Interview with Beth Harrison!
Britain Uncovered recently sat down for a discussion with Beth Harrison, who generously shared details of her journey towards body positivity, observations on societal attitudes towards body confidence here in the UK, and reflections on why a sponsored streak in 2019 wasn't as daunting as first feared.
Britain Uncovered: Hi Beth, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us! To get things started, how would you describe 'body positivity', and what does the phrase mean to you?
Beth: I think the phrase 'body positivity' is something that holds a different meaning to each person you ask. Some people look at it from an acceptance point of view, others focus more on romantic attraction, and sometimes it is just about feeling good about yourself.
For me, I think it is a mixture of all of the above, but mainly it is the freedom to feel confident exactly as you are, without needing to alter anything about yourself to fit into a demographic. Even more importantly; allowing others to do the same thing without passing judgement based solely on appearance.
I do think there is too heavy a focus on the fact that everyone is beautiful. Beauty, to me, is in so much more than a body. But a fact of life is that not everyone will find you physically attractive – how boring a world we would live in if everybody liked the same things! The key of 'body positivity' in my mind is to know this, accept it, and continue to live confidently and unapologetically anyway.
Britain Uncovered: How has your relationship with your body evolved over time, and what advice would you give to others who might be struggling to accept themselves?
Beth: My relationship with my body is undoubtedly the longest and hardest one of my life.
As a teenager I was severely depressed, and a lot of that was directed towards myself and the way I look. I allowed myself to gain a hell of a lot of weight, not really caring about what I was doing to myself. I hit a really low point, and decided from there that I was going to claw my way out of the pit I was in.
So I went from being severely overweight and being bullied for my size, to going the complete opposite way and becoming obsessed with my calorie intake, making myself as light as possible, because people would like me if I was skinny, right? I was no happier than I was when I was seven stone heavier. I still felt not good enough, like my weight somehow controlled my worth.
After the physical change, I worked on my mental health. That is a different topic altogether, so I will fast forward to now. I have now reached a point where I am grateful for the body I have. Of course, I still have things about my body I don't like – I think everyone does – but the difference now is that I don't care if other people like the way that I look or not.
My body has endured so much, and allows me to do incredible things, and I am grateful that I am able to do all the physical things I want to. So what if I am flat chested, if I have loose skin, if I have scars or stretch marks or any of the other completely natural things that everybody has? It makes no difference in my ability to live my life exactly how I want to; and that is my biggest revelation.
So my advice to anyone struggling to accept themselves is that literally nobody cares about the little hang ups you have. Nobody worth your time will care if you have a pudgy belly, or your nose is slightly too big, or you have a missing arm or no teeth or whatever else.
Your worth isn't defined by other people's level of sexual attraction towards you, and you definitely don't have to be pretty to be incredible. Somebody will absolutely adore the way you look, others won't, and that's something that is so liberating to understand.
Britain Uncovered: Here in the UK, clothing optional events are becoming more commonplace, and those taking part are often coming away with a fresh sense of empowerment about their bodies. Do you feel such events can help with people's body confidence?
Beth: 100% yes! Don't get me wrong, this is an incredibly personal thing, and I believe there could be potential for it to backfire if you aren't surrounded by the right people. But in a setting surrounded by people you are comfortable with, I think these events are so empowering and liberating. I would urge anybody that if they want to do it, absolutely do!
Britain Uncovered: Do you feel social attitudes towards body positivity are changing, and if so, does social media have a role to play in promoting more positive and realistic perceptions?
Beth: I do definitely think I have seen an improvement in attitude towards acceptance of others over the years. I have felt like as a community, and maybe even a nation as a whole, people are a lot more welcoming to different kinds of people.
I do think it is heavily situational, though. I think it depends on the kind of people you surround yourself with, and maybe even a generational thing; as we are growing and maturing we are becoming much more accommodating and understanding. I can only speak first hand from my social circle, and we are very free and accepting people. There will always be people who are unwilling to accept anyone unlike themselves, but I do feel like those people are diminishing in number.
I have seen positive signs in the media; such as clothing brands branching out from the singular demographic of what a 'model' is, and featuring non airbrushed photos in advertisements and webpages. I also feel like the current trend is focused more on being strong and healthy, rather than being skinny, which is a step in the right direction.
That being said, I do still think social media has a long way to go in terms of 'realness', and all people only post the best versions of themselves online. It needs to be taken with a pinch of salt when you're comparing yourselves to the people you see online, on TV or in magazines, because a lot of time and effort has gone into making them look the very best version of themselves.
Britain Uncovered: We noticed via your Instagram feed that you bravely decided to bare all during a holiday in Greece – how did you find the experience, and what prompted you to give this a try? Did you have any reservations?
Beth: I did! So this was not actually my first public nudity experience. In 2019, I took part in a sponsored streak hosted by the Yorkshire Wildlife Park, called 'Bare All For Polar Bears'. A group of maybe 100 of us walked the length of the park completely nude to raise money for the polar bears. There was a brief moment whilst getting undressed in a room of strangers where I had a bit of a panic and thought, 'Oh my god, what am I doing?!' But upon exiting the changing room into a group where everyone else was completely naked, the panic and reservations just melted away.
It just felt completely normal and natural to be there in that public place totally nude, and I think the fact there was not one tiny semblance of sexuality present made me feel entirely at ease. There was every size and shape of person imaginable, and the fact that everyone else exuded such a feeling of it being almost mundane that we had no clothes on made me feel the same way. Nobody was looking, nobody cared, we were just existing together in our natural form.
So after that, getting my kit off on a secluded beach in Greece was a breeze!
Britain Uncovered: Having partaken in this activity, did you come away feeling liberated, and is this something you might like to try again in the future?
Beth: Absolutely and positively!! There is something so wonderful about swimming naked under the sun, it's like the rawest form of being in nature, and I adored it. The feeling of just casting off all your cares along with your clothes and enjoying just existing in the beauty around you is such a wonderfully free feeling; and I definitely will do it again.
There is a time and a place; I dont think i'd be flinging off my bra in the supermarket – but give me an open, natural space in the sunshine and just try and stop me!
Britain Uncovered: Non-sexualised nudity in mainland Europe seems fairly standard practice in today's age. Do you feel Brits would benefit from a similarly more relaxed approach?
Beth: Oh, undoubtedly. It's no secret that Brits, as a whole, are very reserved people. The suggestion of taking your clothes off in front of anyone other than your spouse, to some people, would be received the same as if you'd just asked them to set their hair on fire and eat their shoes.
I find it quite bizarre that it's illegal to be in your most natural form in public – just one of those rules that doesn't make any sense to me. So I think to make naturism something more common might make it seem less scary to some, and I think people would surprise themselves with their wanting to partake.