By Phillip Redgrave
At the age of 16 I weighed 22 stones and was morbidly obese. Today I’m around 12 stones depending on how I’m training and the size of my breakfast.
When I was eight, I lost my father. He wasn’t a good father by any means but he kept me active, and losing your father at that age messes you up. So, I became less active and turned to food for comfort, which is how I got to where I was four years ago. As you can see though, I’ve spent those four years turning that around.
When you lose a lot of weight it attracts attention. There is some negative attention, but many are genuinely supportive and encouraging. Others have been inspired by what I do and want advice on how to do it for themselves, and I’m always happy to help.
I could do without the fanfare at times because I don’t like being the centre of attention. I only continue to talk and post about it because it’s helped to inspire others.
It’s ironic considering my profession. I’m and actor, so being the centre of attention is essentially my job. That fact does, however, lead me to the main point of this piece.
Among the questions I get asked most ‘How did you do it?’ reigns supreme. But I didn’t expect so many people to ask WHY I did it. In truth, there are many reasons, but one above all.
There’s a given for people in my situation, of course – ‘I was badly bullied, my girlfriend broke up with me over it’, etc. Both have some merit, but in reality, it was my career.
Acting is a very superficial industry. How you look plays a huge part in your career prospects, and I know that all too well.
I’ve always had a passion for acting. I specifically like to make people laugh, so I was often content taking comedic roles.
When I decided to study Drama at university, however, I was under the impression that I would get the chance to show my more serious side and learn more about it. After all, who wants to be stuck doing the same thing forever?
So I entered university hoping to capitalise on that opportunity. But things didn’t go to plan.
One of my first roles was “Stinky John”, a character meant to be a laughing stock – “unkempt, repulsive, overweight, funny” and so on. Not exactly a flattering description, especially considering my audition was for another character.
It made me recall other similar experiences which I hadn’t acknowledged. I had been typecast many times as that sort of character because, apparently, that’s where I thrived, where I belonged.
“Phill’s really good at doing that, you should cast him!”
“We really liked your audition for this character, but we feel you’re better suited to this one.”
“Hey, I’ve been working on something and I have you in mind for this guy!”
None of these offers were bad natured or malicious, of course. But I knew it was a ‘nice’ way of saying, “Will you be the fat, funny guy?”
That’s when I realised my weight and health were not just things for which people ridiculed or judged me. They were holding me back in my chosen career. I vowed to change.
I thought if I had serious goals and ambitions, I wouldn’t be typecast as “Ha ha! funny fat man”. If I was serious about my weight, then I would be taken seriously in all walks of life.
Luckily, my university had a partnership with a local gym chain. So I had no more excuses. I started counting calories, eating clean and consistently working out.
Suddenly, I was no longer relegated to ‘fat and funny’ roles. I was a lead character who was taken seriously and I received high marks in these roles.
I’ve since been involved in many other projects and I firmly believe that the effort I put in to my own fitness helps me perform and do my job to the best of my ability.
But should I have had to do all that to get recognition of my worth? As I said, this is a very superficial industry and we typically don’t talk about how wrong it is that people are often dismissed on how they look without consideration of their talent.
Of course, there are times when a certain look or level of fitness is required. Henry Cavill, who plays Superman and the Witcher, has often talked about how he needs to keep up with his fitness in order to do the very physically demanding things that are required of his characters.
But, unfortunately, we need to look no further than the new film MONDAY with Sebastian Stan to see the toxic side of this issue. Sebastian plays another superhero character, Marvel’s Winter Soldier, and for that role he has trained intensely.
However, in his new film, he’s just an average DJ. So in scenes where he isn’t clothed, many people expected him to look a certain way and were disappointed. They took to bodyshaming him on Twitter, which is bad enough, but more so considering he has been open about his struggles with body dysmorphia.
This is a very concerning subject because it has such a negative effect on many. I’ve been bullied over my appearance. I’ve also been praised when it changed. I’ve played for both teams, so I believe I’m qualified to talk about this. And I can tell you that all the bullying only brought me down and made it harder.
Of course we should all be taking care of ourselves, and people who keep us accountable can be a huge help. My Personal Trainer Chris will in equal parts encourage me and let me know when I’m going overboard and that’s worked pretty well so far.
We should never actively encourage unhealthy habits, but by the same token we should never attack someone for their lifestyle – we’re not all required to be athletes.
My hope is that, one day, we can open up the discussion to prevent people being judged, excluded and made to feel less due to their appearance.
So, I’d invite people to consider these points – “Does this person’s weight REALLY matter? Do I really NEED them to look a certain way to do things? Or do I just WANT it that way”. I can guarantee that 9 times out of 10, it’s the latter. Shaming or bullying them doesn’t help.
Initially, I thought I was working out for other people, to meet their standards of how I should look. But now I do it for me. I do it because it keeps me happy and healthy and that’s all that matters.
That’s why I lost weight – because my wellbeing is more important than anyone’s opinion. And that should go for anyone else out there.