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Interview with feminist and self-love advocate, Harriet Catchpole!

In our latest interview, Britain Uncovered is speaking with performer and radio host, Harriet Catchpole, about her passion for all things self-love and body positivity! The bulk of our conversation has us discussing, in-depth, a nude portrait of herself that Harriet recently had commissioned – complete with insight into why this made such an emotional impact – and we also touch on body image issues, the pros and cons of social media, Sophie Tea’s influence, and more!

A headshot of radio host and performer, Harriet Catchpole

Britain Uncovered: Hi Harriet! We recently discovered your love of all things self-love along with the ways in which nude artwork of yourself has made a big impact on your body confidence levels, so we’re looking forward to hearing all about it! To start with, would you be willing to share with us some of the body image issues you suffered with when you were younger, and the negative effect this had on your mental and/or physical well-being?

Harriet: I would definitely say that I had a negative body image, especially when I was 14-15 and menstruating as a young lady. It’s that time period where your body changes a lot. Your friends might have developed boobs while you haven’t, or they’ve got hips while you don’t… so there’s a lot of pressure when you’re a teenager.

I didn’t start my period until quite a bit later, so I felt left out in that respect. I was very thin and ‘masculine-like’ – I didn’t have very big boobs and I had a small little butt! I think that resulted in a negative effect and I started to not really like what I looked like, and I didn’t really have a boyfriend at the time either.

When I went to university, a lot of things changed. I was in a relationship, but when that broke off I came off some contraception and my skin started to go dramatic. I’d always suffered with spots when I was a teenager, but then it just got really bad – and I think that’s when I hit rock bottom in terms of what I looked like. My friends were encouraging me to go on dates and to social events, and I would just not go because I was so petrified of my skin and what everyone thought. Honestly, it was a turmoil of disaster of make-up and skincare, and everything in my life focused around my skin. And I think it just got to a point where I was so depressed. I had horrible thoughts about myself, and I viewed myself in a really negative light from when I was 11 until about 22.

Britain Uncovered: Our website often analyses the role that social media has to play with regards to promoting different body types, and I think that the rise of body positivity accounts on Instagram is really helping people to look at themselves in a different, more positive light. How has interacting with social media helped or hindered the way you feel about yourself and your body over the years, and do you think keeping tabs on body positivity accounts can make a big difference?

Harriet: Absolutely, and I did end up changing the accounts I followed on social media and started following certain people like Florence Given, the author of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty and Chidera Eggerue, the author of What A Time To Be Alone and How To Get Over A Boy. And I followed lots of accounts that were preaching positively on body confidence.

When Instagram first launched I used to a follow a lot of typical Love Island personalities who would try to sell you things like skinny tan, coffee, protein and teeth whitening products – and the people advertising them were always in their bikinis. But I ultimately started following more body positive influencers who were more about promoting bodies and showing me bits and bobs like acne and stretch marks.

When I moved to London to study my theatre degree, I met some amazing, diverse friends – and in the house we lived in, us girls used to write poetry and go to female comedy nights, female poetry events, and we did stuff when it was International Women’s Week. Everything we did together helped me to learn who I really was and what I really loved about myself. Obviously it’s a process, because you don’t love yourself every day and you have doubts, but that’s the whole point of living. You’re constantly growing.

So yes, I’m definitely unfollowing accounts that don’t make me feel good, and am instead following accounts that are preaching positively towards body confidence.

Harriet Catchpole posing at the Vagina Museum in Bethnal Green, London
Harriet at the Vagina Museum in Bethnal Green

Britain Uncovered: Nowadays, you describe yourself as someone who is very passionate about the self-love club. How did this come to be, and why do you think it’s something you’re so interested in?

Harriet: I’m a big advocate for self-love, and I think there’s a combination of things that have made me be this person who I want to present as and express myself as to other people.

A lot of friends and women who I met would say things like, “Oh I don’t like that photo, take it down”, or, “I’m shaving this because I’m seeing my boyfriend tonight”, and, “He doesn’t like that so I don’t wear it.” I would constantly hear comments like these all the time, and it made me wonder why we are always devaluing ourselves for someone else.

Because ultimately, you are your own person and you have to let people value and appreciate you for who you are. You are nobody else. You are a single person with your own brain, your own thoughts, and your own consciousness. And how you express that is very important to you. It shouldn’t be important to anyone else. I constantly grow in how I want to demonstrate that.

Britain Uncovered: What were some of the factors that have helped you feel more body confident and happy within your own skin? Were there any particular moments that helped changed your perception and put you on a more positive path forward? And what advice might you offer to those who are still struggling to love themselves and their bodies?

Harriet: A massive thing that I decided to do to help myself – and I think everyone else should do this too – is to write down the things that you hate about yourself, but then change it into a positive. So let’s say you don’t like your legs, for example. You need to spin it on a positive affirmation, so you could write something like, “I love my legs because they help me dance.”

When you are giving off a positive feeling and vibe, and you start to believe it, then it becomes apparent in your life. You can manifest something that you want to come into your life, so if you turn the negatives into positives and continue to say these affirmations to yourself every day in the mirror, it can make such a big difference.

I used to say to myself, “I am in my own skin and I am nobody else. I am perfect, I am beautiful and I cannot think of anything else I’d rather be.” I used to say it to myself every single day, and then it got to a point where you actually start to believe it.

I think fashion also helped. It’s a creative exploration, and I love clothes. Your fashion tastes obviously change throughout your life but I absolutely love colour, and I feel it’s an artistic way of presenting to the world who you are.

When I had really bad skin and talked to my friends who didn’t have bad skin, I would express my feelings all the time (because a problem shared is a problem halved). Talking a lot with people definitely helped, because I feel like it’s a way of counselling without having to go to a counsellor.

I think all of the above are definitely important for you to do. I remember fancying this guy, and he didn’t have the best skin, but I still really fancied him even though he had spots on his face. And I realised that if I’m thinking like that, and I don’t care… that’s exactly how people think! If they’re going to like you or fancy you, they’re going to like you because of your personality, because they find you really attractive and because you have a connection. And that just clicked with me, and I thought, “Exactly! So why am I worrying about this so much”? Sometimes you just have to take a step back and remember that nobody actually cares what my skin might be like, and that was a really pivotal moment for me.

Harriet Catchpole posing in the mirror at Sophie Tea Art's shop and gallery in Carnaby Street, London
Harriet at Sophie Tea Art's shop and gallery in London

Britain Uncovered: Like so many of our previous interviewees, you were greatly inspired by artist Sophie Tea who we all know and love for her self-love art, but what is it about Sophie’s work that struck a chord with you, and how does seeing her work of other women make you feel about yourself personally?

Harriet: Yes, Sophie Tea was definitely a big inspiration in my journey. Before she was apparent in the world of self-love, I was inspired by an artist called Lydia Reeves who does moulds of women’s vaginas – in addition to boobs and bums and everything else – which I always thought was really cool and wacky!

Sophie Tea became big for me when I first saw her art during Covid. Although I’d of course seen paintings of women’s bodies before, I’d never really seen the trend to be quite so big. When Sophie became really big, I even applied to be one of her nude catwalk models (I never got it, but it was worth a shot), and I think I just loved seeing how she made these women look. The only slight criticism I have is that when she was first creating women’s art, she was designing it in what I felt was a rather ‘unrealistic’ way. It was women with tiny waists, tiny nipples, big boobs and amazing hips. And it looks fantastic and is definitely something I’d put up on my wall, but it got a little bit unrealistic and not what I felt the movement should be about.

But then there was a change, and Sophie started to paint other body types, including women who had lost their boobs because they’d had cancer surgery, and she started painting women of all different shapes and sizes – with different nipples, cellulite and everything like that – and I liked that she was including these aspects and moving in that direction.

I loved it and I thought, “I want this done of me”! But I looked into it and I couldn’t afford it – I think at the time it was £4,000 to send her a nude and get it painted, and I couldn’t realistically do that at the time. But her paradox of creating her art of a woman’s body in this way elicited such a positive feeling in me, and it was so trendy to have this kind of artwork – and I wanted to feel that way about me. So Sophie was a very big influence on me.

Britain Uncovered: How did you then pursue this goal of commissioning your own nude self-portrait, and what were some of the things you were hoping to achieve by succeeding in this? Was it as much about participation and the creative process as it was the end result?

Harriet: One of my best friends found a wonderful artist named Bronagh Genovesi via TikTok and said, “Look at this”! I really loved her work and she was blowing up on various social media platforms at the time, and my friend decided to get some artwork done of herself.

I kept saying to my friend, “Send me the results, send me the results”! I looked at commissioning the same artist too, and when Bronagh’s commissions opened again in August 2021, I applied straight away for an A3 painting based on a photo for £250. I then decided the angles I liked and sent her the nude photo along with details of what colours I wanted.

I definitely think my best friend was a big influence to get that done. Even though I’d wanted it done for so long, I wanted it created by an artist who would come up with a piece I’d look at and think, “Oh my god, I love it.” It took me some time to find the right person, because there are so many female artists that offer nude drawings now, in lots of different ways. And I absolutely wanted it to be in colour, to represent me.

A nude painting of Harriet Catchpole by artist Bronagh Genovesi
Harriet's artwork was painted by artist Bronagh Genovesi

Britain Uncovered: What was it about Bronagh’s work in particular that made you feel as though she was the best artist to work with, and can you talk us through the process and how you were feeling as the project developed?

Harriet: It was mostly about it being affordable and also art that I loved. And as I mentioned in my previous answer, Bronagh’s pieces are all very colourful, and that was a big thing for me.

Bronagh is also quite similar in terms of her technique to Sophie Tea, which I really liked. They’re different in some ways, but their use of colour and brush strokes is quite similar, which is what I quite liked about Bronagh’s work. So that’s probably why I chose her initially. I know her prices have gone up now because she’s getting more well-known, so I feel very grateful that I got the chance to be involved when I felt I could afford it.

I am so happy for Bronagh and that she’s done so well. She quit her job during lockdown and decided to focus on art full-time, so absolute kudos to her. And what a fun job! I wish I was able to paint like that, but I’m just not – but Bronagh is absolutely fantastic and I’m so pleased for her.

Britain Uncovered: What was your reaction when you saw the final piece, and was it exactly what you were hoping for? What was it like seeing yourself as art, and what particularly stood out to you upon the first glances?

Harriet: Although I’d seen it in photos throughout the commission process, and was impressed with it and loved the use of colour, when I first got it, I remember just thinking: “I actually look like that”?

I’d shown it to friends, and they’ve all said that the painting does make me look a bit bigger than I actually am in real life, in terms of bigger hips and everything, but in a way I don’t really care! I look at the painting now and see it as Bronagh’s interpretation of my body, and I couldn’t love it even more than I do.

I did remember feeling quite scared about sending the nude photo to Bronagh initially. Basically, and I don’t know if this is a thing, but I used to be quite nervous about the size of my nipples. I’ve had boys say to me that they’re perhaps bigger than normal, and I used to be quite self-conscious about it. At one point I even thought about asking Bronagh if she could paint them smaller! And I started thinking, “Why am I even doing this then?” My belly-button isn’t fully in either, and I used to be quite nervous around that. A boy made a comment at high school one time and it made me think about getting it cut off because I hated it, but I can’t do much about it – it’s just how you’re born. But I remember thinking Bronagh’s going to put that in there and I was thinking, “Oh no.”

But I was actually quite shocked at the final piece and I got lots of positive feedback about how I look in the painting. I remember showing girls at work and they responded with, “Wow, this is amazing – your body’s amazing.” Having those words of affirmation that your body is insane or anything like that really makes you feel good. Absolutely it does!

I remember initially seeing it and thinking, “Wow”! And there was a little part of me that thinks when I’m old – because my body will constantly change – I’d love to look back at that painting and think, “You know what Harriet, you were an absolutely gorgeous young woman”!

Radio presenter and performer, Harriet Catchpole
Harriet reflecting on her self-love journey thus far

Britain Uncovered: You mentioned in the past that you were a little concerned about how your friends and family might react to seeing you in a piece like this – but what was their reaction like, and has it inspired them to think and feel about themselves and their bodies differently too?

Harriet: Yes, I was initially quite nervous, especially about telling my Mum. She’s very artistic and creative, and we’re very open about our feelings, but I think I initially was quite nervous because she had never done anything like that, and she’s not known anyone else who has done that either. And I think it was something important for her to see and to know what sort of person I am – and the kind of daughter she’s raised.

I was also nervous about my Dad, and I didn’t tell my Dad that I’d even done the painting or that I was even in the Daily Mail. When that article first came out, I had this horrible anxiety because I was so scared. I know I haven’t taken a photo of myself and put it in the newspaper and it’s obviously an artistic creation of my body – and obviously I’m not blue, pink and gold underneath my clothes either! – but it’s just that initial fear of being nervous about it. I also got a couple of weird messages about it from men. They had just found me on Facebook, and that’s a bit upsetting in that respect because the article is not about that [anything sexual].

I was a bit shocked that the journalist of the article, who had also had a nude painting done of her, ended up covering the boobs in the painting for the photos that were being taken. I don’t agree with that, as the whole point of the article was for people to present what they’ve done to make themselves feel confident; and if you couldn’t show that, then I don’t believe that you’ve fully come to terms with the confidence you say you feel. That’s my opinion. I put mine out there, and it’s in my bedroom and all of my friends see it, and nearly the whole of the UK has seen it! And it’s going to be there for the rest of my life. I do work in the performing world, so I always do get a bit nervous – where I think, “Oh god, some boy is going to see that” – but actually, when you really think about it, it’s not porn, and it’s not like I’ve done anything silly. I’ve just literally shown to other people how I have learned to love myself.

My Dad actually rang me up a couple of weeks ago and said, “You didn’t tell me you were in the Daily Mail”! And I thought, “Oh my god, he’s going to be annoyed.” But I spoke to him and he didn’t react the way I thought he would. He was actually fine, and was joking about this being the first time that any Catchpole has made headlines! But there’s always that initial fear because it is something that’s quite revealing and quite private. But I’ve done something that scares me, and I have to say that it’s the most exhilarating thing I think I’ve done. Scary, but also incredibly powerful.

I remember one of the girls at work said to me, “You know what, you’ve made me feel so much better about my boobs because I thought I had really big nipples, but actually they’re just the same as yours and you’ve made me feel more confident about myself.” And I thought, “There you go. She’s only 17, and I’ve helped someone who is 17 and self-conscious about her boobs. There you are, that’s a perfect example.” We were both scared about the same thing, but every body is different, and there is the reality of it.

Radio host and self-love advocate, Harriet Catchpole, posing in a paddling pool
Harriet is learning to love herself more and more

Britain Uncovered: Now that you’ve had your own self-portrait commissioned and been so happy with the end product, do you think that you would recommend others consider having a nude self-portrait commissioned for themselves also?

Harriet: I wouldn’t necessarily say you have to go and get a nude portrait done – you can do whatever you want to do that will help you feel more confident. For example, you could get a mould of your boobs made by Lydia Reeves, or you could get a tattoo that makes you feel more confident – there’s loads of artistic ways you can make yourself feel more confident. You could write a positive affirmation about your body in the mirror too, for instance. But I wouldn’t say you have to get a nude portrait done.

I’m an artist myself and I’m very open and honest about a lot of things about me, and I just felt that because the painting I’d commissioned would be something I’d see every day, it would be something extremely positive in my life. But it’s completely interpreted to your own self. You do what you think would help you build your own confidence. It could be a lovely portrait of your face, or any part of your body. It’s about your own interpretation of you, it’s not about ‘everyone should go and get it done’. It’s about finding an artistic way of you doing it, and what you would benefit from it.

Britain Uncovered: Would you say that taking part pushed you outside your comfort zone to a degree, and how significant was the nudity element in all this? Do you feel as though embracing our bodies without clothing can be a big difference maker in helping us come to terms with our bodies exactly as they are? And is the nudity element something you'd like to explore further one day, by modelling for Sophie Tea or visiting a nudey beach maybe?

Harriet: I think I would like to explore nudity more, in different artistic avenues. That’s purely because we, and especially me growing up, were hidden in a very conservative society. And also a lot of people are religious, and they follow the rules of people’s husbands or partners being the only people that you see naked.

But actually, when you are born, you arrive as this new life, stark naked, into the world. And I don’t know why we’re so hidden and taboo about nudity in itself. For instance, women’s boobs are sexualised but why are men’s nipples not sexualised? There’s so much wrong with nudity in society, and it’s obviously seen as a bad thing.

But like you mentioned about going to a nude beach, why do you think we see so many older people at nudist beaches? Because I think they get into that pivotal point of their life where they just let loose, relax and stop caring – and despite the exposure and anxiety to do that, oh my god that must be rewarding to do. Running into the sea naked and skinny-dipping is always a bit funny, but when you do it you find that it’s so exhilarating and freeing.

I think it is just about letting go of certain things and I would love to explore nudity more in lots of different emotional senses. I would love to be one of Sophie Tea’s catwalk models, but obviously she’s not doing that anymore and has gone onto a completely different tangent of different things. But that’s what artists do, they don’t stay on one thing. But yes, it would be absolutely scary but I would love to!

A promotional image for 'Xtra Whipped Cream', a daily radio show presented by its host, Harriet Catchpole
Harriet's radio show, 'Xtra Whipped Cream'

Britain Uncovered: As a radio presenter and performer, do you feel as though you can use your platform to help educate and inspire people to feel more positively about themselves and their bodies?

Harriet: I do think being a presenter and performer is a huge platform to be able to preach that message in lots of different artistic ways. With what I’m doing on the radio at the moment I can’t talk too much about body positivity, just because it has to be a little more PG because it’s on at 9am, but I absolutely would love to get more onto podcasts and to talk about lots of different things around body confidence. My idea for a podcast is to focus on things that are private and taboo, and topics we don’t necessarily discuss; but which can be openly talked about with guests on the show.

Britain Uncovered: Finally, when you look up at the painting of yourself hanging over your bed and reflect upon the entire process in hindsight, what emotions does it generate, and how proud are you for having had the confidence to go through with it?

Harriet: The biggest emotion I feel when I see the painting is how proud I am of myself. One for doing it, and another for appearing in the Daily Mail article. I obviously wasn't confident about the whole thing, and there was a lot of anxiety when it came to actually being able to do it, but bloody hell, a lot of people don’t do that – so there’s just a happiness when I see it.

I can think, “I did that, and that is me.” I wouldn’t have done that when I was 14, I tell you! So I think it’s just a huge love and passion for what I’m trying to achieve in my life and what it represents for me – nobody else, but for me.

Harriet Catchpole posing naked at the Bluestone Bay nudist beach in Alderney, Guernsey
Harriet posing at the Bluestone Bay nudist beach in 2022

In August 2022, several months after our interview took place, Harriet fulfilled her desire to explore more types of nudity by visiting Bluestone Bay, a secret nudist beach located in Alderney, Guernsey. Describing her trip to the secluded spot as "memorable, kind of exciting and nerve-racking", we were pleased to hear that it was a positive experience and a beautiful day from start to finish!

For more on Harriet, find her over on Instagram at @harriet_catchpole_. You can also listen to her Xtra Whipped Cream radio show by tuning into ICR 105.7 FM from 9-10am on weekdays; or alternatively, you can also head to Harriet’s Mixcloud channel, where many of the shows are archived.

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