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Out of the box: Megan Prescott on Skins, bodybuilding and busting gender roles

Megan Prescott discusses her experiences of gender inequality, public scrutiny and subverting stereotypes as a young actress, writer and competitive bodybuilder.

Credit: Megan Prescott

Megan Prescott is an actress best known for playing Katie Finch in the BAFTA-winning teen drama ‘Skins’. She works as a writer at Balloon Entertainment and began training as a bodybuilder in 2015, competing in The UKBFF British Finals in October 2016.

Niki Seth-Smith: You said that you’ve never been subject to the feeling of gender inequality as much as in the last two years in the bodybuilding industry. Could you speak a bit about that, in practical terms?

Megan Prescott: I felt it a lot when I first started getting into training because obviously when you first step into a gym you’re not bulked up. I think people feel like it’s a woman intruding on a man’s domain. The only way they can deal with that is if they ‘teach you how to do it properly’, even when you don’t ask them. 

The UKBFF (United Kingdom Bodybuilding and Fitness Federation) category I entered is the least muscular category you can enter. It’s called bikini fitness. A lot of bodybuilders  –  guys and also the women bodybuilders, the higher level ones, the more muscular ones – don’t take that category seriously, because a lot of people think it’s just skinny girls with a little bit of muscle in bikinis looking pretty. I went in there with the mindset to change that view. It’s different amounts of food and different amounts of cardio than the more muscular categories but it’s still a science and it’s still hard work and it still takes over your whole life.

The funny thing is, when you say you’re more bikini fitness, some people don’t take that seriously. But then when you say maybe I will try and do a higher category and be more muscular, the first thing everybody says is, ‘oh but don’t get too muscular, that looks gross!’. So, we can’t win really. 

Credit: The Mirror

NSS: I’m interested in the fact that you seem to be most well known for your role in Skins and that character was quite ‘girly’. What do you make of the apparent surprise or fascination (see articles in The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail) with what they present as your ‘transformation’ to then becoming a bodybuilder? 

MP: The role that I was playing was probably considered quite ‘girly’ by a lot of people, in that her mum’s a wedding planner and the first thing she does is join her mum in the wedding planning, when if it was me I would join the dad in the gym training. It’s quite funny that in real life I went off and did the gym stuff.

The other thing that was quite interesting was that all of a sudden everyone thought I had given up acting and I was a bodybuilder now. People can’t deal with you not being in a box and staying there. I found it fascinating that all the articles about me, every single one, mentioned that I ‘had given up acting and was pursuing a fitness career’. Whereas, thousands of people train in their spare time, it doesn’t mean that is all they do! I was always writing and acting and I’m still writing and acting now but I just train on the side. 

I really expected a backlash when I started bodybuilding. Really surprisingly, I got more stick when I was acting full time. Of course on every photo I post where it’s a muscular picture, people say ‘where have your tits gone?’ or ‘you look like a man’. Little people with little minds.  I get some insulting stuff but nowhere near as much as I thought I would, so that makes me quite happy.

Credit: Megan Prescott

 NSS: Do you have mentors that have supported you in your career?

 MP: As far as role models are concerned it’s more the women that I’ve grown up with, the girls that I was on Skins with a lot of the time. [Actress] Kaya Scodelario [Skins, Wuthering Heights, The Maze Runner], she’s really successful now, and she’s just had a baby. I’ve stayed in contact with her and we’ve been good friends since Skins. She’s 24 now, she’s very young, but she has this amazing career and she’s made a human! She just refuses to let society (or anyone else) tell her what she should or shouldn’t be doing. Also [screenwriter] Emily Silver [Finding Carter, Bones] I met with her and she taught me a lot about writing and I’m hopefully going to go and work with her in America in the near future. Again, she’s a woman who has not accepted ‘no’.

Kaya Scodelario. Credit: EMPICS Entertainment

NSS: How would you compare the experience of gender inequality as an actress – considered a ‘normal’ role for a woman, and the experiences you’ve had in a role that’s considered to be ‘unusual’?

MP: So, when I was acting before, you get asked, ‘Are you thin enough? Do you have the right look? Do you look too urban?’. And then, when you turn around and say I’m going to do weight training, then you get the resistance of, ‘that’s not really for you. You’re an actress, aren’t you worried about getting too bulky for roles?’ The problem isn’t with whether what we choose to do is considered womanly or manly, I think the problem is people not liking women choosing what they want.  

NSS: I wondered if you’d seen the case of the Olympic runner, Caster Semenya? Her status as a woman was questioned, and she was temporarily barred from competing and subjected to testing related to her testosterone levels.

MP: So they saw a woman that looked pretty masculine and said, ‘we need to test whether you have a low enough level of testosterone to be considered a woman?!’ 

NSS: In a way, yes. 

MP: That stuns me. I find that ridiculous. It’s like, ‘this woman is doing really well, let’s find something that we can attribute it to.’ Maybe she has slightly higher levels of testosterone but I’m sure there are many people out there that have different levels of testosterone. The fact that she has naturally higher levels of testosterone does nothing to take away from the fact that she must train ALL DAY EVERYDAY for her sport. Another person with the same testosterone levels who half-arsed their training would not beat her. It comes down to people finding any reason to undermine a woman’s success. 

Caster Semenya of South Africa at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Credit: Michael Kappeler DPA/PA Images

NSS: What are your plans for the future? 

MP: I’m currently working on a series of short films with my Skins co-stars Klariza Clayton (‘Misfits’, ‘Lovesick’, ‘Bloodmoney’) as producer and playing the lead role. Lily Loveless (‘Fear of Water’, ‘Cuffs’, ‘The Musketeers’) will also star in these. The series will involve issues such as Sexual Harassment, Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, Honour Killings, and many other serious problems facing modern women. I am also in the post-production stages of a documentary I have been producing for the past two years following me on my journey to compete in a bodybuilding competition. 

Credit: Megan Prescott

NSS: Having, as you say, grown in confidence, are there any situations, looking back, that you would have dealt with differently? 

MP: So, so many! Now I do bodybuilding, and now that I’m writing and producing as well as acting, I’m taking things into my own hands. I’m not just waiting around for work, or going into a room and being rejected a hundred times a month. I’m creating my own success. 

My whole childhood, my whole teenage years I was so unsure of myself and whether what I was doing was right, and I think people sense that and take advantage of you. Before I had an agent, I would have done work for free, I would have done crappy stuff, rubbish scripts, just to have a shot at showing the world what I could do because I thought that was the only way. But now that am confident in myself, I stick to my guns. I don’t let anyone tell me how or when I should be doing things and so far it’s working out a hell of a lot better! 

Credit: Megan Prescott

About the authors

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist, editor and fiction writer, published in Al Jazeera UK, VICE UK, the London Review of Books, the London Magazine, the New Humanist and others. At openDemocracy she has been Editor at OurKingdom (now oD UK), OurBeeb, and 50.50 (Interim Editor Jan-March 2017) and has co-edited two books: 'Democratic Wealth: Building a Citizens' Economy' and 'Re-thinking the BBC: Public Media in the 21st Century'. She lives in Athens, and is writing a novel.

Megan Prescott is an actress best known for her role in UK teen drama ‘Skins’. She works as a writer at Balloon Entertainment and is a competitive bodybuilder.


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