Interview with body positivity model, Elizabeth Kate!
Shortly prior to Britain Uncovered’s most recent body positivity photoshoot in London, we had the immense pleasure of catching up with one of our models for the day, Elizabeth Kate, for an in-depth conversation in a local East End café! Over a few cups of coffee we discussed how and why Elizabeth first started modelling, the ways her involvement is inspiring others, the reactions she gets to posing nude, her reflections on our past collaborations, and so much more!
Britain Uncovered: Hi Elizabeth, and thank you so much for joining us today! This is now the third successive year in which we’ve been able to involve you in one of our photoshoots for the website, and it’s always an absolute pleasure having you involved!
Before we focus on today, I thought it would be fun taking a trip down memory lane and discussing some of your past modelling experiences, and it will be really interesting hearing your thoughts and perspectives on everything you’ve accomplished. If we start by going back to 2020, when you took part in your first ever photoshoot, could you give us a little insight into how it all came about? Are we right in thinking you initially decided to pose for a friend who was in need of a model, and that everything snowballed from there?
Elizabeth: So my best friend, Rhys, was getting into photography, and at the time he’d only ever really shot landscapes, and he was trying to build his portfolio as he wanted to move over to wedding photography and things like that. So because we’re friends, he asked if I would model for him, and we went into Wolverhampton and did some shooting around the city.
I’d never done anything like it before, and I was like, “Why do you want to shoot me”?! And he was like, “No no no, it’ll be a good laugh and we’ll have some fun.” And then it must have been a few months later after I’d posted all these photos on Instagram that another photographer messaged me saying, “I really want to shoot with you.” And again, my immediate reaction was like, “Why? I’m not a model, I’m not model material”! But he said, “No no, I really want to work with you, you come across as really confident”, and – even though I’m really not – I decided to give it a go and it went from there.
I think that was the first photoshoot where I looked back on all the images and thought, “Wow.” And I just went for it. At that particular photoshoot, we had found a cornfield and I was posing nude, and then we found a sunflower field where I posed topless. Obviously everything was covered and the nudity was implied, but I looked back at the photos and I just thought, “Oh my god, these are beautiful.”
Before the shoot, my Mum was really sceptical – as she would be – but when I showed her the photos, she said to me, “No, these photos are beautiful, and they show off the female body in a very artistic way.” And that’s what really got me into it. How it made me feel from that moment… I didn’t want to stop feeling like that so I decided I wanted to do it more, so I went out and found other photographers.
BU: Did you find that the aftermath of the shoot, and seeing all the resulting images, was more impactful than actually taking part in the shoot on the day? Each of these elements of the process can produce quite contrasting emotions, I think.
Elizabeth: Yes. During the very first shoots, where it was just me and the photographer, I felt like I’d just jumped into it and I was really nervous. And because it was just the two of us, if we hadn’t ever posted any of the photos, nobody else would have ever known about it. But when I posted the photos, people started commenting on them, and I did have a lot of positive feedback from those photos. A lot of people were messaging me saying, “Oh my god, these photos are stunning”, and they then wanted to try and get involved in something like that as well.
For the last two years I’ve had people messaging me asking how I got involved in modelling, and I just explain that originally people contacted me, but now I message other people – and I’ve actually got a couple of friends who are now coming into the photography and modelling environment because of that. They’ve watched me grow as a person and can see how confident I am, and now they want to do the same and pass that positivity on as well.
BU: Shortly after these initial experiences, you started taking part in some body positivity photoshoots (including our own, which we’ll get onto shortly)! In what ways do these types of shoots have an impact on you, and what are some of the potential challenges when doing shoots like these?
Elizabeth: I think it is difficult when people are judging you. For instance, I say to people at work that I’m taking part in a body positivity shoot and they say, “But why, you’re skinny. What do you need to put out there? People are going to look at you. Why would you be promoting body positivity when you’re skinny? Surely it should be people that have body confidence issues – and you’ve got no right to have body confidence issues because of the way that you look.”
But in actual fact, I’ve had a really bad relationship with food for as long as I can remember, and I always wanted to be slim. Because I’ve always been sporty and athletic, I never developed boobs until really late in life, and they’re still very small because of how athletic I was as a child. I used to get bullied in school by boys telling me that I looked like a boy, and girls would also say that I looked like a boy. When I joined the military, people again would say, “Oh, 12-year old boy tits.”
That’s always been a part of me, and then obviously with social media growing the way that it is now, and the way that people do look on social media, that again has an effect – and for somebody to judge you and say, “Ah, well you shouldn’t be promoting body positivity because you’re slim”… that’s judging me before they even know the battles that I’ve been through. So just because I’m not curvy, it doesn’t mean that I’m secure or that I haven’t had my own struggles.
BU: Do you think that if work colleagues see someone they know taking part in a body positivity photoshoot, it could encourage or inspire them to have the confidence to do something along the same lines themselves? Because if you’re confident enough to do it, what’s to stop them following in your footsteps? The knock-on effect can be really powerful and perhaps, via your participation, you’re actually opening doors for other people too.
Elizabeth: Absolutely, and I started modelling thinking that I’m not model material at all, and that I don’t look like a model and I don’t pose like a model. But I think over the last two or three years of me actually getting into it, it’s made me realise that actually, it doesn’t matter what you look like or what your body type is; especially when you work with good photographers as well.
I’ve enjoyed finding out more about myself from modelling and how much I am starting to love my body when I receive the images back. I’ve done photoshoots when I probably haven’t been the fittest I have been, and I’ve felt really uncomfortable about myself. But then when I’ve actually had the photoshoots, I look at my body and think, “Actually, why? You look sexy”! And it makes me feel sexy and really good about myself, especially when other people comment and say, “Actually, that’s a really nice photo.” I’ve got friends now messaging me saying, “Oh actually, I really want to do that as well because I’ve seen how much more confident you’ve become because of it.”
I think what I have struggled with is when I model in lingerie, or model nude. It’s the comments that you get from people sexualising your body.
BU: Do you receive lots of comments along these lines on Instagram and so on?
Elizabeth: Yes, massively.
BU: How are you able to put all of that to one side and persevere? And does it ever put you off from wanting to take part in these types of photoshoots?
Elizabeth: I think I persevere because I know how the photoshoots make me feel, and that they make me feel good about myself – and that through them I have been able to help people over the years to feel better about themselves too. I’ve helped friends, family and even strangers. People message me saying, “I didn’t realise I could do something like this, and you posing like this and in lingerie makes me want to go and do it.” So I try to push all the social media negativity to one side and just concentrate on how it’s making me feel, and the positive side of it of how it’s making other people feel.
People are always going to say, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that, why are you posing naked? Are you not ashamed of yourself”? But I say, “No, because why is me getting my boobs out any different to a male having no top on?”
BU: There’s definitely still a massive double standard in that regard.
Elizabeth: Exactly. I remember one time I went to a beach with a group of girls, and we all had our tops off, and this man came over to us and said, “You’re at a family beach, you need to put your tops back on.” It was in Greece, which is very liberal and has a massive nudist community, so I said, “Why do I have to put my top back on if you’re not wearing a top? Are you going to put your top on to cover your nipples”? And he was like, “No no, you need to cover up, there are children around.” I said, “Okay, but those children are breastfed”?
They’re not going to look at me and think ‘Oh my gosh, I can see her boobies mummy’, because that’s not an issue for a child. But this man was making it an issue by sexualising that part of my body and saying that women can’t have their tops off in public because it’s sexual. But then, why is that so different for a man? He eventually said that if we didn’t put our tops back on he was going to call the police! So in the end we stayed for a bit, had a drink and then headed off a while later.
BU: It shows that even in today’s society those kind of attitudes still prevail, which indicates that there’s a lot of education still required to change these attitudes. I think sometimes we can attribute these types of mindsets and beliefs to older generations, but when you see the types of negative comments you get about your posts on social media, people of all ages are sexualising the body. How do your older family members feel about your participation in the body positivity photoshoots?
Elizabeth: It was difficult at first with my Mum. Sometimes you see photos online where the lighting’s off and somebody has probably taken the photo with a really crappy camera, and you can tell with that kind of photo that it looks like the guy’s trying to get you into their hotel room – but that’s not what this is about. It’s not about sexualising your body, and I’ve really had to say that to my Mum.
She was born in the 1960s, so I really had to sit her down and talk to her and say, “Look, I’m an adult so I’m going to go and do it anyway, this is my decision and something I want to do. But let me show you the photos.” Because I would say to her, “I’m going to go and pose nude in a field, or for the body positivity shoots”, and she would say, “Oh, why are you getting naked? Is it a male photographer?”
BU: So very protective?
Elizabeth: Yes, but I’d have to say to her, “That that’s not what it’s about. When I receive the photos, let me show you.” She was really sceptical, but I did try and talk to her more about the issues I have, and that it’s not about sexualising our bodies; it’s about feeling comfortable in our own skin. And explaining that every single body type is beautiful, the person that’s in that body is beautiful and it’s art – it’s not sleazy or sexual, it is art.
You go to museums and you’ll see sculptures of naked women and men, and you’ll go to museums and see nude paintings, so what’s the difference of it now being a photograph? And you’ll go and look at these sculptures in museums and on architectural buildings, and statues out in public, and you’ll look at them and think they’re beautiful. Because you think it’s art. So why is a photograph not art? It’s just a medium that’s different to a painting, and that’s the way that I tried to explain it to my Mum. Eventually, when I got the photos back and showed her, she said, “Oh actually, that is beautiful.” She thought I was going to have my legs open and… well, I have no idea what she thought.
BU: And how does your Mum feel about everything now? As you’ve been doing this for nearly two years, she must be a little more used to you taking part in shoots of this nature?
Elizabeth: She’s fine with it. I talk to her about it all the time and I send her the pictures to show her what I’ve done at the weekend, and it’s actually brought our relationship a lot closer, because she’s been able to talk to me about the issues that she was having with her body when she was growing up. Which I don’t think I’d have ever known.
As a child, you just think that your Mum’s never going to go through that, and that you’re the only person in the world that feels like this. But actually, it’s made our relationship stronger, because we have now had those conversations where she has said, “Actually you know what, when I was younger I suffered from anorexia for years and ended up in hospital because of it”, and I didn’t know that. But everything I’ve done over the past couple of years has helped build that bridge between us.
BU: It’s really amazing to hear that taking part in these shoots has opened up conversations that wouldn’t have been held otherwise. I think previous generations for whatever reason just didn’t want to talk about the personal issues (or body issues) they were going through; it was almost a taboo to discuss this personal side of their lives. How receptive has the rest of your family been to your modelling work?
Elizabeth: My Dad just doesn’t understand, and I made a conscious decision to have two separate Instagram accounts just because of that.
BU: What was his response to it all, and did it put you off wanting to continue with these types of shoots?
Elizabeth: Yeah, a little bit. It was very much, “Why are you doing that”? My Dad’s very, very old-fashioned, so for him, a woman posing naked is porn. It’s difficult. It took my Mum a while, but she’s completely fine with it now, but I think for a male with his daughter, it’s completely different. It’s me posting these photos of myself online, and he doesn’t get it, and neither does my brother really. So I made that conscious decision to split my normal Instagram accounts to have a separate modelling account, just so that it didn’t make them feel uncomfortable.
But my cousin follows me, and for years my cousin has had issues with mental health and her own self-esteem because of medical issues. She has followed my account since I started it, and she says to me, “I can’t believe you do this stuff”! And I asked her what she meant, thinking she meant it in a bad way. But actually she said, “No, it’s really inspirational and I want to be able to do things like that. Your photos look beautiful – they’re not sleazy and I don’t look at them thinking she’s doing that because it’s sexual.” And she’s now started pursuing it as well and has booked in to go for a boudoir photoshoot, which is a great way to make you feel good about yourself.
So although I’ve got family members that are against my modelling, I have got others that understand.
BU: It’s interesting seeing the wide range of reactions you get to your modelling – it shows how polarising it can be and that there’s still this really big divide within society. And that people can all look at the same images in such a different way.
Elizabeth: Well that’s the thing. You could get 10 people in a room, and put one photo of a person on a table, and get them to say what they think, or what they think the photo’s for, or a word to describe it. Every single one of those people will come up with a different interpretation. Some people will be really positive towards it, and others will be really negative towards it.
And I think with the whole Britain Uncovered process, that’s going to get people talking, and there are going to be the positive comments towards it, and there’s always going to be the negative comments, but I think stuff like this drives people to have a conversation about it – and that’s when you hear other people’s opinions and thoughts, and at the end of the day, their belief systems. Because no one opinion is going to be same as somebody else’s, and I think it does push people to have that conversation; which it has with me with numerous people.
Again, every single person I talk to has had a differently completely outlook on it. Some people have seen the passion I have for it, other people have gone, “Oh no, what you’re doing is dirty and it’s wrong”, but other people have said, “Actually, what you’re doing now makes me want to do stuff like this because I don’t see it in a sexual way.”
BU: Through your modelling you’ve almost unintentionally become a force for change. I’m sure this probably wasn’t your initial intent, and maybe it isn’t even now, but your participation in these types of shoots has definitely started lots of conversations and challenged people’s perceptions of images such as the ones you're creating.
Elizabeth: No, I didn’t start modelling to change the world, I started doing it because it made me feel good about myself – and actually, along the way, other people have noticed that and it has opened up the conversation about why I do actually do it, and I do enjoy a good discussion about other people’s opinions.
So when somebody tells me that what I’m doing is wrong, I ask, “Well why do you think that? What do you think I’m doing it for?” And then they’ll say, “Well I think you’re doing it for attention, and for sexual reasons.” So when I do explain to them why I’m doing it, that changes their opinion on it a little bit. They’ll probably still not agree with it, but at least then they’ve heard me.
BU: Back in October 2020 we were really fortunate to have had you participate in our website’s launch photoshoot in London, and alongside Louise, we all had a really great shoot that helped launch our site on the perfect note! Louise mentioned in our subsequent interview that she had felt slightly apprehensive heading into the day as she had not taken part in a photoshoot along these lines before, but how did you feel about it all?
Elizabeth: If we were both just going to be there and be really uncomfortable… that wasn’t really what it was about. So I thought, “Let’s just go into this, remove all the pressure and just enjoy it and have a good time”, and that’s what I did. And I think in hindsight that probably helped Louise also, because if she was feeling a little nervous or sceptical, that probably helped her drop her boundaries, and we ended up getting some really good and some really fun photos from it.
There’s no pressure [with shoots like these], and the important thing is just to enjoy them, because that’s the main thing and you tend to relax a lot more. That’s what it’s there for. You’re meant to enjoy it and come away feeling good, and it’s there for a positive intention.
BU: Do you still feel a similar feeling of accomplishment when you take part in photoshoots like these even now, or would you say that they’re within your comfort zone? Do you leave the shoots feeling differently about yourself in any way?
Elizabeth: I always feel really nervous. You never know what’s going to happen, and my own insecurities are always going to be there. But it’s not about getting over them, it’s about coping with them differently, and I think I always feel like that there’s always someone else out there who’s going to look at these photos and go, “Actually, it feels empowering, this is my body and it’s mine, and I’m going to do what I want with it. Just because you’re telling me I shouldn’t be doing something doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.”
With every shoot I go into it… even this morning, I looked at myself and thought, “Oh god, I’m feeling a bit frumpy, I’ve got lumps in places I don’t want them, I’ve got cellulite, or my bum doesn’t look the way that I want it to.” But when I do a shoot like this, that’s what it’s all about. People are going to look at my body and they might go, “Oh my god, wow, it’s perfect”. Whereas I’m always going to look at somebody else and think, “Oh my god, she’s perfect and I want to look like her.” There’s always going to be somebody out there that you want to look like, but then other people want to look like you too! So as much as I sit there and criticise my body, somebody else will find things to love about your body.
When I do a shoot like today’s, I do feel a level of accomplishment, because it’s learning – in a different way – to love my body for different reasons. There’s always things you can do to your body to change it, but you’re never going to be happy, are you? You could look at these fitness girls online and I could get talking to them and say, “You look so strong, you’re sculpted, that’s exactly how I want to look.” But they would say, “Oh, but I don’t like this bit or that bit.”
There’s always going to be insecurities in each individual, and you’re always going to look at your body and think, “I could do this, and I could look a different way”, but I always feel a level of accomplishment at the end of these shoots, because they make me feel better about myself and I know I’m going to help someone else – and I think that’s why I do it, because some people might see the images or read the article and relate to it, and that’s what I like about it.
– Our conversation with Elizabeth took place at the friendly and hospitable Devons Cafe in the East End of London on April 23, 2022. After we stopped recording, we headed over to The Factory Studio for Britain Uncovered’s latest photoshoot, where Elizabeth posed as our very first model of the day! A full round-up of the day’s events, along with some exclusive photos, can be found by clicking here.
Elizabeth Kate is a renowned and celebrated body positivity model who has taken part in so many inspiring photoshoots that are promoting self-image and body confidence – including three memorable photoshoots for us here at Britain Uncovered! Be sure to throw her a follow over on Instagram at @elizabeth_kate_r.