Thursday, December 1, 2022

‘It’s A Constant Battle and It’s A Constant Practice to Have Body Neutrality’ How Are You Today… Meg Mansell

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In our story series ‘How Are You Today?’, we have a meandering, mental-health focused chat with some of our most well-known New Zealanders. Check out previous chats with people like Hayley HoltRoseanne Liang and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Today, we talk to Meg Mansell.

The Edge’s Meg Mansell is not only a beloved radio presenter, she’s also a fierce advocate for body positivity and body neutrality. Here, she talks to Capsule about getting married 72 hours before last year’s Level 4 Lockdown, how she deals with negative body talk (both her own and other’s) and why it’s important for people to see her living a joyful life in a bigger body.

How are you today?
My day’s going great but I had a terrible sleep. I finished watching a programme called Behind Her Eyes on Netflix and then I got scared of ghosts and couldn’t sleep. Then, my dog started barking like there was an intruder in the house at 1am – which he’s never done before – so then I was convinced there was a ghost.

What time do you have to wake up for The Edge morning show?
4.15am

Wow, so being awake at 1am is… a true nightmare.
It just instantly sets you up for knowing that it’s going to be a hard day. The 4.15am starts are never easy – never. I’ve been doing them for three years and it doesn’t get any better. I love my job but I had thought that maybe by now, it would be easier to get up so early but every single morning it’s hard [laughs].

That makes total sense. Because your job is so full-on and requires so much personality, are you someone who’s an extrovert or are you an introvert who needs a certain amount of alone time to balance your day job?
Honestly, it’s one of those things where I even sit there and roll my eyes at it, because you’d expect anyone in radio to be an extrovert. I am such an introvert; I have to be extroverted for my job but that’s what’s so weird because in radio, it’s just me sitting there with my two friends in a room. I always forget who I’m talking to – I mean, I know I’m talking to an audience but I can’t see them. I had someone message me recently and it broke my heart, because it’s absolutely what I’m afraid of; they’d met me at an Edge party and I came across a little cold. But I remember it and I was having a little panic attack because I’m so bad at meeting new people and I was busy thinking “Oh my gosh, they’re going to think I’m so lame and I’m not going to live up to the expectation of being this funny, bubbly, cool person.” I mumble over my words and I look down at the ground or I do a weird laugh and I just panic, “Oh god, they’re going to hate me.” I have to be talked into going to parties – even a party with friends, I get really nervous. So, it makes no sense as to why I picked this job [laughs]. But yes, I definitely need to have my quiet down time.

Well, I once read an interview with Oprah where she said the same thing, so you’re in good company.
Oh, that makes me feel a little better. Because I feel that people might think I’m fake in saying that or that it’s cool to say I’m an introvert. But it really is almost debilitating at times because I have to be so bubbly for work that people expect it from me all the time. And most of the time they’re more bubbly than I am and I’m there thinking, “You’re the one with all the personality and here I am – boring as ever, trying to make water-cooler talk.”

Meg and Guy (All photos from Meg’s instagram)

Do you think your introverted nature increased last year, amid all the lockdowns?
The level 4 lockdown happened 72 hours after my wedding [laughs]. Last year was, hands down, for everyone, just the most stressful year. It was the year of disappointment for me which was so sad because it was supposed to be the year of excitement: I was getting married, I had planned the coolest honeymoon ever for us – we were 10 days away from getting on the plane when lockdown started – and it was my 30th birthday. But when it came to our honeymoon being locked down with each other at home, it really wasn’t that bad because Guy and I like just being at home! Now that I look back, it gave me time to not be around people who, understandably, would have wanted to ask about [the wedding and honeymoon]. But it was too raw. I’ve had to come to terms with it but it’s also something that makes me feel very dramatic, because so many people have been through something so much harder than a stressful wedding day. But I guess, you plan it for years, you look forward to it your whole life and the full experience is taken away from you six days before.

The thing that got taken away was the excitement in the lead up – “I’m getting married this week, I’m getting married today.” I hated my phone because every time I picked it up there was more bad news and more of my loved ones from overseas that weren’t going to be able to come. Even on the wedding day I didn’t think we would be getting married because we had one more announcement coming from Jacinda at 1pm and the wedding was at 4pm. So I just got ready in the hope that it would still happen. I feel very lucky that we got to have it and I feel very sorry for the brides that had to postpone or the ones who still can’t have family members here.

With all that in mind – and particularly after last year – what have you learned about what you need to be as mentally well as possible?
I’m still learning – I need downtime for sure. Last year, radio was deemed as essential work so I still went to work every day and we all decided not to have any holidays, because there was nowhere to go and what’s the point? But I have learned, because of that, the importance of taking a break just to do nothing. At the end of last year, for the first time in my life I was skipping periods, my hair started falling out, I got psoriasis, I got two stress rashes on both legs. My body was falling apart – I hadn’t let myself process anything because I never stopped. I’ve learned now that taking time to sleep in or read a book on the couch the whole day is important – I used to feel like it was a waste and then I’d panic that I was wasting my holidays. I’ve learned that sometimes your body knows more than you know.

You’re someone who is such an important role model for body positivity or body neutrality, already, it must have been interesting to have your body sending you signs that something wasn’t right. How did that feel?
Well, I also put on weight after the wedding – I definitely turned to comfort eating. I loved baking banana bread and I loved cooking with my husband. I don’t regret it – sometimes when people put on weight, they regret it but it was the only way I could comfort myself during those months. And it’s not the end of the world. I try my best to focus on body neutrality, where it doesn’t affect my day to day life and it’s not good or bad. But I’ve really struggled with it recently because coming up to a year since my wedding day – I was thinner. And it’s really hard seeing those memories pop back up and seeing I’ve put weight on. But you’ve just got to keep reminding yourself that it was a pandemic for the whole world, so if I put on a bit of weight and that’s the worst thing that happened to me, that’s okay. We’re going to be gentle with ourselves.

We get so hard on ourselves that gaining weight is the worst thing that can happen. I overheard a couple of girls yesterday doing the worst ‘Would you rather’ games. They were in their 20s and they said ‘Would you rather be fat or homeless?’ and they both said ‘homeless.’ And they had a little laugh about it but as a fat woman, it’s a really strange thing to sit and realise that people would rather lose everything than wake up one day and look like you. It’s a constant battle and it’s a constant practice to have body neutrality, to be working out or eating well because it makes you feel good rather than trying to look a certain way.

I remember when I was at uni I went clothes shopping with a friend and she was looking for a top and the one she found was a size 14 and she said to me “I’d kill myself if I was a size 14.” And I was standing there, in my size 14 jeans, thinking… “what the f—k?” I’m a lot older now but it still breaks my heart when you hear young people discuss being fat like it’s literally the worst possible thing that can happen to you. It makes me so sad that they think that about themselves.
I know – and these comments get thrown around all the time. And for some people it really is the worst thing that people can imagine – the worst thing that can happen to them is to have a body like mine. And it’s just wrong! I could be a really bad person; everyone could hate me – I could have zero friends. I could be stuck in a job that I hate. If the worst thing in the world is that I live my life in a body that doesn’t fit with society’s expectations of what a body should be… if that’s the worst thing, and I look around and I’ve got a great husband, a great family, a great job and I’m lucky enough to own a home… I mean, get over it.

When you look at the following that you have on social media, it’s clearly something people need to see – you just having a really joyful and happy life.
It really is about having a joyful life – I haven’t posted nearly as much as I would recently because I’ve been struggling within myself a bit and that’s something I really have to pull myself up on, because that’s actually when people need it the most. It’s about showing that vulnerability when I’m not feeling 100%. But mostly, I’m just doing normal things and living my life – I’m going to the beach, I’m wearing an outfit I like. It’s all normal – it’s just in a bigger body. And if that helps people – if I can show that you can live a happy life, genuinely and having a bigger body doesn’t stop you from doing that, then I’ll just keep doing it forever.

You talked last year about not wanting to talk about weight on your platform; that it was important for you to create a safe space for people. How have you found your own boundaries when it comes to social media, both with looking at it yourself and also with posting on it?
I have made an open pact to my followers online that I will never talk about weight loss – whether I lose weight, or not; whether someone else loses weight or tries to lose weight. You’ll never see me in a magazine with before and after photos, it’s not going to happen. And I want to make it very clear – that’s not, at all, hitting out at people who have done those things. It’s because I had an eating disorder when I was younger, for years, and I want to make sure, in myself, that there’s one person who won’t do that. Because there are so many that will – and that’s fine, it’s fine for people to do that. But there’s one place where you never have to worry about diet talk or weight loss talk and that’s my platform. And I’m the same with those I follow as well, I only follow people that I’m inspired by, who I can learn things from.

If I find myself feeling triggered or ‘oh, this person now makes me feel bad about myself,’ then I’ll unfollow them. It’s often nothing to do with them – they haven’t meant to do that, but I’ve found myself comparing my life to theirs and I just need to take a break. Comparison is the thief of joy and it’s so easy to fall into that trap of thinking ‘if I looked like them, if I was rich like them, if I was beautiful like them, I’d be happier.’ And we all know that we only put up a highlights reel and it’s just not real, but it’s so easy for your brain to tell you it is.

Who do you follow on Instagram that you would recommend for other people, also looking for a safe space, to follow?
Jessie Gurunathan (@jessie_guru); she’s very inspiring, she has her own business Two Birds Beauty. She talks really in-depth on her page about important issues like white privilege, racism and mental health. She’s created an inclusive space where she generously teaches her following through her own experiences and uses her platform for good.

Oooh – my friend Justine (@mybalanceproject) is amazing for body positivity. She recently showed photos and videos of herself at the beach in togs with her son. So many Mmm’s miss out on the experience of swimming in the ocean with their children, friends or just for themselves because the idea of being in togs is a nightmare. She’s out there living her life to the fullest and it’s so inspiring. She’s also a great friend and really relatable. 

And then @bodyposipanda  – she is so intelligent and is always a safe and positive space on your feed. There are so many out there and once you find them, the messages on your feed change completely. Because otherwise you’re just seeing the same message over and over again when you only see one type of body and one type of person, you start to believe that that’s true – there is only one ‘correct’ type of body. And it’s just not true.

Catch Meg on The Edge Breakfast Show every morning from 6am to 10am and follow her on instagram here

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