A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Gok Wan (yet again!) I was invited to London by the guys from Activia UK, who were holding a celebration of their Facebook Feel Good Photograph Competition.

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Activia UK Facebook followers had been invited to post photos representing some of the things that make them feel good from within. There were some great pics on display as part of the exhibition, which was held at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre. People could also come along to meet Gok and talk about the things that make them feel good from within.

It was a great day, and you could feel so many positive vibes coming from everyone!

It was also wonderful to meet some fellow bloggers, the lovely Catherine, Tamsin and Dannii. At the end of the day we had the opportunity to quiz Gok while we all ate froyo, you can imagine how happy I was about that ;-)

I prepared a few questions in advance, as did the other guys, and all of us ended up having a long conversation with Gok about a range of topics. It was a pretty long interview with lots of great discussion so I’m splitting it up into two parts. Here’s some highlights from the first half…

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KHGS:  You have famously lost weight, and successfully maintained that weight loss. Weight maintenance is something that I have personally found difficult, and I know many others do too. Is it something you have trouble with? Do you have any tips for KHGS readers?

Gok: Yes, always! I think when you have been obese you always need to maintain. Last year I gained 2 stone and then lost it, my weight is constantly up and down. I don’t lose weight for vanity sake, more about health and wellbeing because I know that when I’m heavier I don’t feel as healthy, can’t go as fast at work and it slows me down a bit. We sometimes don’t register that some of us are prone to different body shapes, I carry my weight around the tummy and have skinnier legs and shoulders but I’m not the same as every body else. But then we are forced to try and look like everyone else and be this carbon copy, when you look at models and do the math, that’s like one in millions that look like that.

KHGS: Connected to that…something I struggle with, and I know some of my readers do too, is the perception of what is a healthy size and desirable body shape within the media. It makes feeling good from within difficult sometimes! Do you have any words of wisdom for us?

Gok: We have to have some kind of guidance – BMI is useful, but isn’t that correct really, it’s like body shape, some of the girls queuing up today were a size 8 and healthy and some were a size 16 / 18 and just and as healthy as the size 8 girls. But then there are parallels, there are girls that are naturally a size 12 / 14 sliming to a size 6, and then other women who have progressed to size 20 + who aren’t healthy and it’s about figuring that out.

Tamsin: Do you have any guidance for young women that are struggling with their self esteem?

Gok: young people get mixed messages about acting as a child and then acting like an adult. It’s about kids that age understanding they are still children and developing but they are also young adults. If you were to teach kids politics and social issues younger they would develop their own opinions sooner.

Catherine: We noticed that you had a lot of young people coming to see you today…

Gok: yes, I seem to have a younger fan base of the geeky kids and the kids that standout, that are more unique, they are really bright and clever and develop their own opinions. I would say to a young person, develop your own opinions, truly believe in what is right and wrong and stand up for that and be committed to it. 

Catherine: As a 40+ blogger, I get a lot of comments from women that get to that age and then feel like they have to start dressing like a frump! What do you think is a key message for women when they get to that age?

Gok: We’ve done research with women of that age, I call it a second puberty, when women have brought up their family etc and are left wondering who they really are. A lot of the issues where women feel like they need to fit into age roles comes from films and even theatre, setting out roles and expectations and we need to remember that those are fairy tales! I would say to any woman over 40, stop trying to being a character of what you think you should be, and instead be who you want to be. If you’ve worked very hard to get to this stage you should have confidence in your own personal branding, whatever you want to be, don’t be the dream of someone else, whether that is from a magazine or a movie. Just be you! 

KHGS: Connected to that, one of the questions I wanted to ask you was that whenever I mentioned to anyone I was going to meet you the reaction is always positive, everyone just loves you!  You always come across on TV exactly as you do in person, do you have any tips for being able to stay true to yourself and your personal branding?

Gok: I would say my personality is most definitely polarised when I’m at work, with friends it’s a lot more conversational! I never wanted to be anything different on television. I had a massive argument with a TV exec who wanted me to slag this bird off basically, I said to myself, I didn’t want to have that job and be something I wasn’t. I’ve remembered that my whole career, whenever I get into a position where I’m doing something that might not be right, I ask myself should I really be doing this? Does this feel right?  It’s an instinctual thing too, some times I f**k up, some times I get it wrong and sometimes I completely bolt in the opposite direction when I should do it, but then you can’t always get it right, but at least I’m respecting who I am.

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Dannii: Going back to positive body image…when I was heavier I hated the way I looked, but I wish I hadn’t. Now I encourage people you to love yourself at any size. But when I say that, some people day that is encouraging obesity and being unhealthy, which I completely disagree with, what would you say to those people?

Gok: I think it’s a language thing really, for example, let’s say I’m saying I am promoting home help – people helping out at home with meals etc – is that at the same time taking away the independence of older people? Promoting loving your body at any size is not the same as promoting that people eat loads of doughnuts and smoke a load of fags. You are saying that actually, my story has lead me to believe that if I had loved myself, by body would have appreciated that and found its own way. I feel the same, I didn’t despise myself at 21 stone, I’m the same person I am today now, I just wasn’t healthy and I probably would have died earlier and wouldn’t have had the same opportunities I’ve had, being at that size. Unless you’ve been that size it’s something you can’t really comprehend and of course we shouldn’t be promoting obesity because that’s a health thing, but we also shouldn’t be saying to an overweight child, woman or man that they are a bad person because they are. if you love yourself first, you will work the rest of it out yourself.

Dannii: It’s just like people thinking health is a size. Some people think that a size 14 is an unhealthy size and deem that as being overweight.

Gok: I think that is a really ignorant way to look at a sizing system, I work in fashion and I know a block size 14 is literally a block of wood used to cut fabric on, it’s not a real woman’s body. All bodies come in different shapes and sizes. People that say that are probably at the gym 12 times a week! It’s unrealistic. Here’s another argument, come with me to certain parts of Africa and China where people genetically are bigger, it depends entirely on the persons body. You can’t base it all on a block of wood in some factory. 

Catherine: It’s like with Rugby players and BMI, now we are thinking of Rugby players!

Gok: BMI is like a general stat system like average house prices, if everything was average, well we couldn’t live like that!

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Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon!

As I discussed with Gok, I think that what the media seems to indicate as a healthy size is at odds with the reality. The conversation we had about a healthy size and people’s perceptions of that was very interesting and Gok had some great words of wisdom for us there! 

What are your thoughts on a healthy size? Do you think that the perception (within magazines, television etc) of what is actually healthy is different to the reality? What do you think about BMI as a measure of this?