In this episode I travelled down to the Isle of Wight in my van to chat with Bethan Christopher. Bethan is a really lovely person and it was great to spend a few days wih her exploring the island. A few years ago she wrote a book called ‘Grow Your Own Gorgeousness’, with the mission of tackling body image issues and empowering girls to be and to love themselves. Bethan has since developed this into the ‘Grow Your Own Gorgeousness Programme’ which she delivers directly to schools. She is also a mother, and a fiction writer and doing lots of great things to help others around the Isle of Wight and further a field.
To find out more about Bethan’s work and to read her fantastic blog check out her website: http://www.bethanchristopher.com/ .
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Bethan:4:01I'm called Bethan Christopher and I write things and I make things and I'm a mother, and the purpose of the things that I do are mainly driven towards helping people to understand themselves more and love themselves more and integrate the parts of themselves more so that they can live joyfully.
Marcus:4:34Good. Why did you, when you saw the post about Ministry of Change. Wait, you invited kindly invited me to the Isle of Wight. What was it that made you want to do that?
Bethan:4:51I love the name Ministry of Change. That really sparked something, there's something really nice about that. I loved the idea of you collecting stories from people and sharing those stories. There was a real sense that I could imagine you traveling around in your van, called Ruby and collecting stories in your bag and then sharing them with others. So there was something very beautiful about that image and there was also something very beautiful about meeting people and unlocking them and allowing them the space to express what happened to them, their journey and their story. As a writer, stories interest me. And as an artist, the vision and the visual of what you're doing was really compelling stuff.
Marcus:5:51What sort of stuff do you write?
Bethan:5:51I began writing fiction and by my mid twenties decided to stop writing fiction. I had a few kids books published and as much as I loved that, it didn't quite hit the spot for me. It wasn't quite what I wanted to be to be writing about. And then in my mid to late twenties, I hadn't experienced that meant that I really decided to sort of get real with my writing and use it as a vehicle to actually get a message out to the world and something that I was really passionate about. And as soon as I did that my writing changed direction completely and I started writing about change and how people can make changes in themselves and in their lives and in the world at interestingly I'm now going back to writing fiction again because, um, again I think that stories are amazing to teach and to empower and to get a message through to people.
Marcus:6:59Were you doing these things to empower people before what you do now?
Bethan:7:06Yeah. The book that I wrote in my mid twenties was called 'Grow Your Own Gorgeousness' and it was written after the death of my brother. A situation like that occurring has funny kind of effects on people. And the effect it had on me was that I just felt like I needed to hurry up, stop dithering around, stop trying to impress people with my writing or get, you know, some sort of acceptance through publication and actually instead take the thing that I had as a talent and really use it and utilize it to make a difference to people around me that was then published as a book. And as a result of that book being published it, I had lots of educators and parents come to me and say, please could you put together a delivery for teenagers based on the subject of body image and growing your gorgeousness. And so I do still write on that subject. I've got a blog and I spent a lot of time writing for the gorgeousness program, my online delivery so that the girls that are accessing that have ongoing material that they can be working with. So yeah, it's, I do write nonfiction and I'm also back on the fiction front as well.
Marcus:8:22What does the Grow your Own Gorgeousness entail?
Bethan:8:36Well, the original book was very much an outpouring. It was more like a clarion call to women to navigate away from the pressure in the media and from our culture to fit into a certain box and to actually change the way they frame their and their beauty. So that was what the original, Grow your Own Gorgeousness book was about. The program itself is a set of tools that I really used to transform my own body image because when I was young I had extremely poor self and body esteem. And it was through kind of my journey, my navigation through my late teens and early twenties. I discovered a whole set of ways and means to start shifting the way I saw myself and changing my self image and improving my self image. So what I did with the actual program itself was create a series of sessions that would allow people to take different parts of their lives, different ways they're expressing themselves in the world and work with those areas to really fine tune them and empower them. So for example, the very first part of that is around really recognizing how conditioned we are by images and messages that we see through the media and actually taking back the pen, the camera, the recording devices, and recreating a new version of what it means to be beautiful as people.
Marcus:10:10What is that?
:10:10Well, it's whatever, a person really chooses that's beautiful for them. It's about an individual choice rather than a set of vital statistics that change from month to month or year to year.
Marcus:10:23I guess that's probably one of the things when first connected that really appealed to me and where I thought there's a lot of crossover with what I'm doing because I feel like it's sort of obvious that we can be whoever we want to be, but it's not at the same time. It's really hard to do that. I think it's really hard to escape the sort of narratives that we're told that we have to be and need to be, through education systems, through family, friends, just the way society is structured really. So I just find it really interesting how you sort of cut away all that and sort of get back to the essence. And I think it's such a hard thing to do.
Bethan:11:17It is hard and it's not static. It's always changing as well. Take people's idea of success. When I was a kid growing up, my family home success meant that you got A-stars at school and you went off and had a career that allowed you to have five holidays, well maybe not five! But enough holidays a year and a good house. It was all material and it was about academia. As a teenager that went out the window and I was all about success and happiness being intermingled and actually it was about adventure and freedom. And then in my 20s, suddenly I was back on the kind of... actually it's about goal setting and moving forward and getting to a place, and building a successful business. And as a woman of my age now it's changed again. My whole vision of success.
Bethan:12:09And I think that it's the same with kind of finding yourself as well. Who we are at any point is so different, isn't it? And the conditions we're surrounded by change. And so we are influenced by that equally and say who we are shifts and changes. And also who we're surrounded by people you know, who our influences are. We can surround ourselves by social media, by the television, by the newspapers by magazines, by people who are completely bought in mainstream ideas. Or we can surround ourselves with people who are questioning stuff, who have a different opinion about what it means to be a successful person, to be a beautiful person and then we will be influenced by that environment equally. So, you know, we can't really divorce ourselves from our environments, I don't believe personally. So it's about choosing an environment that actually serves your greatest wellbeing and happiness.
Marcus:13:13I think I was really important. We talked yesterday about the fact that neither of us watch the news anymore. I've told so many people that I don't and I think people get that or don't. I think the more you dig into this thing and the more you see that there are these underlying narratives that keep us all in place, but often in a place that is difficult...or.. It's just miserable. It's just a miserable place. But if you don't know that you can't change that. If you don't know that that's an option. Now I feel much more free, which has its own difficulties because you actually have to choose stuff.
Marcus:14:06But before I didn't even know there was a choice. I just like left say I thought this is what you need to do to be happy ... I need to... graduate university. I've done that. Like I still don't feel happy... I need to get a job. It's like, well I've done that and I still don't feel happy... Oh, a relationship... I've done that but I still don't feel happy and so on. And then after awhile you start to think what I started to think. Okay. Actually the formulas aren't working. Yeah. Like I'm looking at all these things and nothing's working. And I guess something that had never dawned on me me was that you need to look inside. I used to hear a lot of people saying things like, "I went off to Thailand and really found myself" and I'd just think like... I was going to say... what a wanker!
Marcus:14:57Ha...I said it. I just never really understood that and I guess that probably those people were just actually going on a gap year and taking lots of drugs on the beach and probably isn't the right definition of 'find yourself' that I understand now. But I do think it is just something that's not that prevalent, really. The idea that all the answers are already inside yourself. I guess that's what my perception of what the Grow Your Own Gorgeousness thing is. It's saying you're who you are and that's perfect.
Bethan:15:37I think what it is about in essence is "You're fine. Hold Yourself, stand by yourself. And once you find that inner resilience and stability, you can start looking at the world around you and just questioning whether it's you that's messed up or the actual culture in which you are living in". It just allows people to start asking questions and find the level of connection to themselves. People I think are chronically disconnected from their truth and from their sense of 'I'm okay' and instead they kind of look at the world, at all these moulds that are on offer, whether it's a certain body type, whether it's a certain career box, whether it's a certain economic level of income, whether it's a status and they're trying to fit themselves into all these boxes and these moulds and wondering why they're not happy, why they're not fitting in, why it's quite uncomfortable and why they've got a crick in their neck.
Bethan:16:37And then at some point people realise, hopefully, that it's because they haven't created their own mould to step into in the world. And so for me, the Growing Your Own Gorgeousness thing is about looking at yourself and actually realising that you're complete unique. You're not going to fit into any one of those boxes that were on offer at the supermarket. So, by the media and or even by , a school careers officer and learn to maneuver their way into the world based on who they are rather than trying to fit into a box. And many people don't ever recognise that they can do that.
Marcus:17:26I guess I know from my own experience, but what are the steps that people have to take when it's something that they have never considered before?
Bethan:17:38So the way in which I'm bringing this work to the table is first of all by helping young girls to recognize that there is no one unique beauty and there's not one set of beauty standards they have to conform to because that's something that's quite painful for a lot of young women growing up and women throughout their lives. If they don't fit into that mould, then they can potentially spend their whole life A) in a state of self improvement or B) just feeling like they're somehow faulty. And so that's kind of the doorway that they step into the work that I do, through trying to find some form of self acceptance and peace within themselves. And then it's a process of introducing the individuals to pathways and techniques that allow them to become self aware and actually look inside themselves and begin for the first time exploring the unique qualities that make them up as people, and realising that maybe their beliefs aren't natural to them, but they've been given to them and that they can change their beliefs and their thoughts about themselves, that they can even begin to shift their physiology by changing the way they see themselves.
Bethan:18:59So it's really a whole palette of different techniques to help people to step back into themselves and to reconnect with their bodies, with their minds and their emotions.
Marcus:19:15Do you think teenage boys have a similar thing?
Bethan:19:17I think that teenage boys equally need the same piece of work. A huge amount of parents and teachers have asked, "where is the boys version?" and my response to that is, I need some boys to help me create that and some men to help me create that because that's a world that I can't pretend that I've walked in and haven't walked in. iI've walked in it from a female perspective and I'd need some men to help me to help put that together, maybe themselves. So yeah, there's definitely space for boys too. There is a big need.
Marcus:19:59I guess on the other end of spectrum for boys there's a certain idea of masculinity, of what you have to be and I think with social media and stuff like that I think, well, I think ALL these things have just been amplified by social media. We talked yesterday about how difficult... well, I'm not going to put words in your mouth, but how difficult I found school, how horrible I found school and I didn't have people able to pick up the phone and insult me over Facebook or Instagram and the safety of my bedroom. I can't even begin to imagine how difficult is, what a minefield it must be for young people now. So I think you are doing really important work. I guess it's bizarre that someone like you has to go into a school and offer a program like that, that it's not part of the education anyway.
Bethan:21:05I mean I've got some quite strong beliefs around that. The fact that, you know, we live in a capitalist society which needs people to behave in certain ways in order to keep the machine oiled and moving and people being self aware, people wanting to be sustainable in their lives. People wanting to make changes isn't actually welcome. What capitalism needs is well behaved, obedient members of society and you know, the focus in many schools, not all schools, but in many schools, is to help children to achieve academically without looking at it holistically. Which is that children who are happy, children that are inspired, children who believe in themselves and children are purpose driven will do what it takes to get where they want to get in their life. And that's true of me in the I left school, as I said to you at 16 with no qualifications and yet have made a success, I believe, of my life despite of those things because I had the passion and the vision and the drive to do what I wanted to do and to get there. So it's, you know, some schools don't bring this stuff in, lots of schools do, it's just not a major priority.
Marcus:22:38I feel that we're entering a new world, where resilience and the ability to think outside the box and think for yourself is going to be more and more important.
Bethan:22:49It's going to be a form of capital that people have or they don't have.
Marcus:22:57Yeah, I mean even our children's generation and their children's generation, what sort of a world are they going into? I just think probably in the vast majority of cases, we're not really focused on that. We're not really focused on what the long term thing is. I guess it's still a hangover from what did work. I mean when I was younger. That was a similar story to you. I guess it was like, you finish school, you go to university, get a job, buy a house, have a family, live happily ever after and start the cycle again. I feel that a lot of the mental health stuff that's occurred in my life, especially throughout my twenties is because of that, because when I got to the end of the university ladder and it didn't work out, I'm left wondering, "Oh, I have to start actually trying to sort of learn how to live in the world without following a path. And realizing that I had no, I basically had no tools to do that. Just had no idea what that meant. And it took years and years and a lot of turmoil to even begin to start to see that.
Bethan:24:16Because you hadn't been equipped with the...
Marcus:24:18No, and I feel... that's where learning things like how to do.... I was gonna say long division, but I still don't know how to do 'long division'. I guess just things like how do you fill out a tax return form. I have no idea. Like how do you deal with all the admin of life, the admin of relationships coming and going and those sort of human connections. It's just like... No idea. How would you look inside yourself? What does that mean? I have no idea what that is. Like. I don't know.
Bethan:25:07An incredible piece of work that I love is core values. Have you ever looked at your core values?
Marcus:25:13A little bit, but probably not enough.
Bethan:25:17That's just an incredible place to start for anybody because your core values are things that are so important to you that you would rage if your core values had been violated. It can bring down relationships if you have a core value that is consistently violated by the other person. There's just so much awareness around yourself and what you're doing in your life that can be sort of founded on, on your core values and what's important to you in that sense.
Marcus:25:49What are your core values?
Bethan:25:50My core values are freedom, creativity, strength, adventure and love.
Bethan:26:04And when I met my chappy, who I will be marrying in week or two, I gave him a piece of paper with a list of core values written on them and he filled them out a little bit apprehensively and circled them. And then he gave them back to me and said, "does that mean we're not compatible?" When I read through and I said, it's nothing to do with being compatible or not so that I can see what absolutely drives you and your life. What's really important and this is what drives me in my life. And it was such an amazing thing because suddenly you have a narrative around what's really important to you. And I can look at a set of core values now and if one of them is being consistently violated in my life, if there's something that I'm doing that isn't fulfilling that core value, I know that I'll be off kilter, there'll be an effect and I can then work to adjust that in order to get my wellbeing level back up again. So that's just a brilliant way to begin looking at who you are as an, as an individual. It's your thumbprint or fingerprint of who you are.
Marcus:27:17Things like the Myers Briggs... I find that really useful. Not that it needs to be such a prescriptive thing, but I find it really useful to know what other people's personality types are. And it really helps in relationships.
Bethan:27:37Particularly if they're coming from the same hymn sheet as well, so that you can both talk about it. So rather than sort of clashing and locking horns with people, and wondering why the hell they don't understand why you're so upset about it. Instead you've got that sort of self compassion and they've then got that understanding and awareness that you've just had your freedom taken away in your head and therefore that's why you're acting like... medusa.
Marcus:28:03I think it helped me make sense of myself a bit... I don't know how scientifically accurate it is but I'd have said that I'm relatively introverted. I need space, when the world starts getting too much or just I need to be in a field or walking around or just having space to myself. Reading, something like that. I just needed to get away from it. But then other times I feel like I'm, I need to be around people sharing stuff or need to have a community and I could never really quite balance that. But then doing that test I was like sort of 52 percent introverted and like 48 percent extrovert and I thought, "okay, that makes that sort of allows me to make a little bit more sense of this thing which I've been struggling with".
Bethan:29:09Do you journal?
Marcus:29:09Yes, I do.
Bethan:29:10One of the other aspects that I bring into the Gorgeousness program for girls is around their monthly hormone cycle because a woman who is in this period of life where she's menstruating... she goes through a series of hormonal shifts in the month, which will dramatically affect her relationship with herself and the world and how she's interacting with the world. So, moving towards ovulation, a woman will often feel very capablem much more confident, which is a result of each and testosterone in her system. It's been shown that women can communicate more effectively and will generally be out in the world and quite happy to be in that space. Whereas you move into this premenstrual phase of that cycle and suddenly those hormones have started to shift and go down and drop and as a result of that, it will almost be as though the woman kind of shifts inside herself more ... doesn't actually want to go to that party, that she booked a week ago and she was feeling like a complete party animal and if one of the things that I asked the kids to do is actually to journal their month in literally a couple of words per day.
Speaker 3:30:37Just describe how they're feeling because what tends to happen is after a few months of doing this, you start to notice a pattern in a cycle of that extroversion and introversion and how it's almost like an ebb and a flow that happens because of those hormonal changes in the body and I don't think, as far as I'm aware, much research has been done into the male hormonal cycle. Whether there's also some sort of shift and an occurrence that happens like that, which would affect mood. Yeah. There's just. There's lots and lots of things that you can do to really start exploring the ecosystem of yourself and it's actually fascinating and rewarding and expanding and deepening and a real adventure to go on.