‘The sooner our government becomes more diverse, the better’
Kitty Underhill is an actress, model, TV show panellist and your new feminist icon. Seen on The Rosies, the feminist chat show on Brighton’s Latest TV as well as in the incredible Neon Moon modelling campaign. Bjournal spoke to Kitty to find out more about her gateway into modelling and the most important issues she thinks are facing women in the UK today.
Tell us about yourself
Ooh, where to start! So I’m an inbetweenie model, actress and body positivity advocate based in Brighton. I grew up in Muswell Hill, North London, and moved to Brighton for university. I studied Applied Psychology and Sociology at the University of Brighton and I’ve been living here ever since I graduated. I’m also a Bagelman and dog enthusiast.
How did you get into modelling?
I actually got into modelling by mistake! When I first got to university I was trying to find acting jobs where I could. I became acquainted with an awesome management team called YehBwoy Entertainment and saw they were looking for ‘models’ for a music video for their artist, GTSolo. I put myself forward as, although I didn’t consider myself a model in the slightest, I thought it would be a good addition to my show reel. I threw myself into the deep end – I didn’t know anyone, I was nervous, and I had never done anything like that before. Despite my worries I had a great time filming, and as a result of the video they asked me to be a model for their range of tshirts.
I had never considered modelling as I was always so self conscious of my body and, as a curvier girl, thought I didn’t have a place in the industry. It was so odd to me that they even asked! But I went to the shoot, and although I was stiff at first and had no clue what I was doing, I soon got into the swing of it and absolutely loved it. For the first time I actually felt confident in my body. And from then on I knew it was something that I had to do. I began setting up casting profiles and getting in contact with photographers to do photoshoots, and creating contacts in the creative industry via Twitter. And the rest, as they say, is history! It still feels so surreal calling myself a model and I still get somewhat sheepish when people ask me what I do as it doesn’t feel real. But it is, and I love what I do; I can’t wait to see what’s next in store for me.
What made you decide you wanted to act?
Acting has been a passion of mine ever since I can remember. As a teen I had a lot of inner struggles and I found acting to be cathartic; I found solace in acting when I had nowhere else to turn. Those moments I was on stage I forgot everything and could lose myself in new characters and be someone completely different from myself. It gave me confidence when I had none. This feeling has stuck with me ever since I started acting. I want to act because I love the feeling of being on stage and on camera, and I love delving into characters so different from me, creating and finding out what’s inside their head and translating that on stage or on film.
What’s been your favourite project, acting or modelling, so far?
My favourite project that I have been involved with so far has to be my work with Neon Moon. Neon Moon is a feminist lingerie brand which is made by women, for women. It is anti-objectification, anti-body shaming and anti-sweatshop, so its feminist principles filter all the way through the company. Even on the measurements section, sizes are not in terms of numbers but are categorised as ‘Lovely’, ‘Gorgeous’ and ‘Beautiful’. I got in contact with their CEO, Hayat Rachi, after I saw she was looking for models and I was lucky enough to get the job! I was nervous about doing this shoot because, of course, it involved me being in my lingerie.
As someone who has struggled with terrible body image and low self confidence pretty much my whole life, I knew this was going to be a challenge for me. It ended up being one of the most empowering, wonderful experiences of my life, not just my career. It was not only an incredible job to have, but it was a marker of how far I had come on my journey toward body positivity. Instead of pointing out all my flaws when I saw the pictures I rejoiced in feeling happy, healthy and beautiful in my own body. I’ve gone on to work with Neon Moon by modelling in their anti-transphobia and anti-body shaming campaign, aiming to fight against transphobia and body shaming through awareness. It’s been such a privilege working with a brand which embodies so many principles I feel passionately for.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to go into modelling or acting?
Have confidence in yourself and believe in your abilities. Shut down that voice that tells you you can’t do it. And take yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s amazing how much you achieve when you believe in yourself and just put yourself out there. It’s nerve wracking but it is so worth it. I will also say that if you are planning on going into modelling or acting, learn how to take rejection and how to look after yourself. Unfortunately, with careers like these, it certainly isn’t smooth sailing and rejection is a huge part of it. But this can also result in you beating yourself up, and feeling like you’re not good enough or worthless – nothing can be further from the truth. You are more than good enough, you are not worthless. As time goes on rejection is like water off a duck’s back, but whilst you get used to that, learn to care for yourself, body and mind, in a way that suits you and builds yourself up. Keep going; you got this!
How did you come to become a panellist on The Rosies?
I became a panelist on The Rosies thanks to the glorious Jessica Kellgren-Hayes. She and I were in the same drama society at Brighton University, and became friends as a result. After I graduated, she contacted me about an idea she had about a feminist panel show and asked me if I wanted to be a panelist. I couldn’t believe it! As a passionate feminist I thought it was a great idea – there has yet to be a feminist panel show on television until now. I seized the opportunity and we have been running since September, and we’ve even got a second series on the way!
What do you think is one of the most important challenges facing feminism in the UK today?
In the UK specifically, I’d say one of the most important challenges facing feminism in the UK is the lack of representation in parliament. There are 191 female members of Parliament compared to 459 male members. Parliament’s ethnic diversity is even more laughable; only 42 members of parliament currently are non-white, compared to 590 white members. Only 18 members are women of colour. There are no trans members of parliament, and you can count the amount of disabled MPs on one hand. This lack of representation means that ultimately, issues that face these groups lie in the fate of cisgendered white men, who will never understand said issues or be able to properly empathise due to cis, white, male privilege. We can see this in so many levels in this country – we still have a tax on tampons because, according to parliament, items to stop those who have periods bleeding everywhere are a luxury, but apparently kangaroo and crocodile meat aren’t luxuries at all.
The lack of humanity in the wake of the refugee crisis on the part of the UK government shows further lack of intersectionality in this country’s politics. David Cameron has reduced refugees to ‘a bunch of migrants’ and their inaction is, as Oxfam so brilliantly put it, ‘lack-lustre at best, mean spirited at worst’. Such a lack of empathy is, quite frankly, disturbing and abhorrent, and shows what happens when the fate of ethnic minorities looking for safety is in the hands of a white, upper class men. It is also due to such privilege that too many disabled people have died after being found to be ‘fit for work’; at one point you were more likely to die in the UK from being declared fit for work than murdered.
The problem is that our government has been a white boy’s club for such a long period of time that oppressed groups don’t feel like it’s their place; it’s discouraging when you don’t see people like yourself represented in positions of power. Plus research has shown that both these groups have been made to feel unwelcome when they do try to work in politics, due to pervasive sexism, racism and ableism. We need more schemes to encourage minority groups to get involved in politics, and for such groups to be taught that their voices are important, essential, and need to be heard. The sooner our government becomes more diverse, the better.
You describe yourself as an Intersectional Feminist- what does that mean?
Being an intersectional feminist means acknowledging that women experience oppression in different ways and that these experiences of oppression are interrelated. For example, white women’s experiences will completely differ from the experiences of black women, as white women benefit from white privilege, whereas black women do not. Trans women will also experience oppression in a much different way to cisgender women. Able bodied women will not experience the same kind of oppression as disabled women. And so forth. Intersectional feminism means acknowledging these intersections, rather than assuming feminism is purely ‘one size fits all’. It is feminism which includes all women.
Finally, what is your favourite thing about Brighton?
My favourite thing about Brighton is the vibe. As a Londoner I am used to people keeping to themselves, generally being standoffish, and the general hostility of the place. Brighton is so friendly, and everyone is free to be whoever they want to be.
You can follow Kitty on Twitter.