Jared Leto. They were the pin-ups along with the Backstreet Boys etc. I guess if you were a guy and you didn’t fit that body ideal it could be quite hard.
Then there’s the whole typecasting in films based on the way someone looks or the shape of their body. If you’re skinny you were automatically the geek, for example. If you’re bigger you’re the funny friend.
Lottie: James Corden called that out recently didn’t he?
Molly: Yes! And if we’d been on air when that had happened it would have been my going up for that week!
Anyway, this is a really brilliant interview and I think that everyone on should listen to it regardless of if you’re raising boys or not, because I think that we all have guys in our life – whether they are your brother, your best friend, your partner. And I think that Dan and Ben are just so open and honest about it. Plus we were drinking wine and eating pizza while we did it!
Molly: We’re in Balham in South London, in the home of Dan from Naked Beach and we are joined by Ben my other lovely Naked Beach pal. Hello boys!
Dan: Welcome to my gaff!
Ben: Thanks for having us.
Molly: You are so welcome! So we often get messages from mums of teenage boys who are worried about their boys and the way they feel in their body, and I get quite a few messages from mums – but also guys – don’t feel good in their body. Body image issues don’t just affect women do they?
Ben: I think they affect a lot more than people than we realise to be honest. The problem is, we actually often think it’s unmanly to be vulnerable and whatnot. We hear stuff like “man up” if you’re having a day. So we don’t talk about stuff.
Molly: Dan, you were in the army. And Ben, you worked in construction. Do you both think it’s even harder to talk about stuff in these kind of environments?
Ben: It’s not typical to show signs of weakness in those industries. So if you’re upset or you’ve had a bad day you might not show it. But since women have joined the building trade more I think it’s definitely becoming more accepted.
When I was sixteen, seventeen growing up, I was told by my step dad to man up. He’s from the era of people of just getting on with it. I self harmed fr years and realised it probably wasn’t something I should be doing. I realised I really needed to start talking about the way I was feeling and that’s what helped me.
Molly: We always say you can never know how someone feels just from looking at them. You can never tell how healthy someone is mentally and physically just from looking at them. To look at you, you’re a big guy, you’ve got a shaved head (for anyone who hasn’t seen Ben on on the telly – John Barrowman loves him!) You’re really built and fit that typical masculine look. But you can still struggle with your feelings just like anyone.
Ben: It doesn’t matter how you look. You can’t tell how someone’s feeling from the way they look.
Dan: We went to the pub together just before Naked Beach came out. There was a guy in there who looked at me and looked at Ben. He said “I can see why you’d body confidence issues” (pointing at me) “but I don’t see why he has” (pointing at Ben). I get that an awful lot. People think that because I’m disabled and only have one arm, I should automatically feel bad.
But I’ve always said I’ll take one arm over any mental injury because, for me, losing my arm was something I found I could get over. But having an unseen issue, like PTSD or whatever – they’re the brave ones.
Lottie: But also, it’s not a competition. Everyone has their issues and they’re all valid aren’t they?
Dan: Everyone has their own Everest. One person’s is different to the next persons.
Molly: So the next time I get a message from a mum of a boy, to say she’s worried about her son – maybe her 11 year old is doing press-ups every night because he wants to get a six pack for example – what should I respond with? How do we pick up these conversations and normalise them so boys feel they can talk about this stuff?
Ben: I think at that age your body’s still developing. I see teenagers coming into my gym and they’re trying to be like the guys they see on TV. You’ve got your Love Islands and your Geordie Shores for example, and for lots of kids watching these programmes they think they need to have a body like that too. But our bodies are all different. Dan’s naturally skinny and could work out as much as he likes but his body is never going to look the same as mine, and mine won’t ever look like his because we’re built differently. We can often get tunnel vision of what we think men need to look like but we lose sight of what it is to be a man. What is masculinity anyway?
Dan: Well the Google description of masculine is: “Qualities and attributes regarded as characteristic of men – handsome, muscled and driven. He’s a prime example of masculinity.”
Molly: So do you think it’s about power then? Do you think for some guys an important part of their masculinity is to feel powerful – and you’re only a decent man or a good guy if you’re powerful? And being powerful looks a certain way?
Ben: I think some men are stuck in the olden days. They’re in the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality. You’re never going to change their minds. We can sit and discuss these ideas forever but some people will never change.
Lottie: Maybe they’ll die off eventually then? Like the dinosaurs?!
Ben: No because new ones will always come through. They’re raising boys to think like this too. We’ve got young boys not knowing how to act, looking for role models to teach them how to act and they’re looking to these guys who are saying don’t talk about your feelings, man up, and all this, and it’s bringing a new generation through of guys who can’t discuss their feelings.
Molly: So how did you break the mould then?
Ben: I had to find it out by myself. It just clicked really – I realised that if I wanted people to be nice to me I had to be nice to them.
Dan: You can tell a lot from someone by the way they treat other people. Personally, I think a restaurant is a great place to witness this. When you get people being rude to waiters it tells you a lot I think.
Molly: Do you think that behaviour comes from a place of insecurity? Like they’ve got something to prove?
Dan: Everyone’s wanting to feel wanting to feel more powerful than the next person, so you’ll put someone down and that makes them feel more powerful and more of a man. But the bravado is hiding a whole insecure mess.
Lottie: It kind of feeds into this idea of if you need to put someone down to make yourself feel better it’s your problem. It’s that whole bullying mentality isn’t it?
Molly: I feel like Donald Trump is a great example of this! So can you give us some tips for a young lad or teenage boy who’s struggling. He doesn’t feel good about himself. What can he do?
Ben: I think he needs to talk. Me and my mates have got a group chat on WhatsApp. I’ll always go in there and say “Hi boys you having a good week?”. It’s important to check in on each other and talk. Take my younger brother for example. As a younger lad he never used to like his body. He’d never take his top off when we went on holiday cos he had spots on his body. After he went to the doctors he felt better. But I still check up on him and ask him how he’s doing. He’s in the XBox generation with his headset on playing those games all the time, so sometimes I just send him a message even if I’m downstairs!
Dan: It’s not a tip as such but I’d say it’s important to not compare. A lot of people will compare themselves to others and I completely understand this because I did it myself for years. I would look at other guys like Ben with big chests and think I’ll never look masculine because my chest is never going to look big. I’ve got an arm and shoulder missing. I’m never going to look like that. No amount of science or medical breakthroughs are going t bring my arm and shoulder back. They’ve gone. And I’d feel miserable thinking I’d never get the body I wanted. But ultimate happiness is on the other side of fear (Will Smith said that!) and sometimes you have to just face your fears.
So getting out of the house and doing some exercise even if you feel self-conscious – and I’m not saying this to lose weight or whatever – I’m saying it to get out of the house, out of your head, and to meet other people and talk and connect. I found cycling and it changed my life. My goal was to compete in the Invictus Games and I threw everything I had at it. And the sense of achievement when I competed was amazing. I was out-performing able-bodied people. So having a goal and a hobby can be great for your confidence and making you feel better.
Another tip – not really a tip but a piece of advice I guess – is that the best outfit you will ever wear is confidence. And there’s a difference between saying you’re confident for the sake of other people and actually being truly confident. Natural confidence is a great outfit.
Molly: Thank you so much boys. So where can people find you?
Ben: I’m on Instagram as @benrwhit
Dan: And I’m on Instagram as @theonearmedwonder
Final part of the show
Molly: Thank you say much to Ben and Dan, my lovely pals for coming on and talking to us about this stuff so openly.
Lottie: I loved them so much. I was really moved by some of the stuff they were saying – especially what Ben was saying about checking up on his friends.
There’s some interesting science around boys, especially when they’re growing up. Between the ages of when they’re babies to seven their primary instinct is to go to the mother, then from seven to kind of twelve fourteen it’s the dad. But from and fourteen upwards it’s another alternative male role model.
So it’s really important for boys to have positive male role models in their lives, and I don’t think there are that many opportunities for them to to have that kind of presence in their life. I guess if you have an uncle or something, or if you do scouting or skateboard with a group of older boys. But I loved what Ben was saying about him texting his brother and his friends to just check in with them.
Molly: It sometimes feels like the language isn’t quite there for boys to talk about their feelings somethings you know? I heard about a study that looked at the language girls have to talk about their feelings and the language boys have. I’m completely paraphrasing, but when the kids were ask how they were feeling the boys had something like three words and the girls had maybe ten to fifteen. And if you asked the boys it was stuff like “hungry” or “tired”. But if you asked the boys how their mums were feeling they had a whole load of other words. So they had the words to express how the females in their life might be feeling but not themselves.
Lottie: That’s so interesting. There’s a really interesting thing that you can print out – maybe we can link to this in the show notes as well. I’ve laminated it and stuck on the wall. It’s a circle of emotions, so it starts from the inside with like six basic ones like happy, sad and whatever. And then it takes you out a little bit further so it goes more granular each time so you can kind of go, do I actually feel sad, or is it disappointment? Or resentment? It just taps in a little bit further and gives people more language for expressing their emotions.
Molly: I could have done with that recently!
So tell us, what did you think about our guests and the conversation on this week’s show? Get in touch with us – we’re particularly active on Instagram, and you can find us @bodyconspodcast there and @bodyconspodcast on Twitter too. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re hearing a lot from people who are doing some brilliant work on the subject of body image and I want to do a little shout-out to Curvy Girl Yoga who are a yoga company in Bristol offering safe spaces for people in plus size bodies to work out and do yoga.
Lottie: So that’s it it for this week! As ever your support sharing reviewing and commenting is so appreciated. Every single review helps us and boosts us on the charts so new people can find us. We were really lucky with season one and often featured in the top of the charts and in the New and Noteworthy sections, and we’d love to continue that with season two. So if you’re listening and enjoying it share, share with your friends, review and rate us!
Molly: We’ll be back with a brilliant episode next week with model and mental health advocate Jada Sezer. We have a beautiful conversation with her about mental health and confidence, and today’s chat is a brilliant link into next week’s episode.
Lottie: See you soon, bye!