If there’s one thing Cherry Healey is not, it’s shy. In everything from dating to getting married and even having a baby, Healey has let the cameras and viewers in on the most intimate aspects of her life.
Her new series Sex, Knives and Liposuction deals with a subject close to Healey’s heart: body image, and more specifically, the increasing pressures put upon women to look and act a certain way. In the series Healey follows a group of women as they embark on a quest to gain the “perfect body” through a series of surgical procedures, including everything from breast reduction to bum lifts. All the while she examines her issues with her own body and decides whether to go under the knife herself.
“I think the conclusion I came to in making the show was [that] I would never ever judge…a woman who's having a procedure, because that woman has lived a life that you don't understand…and has made that choice for reasons you don't see” says Healey.
While making the show, Healey found herself in several weird and sometimes gruesome situations. The first episode sees Healey in an operating theatre as one of the show’s participants, Keisha, undergoes a Brazilian Butt Lift, a procedure where fat is extracted from certain parts of the body and reinjected into others to give a more sculpted and curvaceous appearance. Healey can be seen squirming at the blood and gore of the surgery as she is confronted with the stark reality of how far some women will go to get the body of their dreams. It’s invasive and difficult to watch. There is also an element of danger, as women are increasingly travelling abroad to have these operations where the cost is lower, but they don’t always know what they’re getting until they arrive.
For Healey, who has suffered with body image issues from a very young age, this wasn’t the worst experience for her. Filming a sequence of naked yoga, which she participated in, proved to be the biggest challenge, she says. “We talked about it and I thought it was funny and actually on the day all I did was complain and all I did was try and convince them that it was not a good thing to put in the show.”
Healey adds, “I didn't want to take my clothes off in front of other people. It made me feel like a 16-year-old in the changing rooms again.” The director, however, had other ideas, “The director I worked with knows me really well. We've made a couple of things together and she knows that when I'm about to be confronted with something that's a real insecurity, I'm going to try and work it out a bit. That's when you get something real and authentic and good.”
"Stop pretending that we're having this conversation because we're worried about your health and start talking about it in a truthful way”
In her own life, as well as dealing with demons, Healey describes the women she knows have had cosmetic procedures, which were not necessarily for vanity reasons. She feels that women have a duty to fight the notion that they have the right to judge other women’s choices, commenting, “My friend, Mary, had a boob job reduction and wished she'd done it 10 years earlier. I mean, I defy you to take that away from her.”
She adds, “There's enough pitting women against each other…if you've got frustrations, take it out, campaign against the messages society is giving women, telling them that we're not valued for being wise, funny, clever, professional, turning up for work, being a good friend.”
The issue, believes Healey lies both in what society tells women is “perfect” but also, that women need to address how they treat themselves. She advocates a strong position for how much time women should devote to what other people think: none. She knows that this is something that women need to embrace to enact real change in society.
“My sole purpose on Earth is not to be an accessory in your life. I'm not an ornament for you to look at. I'm a mum. I'm a friend. I'm a journalist. I'm doing good things. I make bad decisions, I make good decisions. I'm nothing to do with you. Don't comment on my weight. Don't comment on my boobs. Don't comment on my teeth and it's the same for all women. Stop pretending that we're having this conversation because we're worried about your health and start talking about it in a truthful way.”
As a mother to two young children, Coco and Edward (Bear), Healey has a definite sense of what message she wants to send them about how they value themselves and treat other people, especially her son. “He will be someone’s partner, so I want to make sure he's a good partner. I will love-bomb them, so I send them out into the world completely full of love, so I hope that they don't need to self-medicate with other things because they will be full.” She adds, “I want them to have all the words so that they can express how they feel so nothing is trapped inside them and manifests into something dark and shady…to be able to identify the emotion so you can deal with it. Also, to be fine with being a bit sad.”
Though Healey thinks that the quest for the ideal body, which she has struggled with for years, is ultimately “very boring,” she explains, “it's also a huge trap and it can steal people’s lives.”
She candidly describes a conversation with her therapist, “I remember saying to my therapist when I said I want to deal with [feeling inadequate], ‘I don't want to live like this. It's a waste of my time. I've got better things to be doing and I don't want my daughter to inherit it.’”
She describes how the constant feelings of inadequacy took over her thoughts until she didn’t have room for anything else, “I said to [my therapist], ‘I sometimes get scared about shutting it down because I wonder what I think about.’ That's absolutely bonkers because it being such a big part of who I was.”
She continues, “I slightly wondered who I would be without it.”
Healey is a strong advocate of therapy. It has helped her to see her own worth rather than constantly comparing herself to others. She also acknowledges that the subject of insecurity isn’t broached widely enough between women and that, “so many women live privately in that torture.”
She credits her time in therapy with giving her a more optimistic view on who she is. “Now I think, ‘Don't be silly. You're so great. You've worked really hard, you've got two lovely kids and you look fab. You look fucking great and off we go.’”
Having worked in the television industry for a decade, Healey recognises her luck in being able to make shows on such taboo subjects. “I do feel really lucky with this series because it's very rare that you get such a long series to talk about one subject…I think it's sad how rare it is for there to be programmes that are female-led where you are allowed to ask questions in a layered way.”
Well, if there’s one person who can turn the tide in that regard, it’s Cherry Healey.
Sex, Knives and Liposuction was produced by BBC Studios for UKTV and airs on W Thursdays at 10pm