“I know how it feels to hate your body. I had to step up so that other people wouldn't feel it.”
Jules is a spray tanning, podcast making, mental health campaigning business leader and advocate. He is the founder of beauty brand Isle of Paradise and a key figure in the body positivity movement across the world of fashion and beauty.
Mark: How are you?
Jules: We are currently in lockdown three. At the start of COVID, it was “yeah this new thing” and everyone was in it together. It felt quite transient. Now I think the harshness is really starting to kick in. Friends who've lost jobs, people struggling socially, many people saying “what's the point?”.
I feel like I was almost built for this. I work from home and I spent a lot of time on my own. So when people were saying “Oh my God, everything's changed, work is so different”. I've seen many of my friends moving into the realm of imposter syndrome that I am in day to day
When you work from home, when you work on your own. The coffee chat, the lunch chat, the water cooler, the drinks after work chat is eradicated. Those times that your brain had to open up and disconnect from where you are, what stressed you out in the day-to-day has gone.
What does impostor syndrome mean to you? What is your internal monologue saying to you?
Imposter syndrome for me is self-bullying and self-sabotaging and constantly thinking my work isn't good enough. I envisage other people talking about me and saying “Oh, he’s not good”.
Accepting imposter syndrome is something that I've been working on. I am having therapy at the moment and it is something that I want to get across, but I think I accept that I will have imposter syndrome probably for the rest of my life.
I'm a human being. It'd be weird if I didn't have it because it shows that I care.
People will say “Oh, you're really successful” - but it is all how you measure your own success. It's all how you measure your own work.
I'm like “Yeh, I managed to make that look great. But it's all a mess behind here. The shop looks amazing, but over there, there's the piles of unopened envelopes”.
Like a duck paddling underwater with a serene body floating along...
That’s absolutely my life.
It sounds like you're self-reflective and you know yourself when it comes to mental health. Has that always been the case?
I think being aware is something that I've had to teach myself. Talking about mental health with others has enabled me to - we call it “unpacking” - ‘unpack’ this. My friendship group is very aware of mental health.
But there are things that I look back on sometimes in my teens and early twenties and even late twenties. I had massive mental health issues that I didn't know to put in the box of ‘mental health’.
I work in mental health. I talk about mental health on social media. In our world, mental health is a thing. But in the day to day world, mental health is just something that they might see on a poster once in a while. It's not an openly discussed thing.
I heard someone say recently that ‘mental health is like a drip coming from your ceiling’. You see this ceiling and you're like “I've got two choices. I can either just say ‘I’m just going to ignore that’ or ‘I'm going to get it fixed’”.
What happens if you ignore it? It just gets worse and worse and the ceiling falls in.
But would you do that with an actual drip? You would sort the drip out. You’d call a plumber. But with mental health the drip’s going on in your head and no one else can see it. And we ignore it.
"Mental health is like a drip coming from your ceiling... What happens if you ignore it? It just gets worse and worse and the ceiling falls in."
In your teens, when you first started engaging with your mental health, what was that like? What were the triggers?
It was just such a battle with myself. I was self-harming pretty much all through my teenage years. I was really badly bullied when I was young and that had a massive knock on effect through my teenage years. I really wanted to end my own life when I was 18. I look back at that time and to be fair for the whole of my twenties and I just completely blocked them out.
I went to university, changed my name, introduced myself as Jules - my real name is Julian. I introduced myself and just started again, totally fresh. I didn't really deal with it until now. I'm having therapy now and it's coming out.
That was a mistake. I think I should have dealt with all of that then, but my teenage years were hard. They were really hard. I felt really alone. I was working out my sexuality. I was in a really tough independent school. It was all about academia. I was a creative. Of course at the time I had no idea that a creative brain was a thing. And I had no idea that being gay was totally fine. I had no idea that if I didn't want to be a doctor that's okay.
If you know anyone who self harmed that never leaves you. For anyone that's been suicidal, those triggers never go. I was trying to explain it to my fiancé. I told him it's like this creature that crawls up my back and sits on my shoulder and stays there. I have to mentally have this conversation with it and say “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, we don't do that anymore. We do not do that.”
For anyone that's been suicidal, those triggers never go.
Into my early twenties, I just stopped eating and developed anorexia. I based so much on appearance and I developed body dysmorphia. I'm working on something at the moment about body dysmorphia and I had this cry earlier this week about how it made me feel.
Mental health was not talked about then. I was so alone. I felt so alone in my head. But now, oh my god, there are such great things that can help. There are such amazing resources. Now it's okay to be like that. It is completely fine, but it was just not talked about back then.
Did you have any support mechanisms? What was there to lean on?
No and I didn’t get therapy until early last year, that was the first time I had therapy.
I think the only reason I've been aware is because I knew I had to be aware of what was going on.
I think that flooding myself with as much information as I could helps me be more aware. I'm following amazing people online that have been open about that journey. I think that I was really lucky that in my job I met so many different types of people all the time with my job.
Mental health was not talked about then. I was so alone. I felt so alone in my head. But now, oh my god, there are such great things that can help.
Meeting really happy people, miserable people, funny people. It gave me such a different outlook on life and traveling constantly. I can't believe my twenties was spent just traveling the world in and out of sets. I can't believe that happened. It has given me such a unique outlook on everything.
And is that outlook on yourself as well? How do you see yourself and self-image?
I was a spray tanner. I fell into spray tanning and I really think spray tanning saved me and saved how I see myself.
I was being exposed to naked bodies. 20 a day, every shape and size, every ability, every skin tone from all walks of life, all around the world. I think that just changed the way that I saw myself. It showed me that everyone has their struggles. Everyone apologised about their bodies and nobody seemed to like theirs.
It just opened this window with bright sunshine light on to me and I thought “I'm not alone in how I feel about this”.
In the advertising world back then, one narrow idea was shown to you about how human beings should look. But that’s just now how it is in reality.
“I'm not alone in how I feel about this”
What was it like to push back against that? It must have been difficult?
It was so hard. I used to be on photo shoots and I'd look at models being photographed. They looked amazing. Six months later a bus would go past with this model on the bus and it would be an airbrushed image. And I’d think “She did not look like that!”.
I then see a magazine open on my friend's desk and I think ‘My mate thinks my product made that person look like that, but it didn't.”
"I know how it feels to hate your body. I know how it feels to want to end your life. Because I felt that I knew that, I had to step up so that other people wouldn't feel it"
Isle of Paradise was never a life goal for me and it felt like a duty. If I didn't use my voice and step up and fight a battle, the world would just keep turning and people would just keep accepting that this advertising was normal.
It was hard at first, convincing people. I'm really fucking glad I had that fight. I feel like I can confidently say that I changed the beauty industry.
Isle of Paradise was such a breath of fresh air for so many people. When we published our first campaign, I had messages just of women crying, saying, thank you so much. And even now I get people coming up to me saying, thank you for what you have done.
God, I'm so glad to have that fire, but I don't think I would have had that fight if I hadn't walked over all the hot coals through my teenage years. I was burned so badly by my own self sabotage, but also from the conditioning that the marketing world was putting out about appearance that I knew how it felt.
I know how it feels to hate your body. I know how it feels to want to end your life. Because I felt that I knew that, I had to step up so that other people wouldn't feel it.
You mentioned that you never had therapy and you kept that trap door closed. What made you open it? What made you go “Actually, no, Jules, you need therapy. Let's do this”
I had a breakdown. At the time I didn't realize it was a breakdown. There was a moment when it just was all getting too much. And I always say with anyone's breakdown there is the final straw that comes and it has got nothing to do with what the breakdown is about.
I think for me, it was, I missed a spin class. I was two minutes late. The girls said, no, I can't join. And I went to the loo and completely broke down. While the class was going on, I calmed myself back down. I put my concealer back on, went out and I booked therapy the next day.
"Journaling is something that has been a massive game changer for me"
I went online and booked a session. I needed to get all of this out because it was too much.
Only then did we start peeling all the layers and seeing where it was all rooted.
I think I used to be quite afraid of therapy. I was afraid of the cost. I was afraid of what therapy meant.
To me, therapy is like… imagine inside your brain, there's just loads of knots and some knots will just stay there forever. But other knots, we really need to get those unknotted because otherwise you can’t move forward. Like when you can’t get a bead onto a necklace.
What type of therapy do you do?
I do CBT and we also dive into my dreams.
It's amazing. I love it. I am a very vivid dreamer, which is a very creative thing to do. My therapist says that dreams hold what's going on in your subconscious. You can really put dreams together and literally unpack everything. And you could dream about lamps going off, but it ain't got anything to do with the lamp.
I used to keep a dream journal but to be honest my dreams are so mad I can remember them.
Journaling is something that has been a massive game changer for me. I also write letters to people and never send them, and write letters to myself. It's a very cathartic experience.
I make it a fucking big thing. I have a glass of wine and I tell my other half “I'm going to journal”. And so it's something I look forward to and It's not a ball ache. It's really helped me. Especially in lockdown three, journaling has been so helpful.
Is there anything you really want to say to anyone reading this?
If anyone is reading this and feeling like they really hate the way that they look, or that their appearance defines them as a human, or that you don't look like the person that you think you're supposed to look like…
Life is just too short to hate how you look. Life is too short to let things that you have learned through your life, on how you are told you're supposed to look, affect you.
If you think that when you leave a room, anybody is saying “Gosh, hasn't she got great legs” or “Hasn't she got big boobs”.... No. Nobody is fucking saying that. If they are, that's their shit.
"Life is just too short to hate how you look"
I think that most people will often talk about your personality when you leave the room, people will often remember acts of kindness, acts of comedy, acts of skill. That's what people remember. Nobody remembers how you look. Ultimately, no one's going to talk about it after you've gone.
I don't hear anybody talking about any great leader or great warrior and saying, you know, the most important thing that this person had was fucking great brows.
They're talking about what they did, what they created, what they achieve and you just have to remind yourself of that. Enjoy it. Enjoy being alive.