Conversations with… Michelle Hopewell (Subject: Body Image in an Image Focused Industry)

When interviewing people who work in show business, I always touch upon the idea of confidence in an industry that places importance on appearance. After each of these interviews, I marvel at people’s resilience to the pressures and expectations placed upon them, but Michelle takes that to a whole new level.

Michelle is someone who embodies the spirit of always being yourself.

A London born actress and writer, Michelle has graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, made her West End debut and worked with companies such as the Royal Shakespeare Company. An advocate for representation in the arts, Michelle has written about the issue for publications such as HuffPost, Pride, The Unedit and Black British Bulletin. Whilst working in an industry that has traditionally favoured petite, white, thin bodies, Michelle is proudly herself. And what is there not to be proud of? She’s gorgeous, incredibly talented, hard working and driven.

Michelle’s interview isn’t just great because it allows an insight into her life, but because there is so much to learn from her. I for one felt inspired to think of myself in a higher regard after reading her words.

Confidence isn’t straight forward and our complex relationships with our bodies can’t be healed overnight, but after reading Michelle’s wise words, I’m well on my way to healing mine.

Photo credits: top row – photographed by Grace Wells. Bottom row, yellow outfit – photographed by Anu Ogunmefun. Bottom row, sports outfit – photographed by Tessa Holly.

You work as an actor and a singer. How have you found working in an industry that focuses so heavily on appearance?

It can be tricky because your aesthetic and appearance becomes a part of your brand, but as the years have gone by I’ve realised that as artists it’s part of our responsibility to take the power out of that idea. Whittling down our talent and skill to whether we are slim enough or tall enough or muscular enough is absurd. The only way to break that is to address and dismantle it.

By being vocal about self acceptance and representation (as well as being incredibly talented!), you are an important figure in dismantling the idea that fitting a narrow standard of beauty is the key to success. Have you ever felt pressure to change your appearance? If so, how did you deal with this?

I think most of us feel that pressure from the moment we are conscious enough to understand the pressure that comes from culture, family, tradition, society or the media. There have definitely been multiple points where I thought if only I was thinner, if only I were lighter skinned, if only, if only. It took a long time for me to realise that the standards I was trying to meet were not realistic and were actually structured to be oppressive to most people let alone the marginalised. Learning ways to embrace myself was a victory that I continually hold onto and evolve with.

Movements like body neutrality are growing, encouraging people to define their worth on the inside rather than through their appearance. In a society that still judges appearance heavily, how do you balance celebrating your appearance without body image taking over your thoughts?

I think it’s important to realise that body acceptance is a process that starts internally before it starts externally. We put so much emphasis on appearance that trapping our self worth within it, even if we are saying we love it, will only bring about the continuous cycle of trying to find validation in our bodies.

There is a way to achieve a balance but this will manifest differently for each person. Exploring this is a unique process.

You talk about learning to embrace yourself – what has your own confidence journey been like?

It’s something that will be a continuous journey, but I can pinpoint one of the biggest shifts to 2013 and in my second year at drama school. To an outsider, it looked as if I had everything together but truthfully I was struggling more than ever, but this was the road that led me to making the choices I needed to get control of the kind of life I wanted to live. It’s often the darkness that leads us to the light we have been searching for.

Do you think confidence is a linear journey?

I don’t think anything in life is linear. So much of what we experience is outside of our control and it’s sometimes best to allow spontaneity in order to grow in the areas we do have control over. It’s something that will be in flux. It’s something that might even need to be relearned at different stages of your life.

When do you feel most confident in yourself?

As of recently, it’s small things like sitting in my new flat and unpacking. This is so poignant for me because I have spent so much time moving and working that seeing the fruition of that hard work makes me feel confident. Realising that my priorities are also building a life and not just sacrificing for the idea of one makes me feel confident that I am learning to listen to myself more and honouring that.

You talk openly about the process of growing on confidence and developing into the person you want to be on Instagram – as well as share some beautiful photos! Why is it important for you to share these honest and inspiring moments and messages?

It’s important for me because they were the messages I so desperately needed growing up. When I write those messages, I see my kindred souls out there waiting to be affirmed in their own journeys, waiting to be recognised and celebrated for the things they used to think would hold them back in life.

You were highly recommended as someone to interview and it’s clear to see why so many people connect with what you have to say. Do you ever feel a pressure with this or do you find that just being yourself, good and bad, is key?

Definitely the latter. The moment I try and be something I’m not will be the moment I am not honouring my own journey and where I am. So many of us are looking for ways to express ourselves and to heal, alongside my faith I want that to always be the reason that I write and reach out to others.

What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with self confidence?

The struggle is part of the process. There will be times where you feel as if you can’t go any further, look after yourself in those moments, but please go on. Healing from pain and dismantling the toxic things we learn is never going to be easy, but you are so capable. You are so enough. You are so loved. You will make it through.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?

Joy.  In all of the things I have endured in life, the one thing I thank God for that I never lost sight of was joy. Recently I have been finding it in the most unlikely of places and I hope I never stop searching for it.

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