I was lucky enough to interview the lovely Michael Parr, probably best known for playing Ross Barton in Emmerdale. With roles in Doctors, Casualty and Hollyoaks also under his belt, he’s been in the acting game for a good few years and at the tender age of 28 has lots more to give. He talked to me frankly about his own body image and what he thinks about the pressure on men to be seen as ”emotionless”.
Have you experienced any difficulty in accepting the way you look at any point in your life?
Yes, I think since I was about 14 I’ve always had an issue with a certain aspect of my appearance. Since my mid teens I’ve always struggled with my skin, even to this day it’s still not fully cleared up. I get spots and red marks on my chest and shoulders. I’ve always been frustrated with my hair, it’s thick and curly and a nightmare for hairdressers. I’m very slim, I find it hard to put on weight and when you come from a town where nearly everybody plays rugby you kind of feel like the odd one out. I’m a size 11 shoe and always feel like my feet look too big in shoes or trainers. But with these things I realise this is what makes me… me. If I looked perfect I’d look like everyone else. I’m glad I look the way I do.
Have you come across any pressures during your acting career to obtain or keep up a stereotypically ‘masculine’ appearance?
I’ve not felt an external pressure but I have put pressure on myself in the past. I’ve had to do a few roles where my character got his top off. It wasn’t in the character breakdown that he was in good shape but it’s how I wanted to look. You always want to look your best. Breakdowns are very specific and if you don’t fit the bill then you usually don’t get seen for the part.
How do you feel about mainstream media’s portrayal of male body types with regards to magazines like Men’s Fitness and the male advertising industry in general?
I don’t read these kind of magazines but I see the pictures all the time. I think you can interpret the images in a few different ways depending on how you feel. I try and look at the images like they’re goals, I see them and think “he looks in good shape, I’ll try and get like that in two months.” More often than not it’s completely unachievable because these are models that work on their image 24 hours a day whereas I have to go to work but it’s good to set targets. Sometimes I look at them and think well, “that guys’ life must suck because he must spend hours and hours in the gym and that’s no fun.”
Do you think that the media or anything else has ever contributed to a feeling of low self esteem in yourself or anyone you know?
I’m very thick skinned, you have to be as an actor as you’re always taking criticism. Sometimes the biggest decision that could change your life comes down to a simple point about how you look. People have said things about me before and sometimes the odd one makes you a little mad. What I’ve learned about people is that they tend to hold on to the negative more than the positive so I really try not to pay attention to compliments or insults from anyone else, I only care about how I feel when I look in the mirror. It’s ok to think you look like crap and it’s ok to think you look great. Your feelings will change, it’s what happens, there are always ups and downs.
More and more men are starting to speak up about the body image debate as it’s not a gender specific issue. However, I think that there is still a stigma attached which can put some guys off talking about it. The stereotypical image that we see of men in the media is an overly exaggerated one of muscle, youth and being afraid of nothing. So some think that talking about this kind of thing is a bit ‘’girly’’ and that they will be ridiculed for ‘’being feminine’’ or ‘‘emotional’’. What do you make of this kind of attitude?
It’s all subjective, some people love skinny, some people love curvy. Some people like blonde some people like brunette. You have to realise that you don’t like the way everything looks and nor does anybody else so if someone doesn’t like the way you look, who cares? Someone else will appreciate it.
Would you say that you’ve noticed a pressure for men to keep up this fearless, emotionless persona and that displaying any kind of emotion is something to be made fun of?
Yeah I’ve noticed it a lot. I think it comes across as cool in the films. I’ve seen so many films where the guy barely says a word, has no emotions whatsoever and the girl STILL fancies him just because he’s good looking and what you have to realise is… IT’S FILM, IT’S NOT REAL. The reality would be that the guy is boring as hell, doesn’t have a sense of humour and the girl never knows how he feels and it drives her crazy.
Has anyone given you a piece of advice or is there a particular quote you’ve read that inspires you?
My mum told me when I was a kid that “if you don’t love yourself then who is gonna love you.” It doesn’t mean look in the mirror and worship yourself, it just means you have to be happy with what you’ve got because confidence is key, remember.