“It’s awkward, it’s embarrassing, but everyone is on the same level,” laugh Jenny Eels and Kat Harbourne, the women behind The Naked Podcast.
The pair strip off with an interviewee just before the podcast conversation begins.
The question, of course, is why?
“When Kat came up with the idea, I forced her to do it. I thought it was brilliant and bold being naked,” says Jenny.
“I guess we wanted to see if, without clothing, do people literally reveal all? Do people speak more openly?
“From the ladies we’ve spoken to, they absolutely, most definitely do.”
Jenny chips in: “People have been so open and totally honest – that is what flabbergasted me. It’s caught my breath, it’s been actually quite emotional in that respect.”
The daring duo were keen to explore issues surrounding body image and nudity for their podcast, which is released by BBC Radio Sheffield, where they are both reporters.
There will be 10 episodes in the series, and Radio Sheffield is running a number of stories about body image and identity this week to tie in.
Kat says the podcast was personal for her. “For me, one of the things was that we’re both now in in our 30s, and women especially spend a long time wanting to change their bodies, to get thinner, to get fitter, to get a better tan, to have curly hair or straight hair,” she says.
‘Breaking the cycle of negative self image’
“It struck me what a massive waste of time this was.
“If I look back at a photo of myself years ago, I think, ‘Wow, I looked brilliant.’ But at the time, I thought I looked fat or ugly or not quite right.
“Imagine if we spoke to ordinary women about ordinary struggles, to see if somehow we can break the cycle of negative self image, not just for ourselves but for other women?”
They admit getting naked for an interview “isn’t everybody’s cup of tea”. But then “you relax a bit and there’s a real trust, because to get naked with someone is quite a big deal”.
It didn’t deter their guests, who include a life model, a self-proclaimed “poo lady” with inflammatory bowel disease and an ostomy bag, and a Muslim woman who said the first naked person she saw was her husband, after they got married.
“A lot of the stories we heard we only found out because we did the podcast,” adds Kat.
One of the saddest things to emerge was how many of the women were “down on themselves and their bodies”, says Kat.
“It really surprised me – I thought, we’re sitting with strong, powerful intelligent, funny women. But I heard just how many negative things they’ve said to themselves.”
Jenny is quick to add that there were some “hilarious” moments too, including them asking the women what name they gave to their “bits” when they were younger.
“One of the funniest was ‘foof’,” she says with a roar of laughter.
But one serious issue to continually emerge was the impact parents can have on their children’s body image.
“A number of women we spoke to talked about the impact of their mums being on diets, staring in the mirror saying ‘I’m fat today’ and ‘I need to lose weight’ – they grew up thinking that’s what women did,” says Kat.
Jenny adds: “One lady said the fact her mum was constantly on a diet shaped how she felt about her body growing up, and acceptance of how she looked.”
Diets and body confidence come up quite a lot during the podcasts.
‘Her mum slapped her’
Kat speaks movingly about life drawing model Alison, who was one of their guests and who talked about growing up in a strict religious household, where subjects like sex were never discussed.
“She came downstairs as a child to tell her mum she’d started her period, and her mum slapped her, saying, ‘We don’t talk about things like that’.”
Alison didn’t get an apology until many years later, when her mother was on her deathbed.
“Afterwards, Alison said, ‘I hadn’t thought about that in so long.’ It came back to her in our conversation,” Jenny adds.
These revealing conversations take place either in Jenny or Kat’s homes, or somewhere the interviewees find comfortable, such as in an art studio for Alison.
“Every woman has said, within five minutes of us talking, ‘You forget you’re naked’,” laughs Jenny, adding that everyone said they found the experience incredibly “positive”.
While people also strip off for TV shows like Naked Attraction, How to Look Good Naked and The Full Monty, Kat says those programmes “treat nudity as a shock tactic, to get you scrutinising other people’s bodies”.
Instead, she says their podcast conversations are about “empowerment”. She says: “It’s audio only, so you’re not distracted by what you’re looking at – it’s very intimate.”
And for Jenny and Kat, it has been life-changing.
“We started this about a year ago, and I now feel about 100% better about my own body from doing this,” says Jenny.
Kat has been transformed by the experience, saying although it was “really hard” stripping off, she feels “so strong and happy and powerful”.
‘Waste of time thinking we’re fat’
“One of the reasons for doing the podcast is my mum had Huntington’s disease and died when she was 54. It’s a genetic condition and I’ve got a 50% chance of getting it. I’ve not had the test.
“It makes you think – nobody knows what is to come in the future and we could walk outside and be hit by a bus. Anything can happen.
“It’s such a waste of time thinking we’re fat when actually our bodies are in perfect working order.
“Now I get home and stand in front of the mirror naked, and it’s made me realise I’m a lot more capable of doing things I didn’t think I could do. The messages I tell myself aren’t always true.”
Last weekend, she ran her first half-marathon.
“I never ever thought I’d be able to do that.
“But through speaking to these women and hearing their achievements, this shared conversation made me go, whatever we tell ourselves we can do, we can be positive, we can help ourselves, we can help other people.”