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‘You need to love yourself no matter what, wobbly bits and all’: One Attitude reader on his relationship with his body

Getting a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes five years ago was the wake-up call 40-year-old Ben Barton needed to make a change in his life.

By Alastair James

Ben Barton for Attitude
Ben Barton for Attitude (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

Do I love my body? I would say I like bits of it. My calves and my arms aren’t bad, and I think I have a nice face. But I struggle with the rest. I used to be about four stone heavier. Even then, I was still confident. I just thought, ‘Fuck it, this is me’ and got on with it. I’ve always had an active social life, enjoyed going out, and never let anything stop me, really. 

If it wasn’t for a health scare, I probably would have stayed the same. When I was about to turn 35, I started to feel very sick; I was tired all the time, and I had dark circles under my eyes. Eventually, I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Suddenly, doctors were telling me I had a disease that could potentially shorten my life. It was a real wake-up call. When I was told I could do something about it, I had to dive in and try my best. I’m a husband and a dad, and I want to be here for my family. 

I was given a diet and exercise plan and I really worked my chubby arse off to shift a lot of weight. I ate less, had better nutrition, and exercised a bit every day, I started walking. Folkestone in Kent is where I live, and we have some of the most beautiful beaches, so I spent hours every day strolling along the coast. I walked to work and back again. Every lunch break, at weekends, 10, 20 miles a day. My calves grew and now they are massive! I also started swimming: I get in the zone and do my 60 lengths.

“I’ve found what exercise works for me, I stick to it,” says Ben Barton (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

Within a year, the diabetes had gone into remission, I’d dropped a good amount of weight, and I felt so much better. It really helped my mental health, too. Switching to a better lifestyle gave me focus and energy. Because I wasn’t so tired, I started to do things I never thought I had time for. 

I work as a writer, mostly for an over-50s holiday company, so I sit on my bum for most of the day. It was easy to eat at my desk while typing away and to not do much else. But for the first time in years, I sent out manuscripts to publishers, and ended up signing a deal to have a new book of poetry out. 

“These past two years there has been a lot of talk about ‘Be Kind’.” (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

Then I was able to finish a sci-fi short film I’d been working on for years in my spare time. Called Stella Erratica, it was one of the final projects David Bowie worked on just before he died. I basically ended up sharing a NASA astronaut suit with the Starman! (I guess by doing Attitude’s Real Bodies feature, I’ve gone from David Bowie’s spacesuit to my birthday suit.)

Before I knew it, I was off to the Cannes Film Festival to premiere my little movie. I’ve been doing much more work as a filmmaker and poet ever since. 

“It’s a process, so learn to love yourself along the way,” says Ben Barton (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

I grew up on the Romney Marsh, at the southern tip of the UK. I loved school and I was a bit of a nerd. I always knew I was ‘different’, too and I remember being around five years old and watching the girls get chased by the boys in the playground and thinking ‘I don’t want to chase girls!’ I wanted the boys to chase me instead.

I got through school, I wasn’t a fat kid; I was average-looking. And I wore glasses and got bullied a bit, but nothing too traumatising. Many got called names for anything that made them stand out. By 15, it was clear that I was gay. I stopped denying it if it was ever weaponised against me. I guess that was my coming out. It wasn’t really a big deal. Looking back, I was very lucky. 

Ben Barton
“If it wasn’t for a health scare, I probably would have stayed the same.” (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

Like many gay boys at secondary school, I hated team sports — all that macho bravado used to terrify me. I was always the boy sat down with my girlfriends, trying to stay out of the way. And I carried that into adulthood. I never joined a gym or played football at the weekends. Being a sporty person just wasn’t in me. Going to a nightclub and partying was about as much working out as I did before I went on my weight-loss journey. Now I’ve found what exercise works for me, I stick to it. 

If I could go back and speak to my younger self I would say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself all the time. Give yourself a break.” I’d encourage myself to be more physically active, to find something that I enjoyed and to not wait to get sick before I did something about it. But I’m not one to dwell or have regrets. 

Ben Barton
“I’m a husband and a dad, and I want to be here for my family,” says Ben Barton (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

I’ve learned to like my body a lot more in recent years. I know I’m still big, but I’m comfortable that I’ll always be on the chunky side. I love pasta and wine too much! 

I’ve been with my husband Scott for 20 years. He has been very supportive; he’s told me he loves me just the way I am, and I believe him. He’s into bigger, burlier guys like me. 

“I’ve been doing much more work as a filmmaker and poet ever since.” (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

As I am about to turn 40, I realise that I’m now a ‘daddy’ (as well as a dad). I was on Instagram before, but when I showed off the changes I was seeing in the mirror, I started to get called ‘cub’ and ‘daddy’. It was all new to me, but it did give me a lot of confidence. I know social media gets a really bad rap, and there is a toxic side to it, but my experience of it has been really positive. I’ve embraced my ‘daddy’ status, and I’m happy to celebrate it.

Being an actual dad has helped as well. Our son, who’s 14, has always been quite sporty — the complete opposite of me. Growing up, he’s dabbled with karate, football and skating. He’s so active and I’m glad I’m able to keep up with him. I probably couldn’t have done that when I was bigger.

Ben Barton
“I started to do things I never thought I had time for,” says Ben Barton (Image: Francisco Gomez de Villaboa)

These past two years there has been a lot of talk about ‘Be Kind’. It seems to be mostly aimed at how you treat others. I think we also need to ‘Be Kind’ to ourselves a bit more. It sounds so corny, but confidence comes from within. I know some people who are super-skinny and others who are really muscular and built — and even they have body hang-ups. It’s like chasing an end goal that doesn’t exist. It’s a process, so learn to love yourself along the way. Of course, you can work on yourself, and be healthier and fitter. But you need to love your body no matter what. Wobbly bits and all. 

This feature first appeared in Attitude issue 347.

Words Ben Barton as told to Alastair James Photography Francisco Gomez de Villaboa