You finish school and are told that your school days are the best days of your life. You graduate university and are told the same again; you've just finished the best few years of your life. After all, it's a lot easier rolling downhill for the rest of your life than standing at the bottom of a hill and seeing the incline ahead.
For Henry Stockdale at PRM Models, his formative years allowed him to appreciate the realities of growing up and start the steady climb to satisfaction with himself. Having just finished university, he pops into the Boys by Girls office to reflect over his experiences with education, and the ups and downs of life at school. Driven by a passion to learn, Henry opens his own book and reveals the depths of it's folds in this extensive and exclusive interview. More grounded than the familiar cross country route of his past as a long distance runner, he offloads the thoughts that are racing around his head.
Our Model Stories are more than simply asking a model his favourite colour; sometimes our chats can be helpful, allowing boys who are often just seen on the surface to dive beneath the (albeit beautiful) ripples. By looking into the past and expressing your thoughts, it becomes easier to move on to the next stage of your life. Step by step, one foot in front of another. After all, as Freud said, being entirely honest with oneself is good exercise.
You studied Philosophy at university, didn't you?
Yes, but I'm not going to graduation. I have kind of departed from thinking about university altogether. I had lost my passion for Philosophy a bit, but in spending a month in Milan away from it I realised how much I really love it - need it even. When you're embroiled in an institution, the fulfilling of the tasks within it gets to the stage after ten years of doing exams every summer, when the mysticism and wonder of the subject you're studying suddenly gets lost within the schema. During A Levels I worked so hard for them, because it was everything at that stage, but university exams just didn't motivate me to work and I resented the whole process.
Tell me about your experience of school.
I was very fortunate when I grew up, I went to a private school from a very young age and was lucky enough to get a scholarship to continue in private school. For a long period of time I lived in a very small world at a boarding school on top of a hill. A lot of people get to 18 and are particularly chuffed with the person they are, but I really wasn't very satisfied with the person I had become in the environment I was in. I grew up in a school where tons of kids had everything, but no real sort of perspective; there were two, maybe three, openly gay people out of 800, which is a statistical improbability.
Yes. At the time it didn't mean anything to me, but now I think it's very sad that you can be in a world that is so inherently privileged, but one that only privileges the White Anglo-Saxon straight male - it subjugates anything far beyond that or in between. I've come to love the place I'm in now, which is where my friends are allowed to be who they are. That's really important in terms of education, because I've learnt so much more about people from spending time with people in an educational system, than from the system itself.
That's the difference between school and university I guess; in one you're forced to spend time with people, whereas the other it's a lot easier to be isolated.
Definitely, that train of thought is exactly what made me only apply to universities in London. Not because only London universities fulfil that, but because I had lived in such a small world and yearned for something so much bigger. I saw London as the place with the most amount of variance amongst individuals, and I needed that.
You mentioned your interest in Gender Studies in our chat earlier. Talking of diversity, do you feel that gender fluidity is merely fashionable - as much as I hate saying that - as a 'hot topic', or is the acceptance here to stay?
Gender is a very interesting thing to talk about, and I've enjoyed writing about it philosophically. But philosophical literature is dense, and even though I really enjoyed it, it's a topic that was embroiled in a medium that hasn't been accessible to everyone.
Have you read Judith Butler?
Yeah, seminal work. It's great that it's part of the popular rhetoric in progressive institutions and so important that it's creating a free society for those who identify off the rubric or who reject the rubric. I find it complex, but in terms of my own gender, I've become really interested lately in thinking of myself as a gendered person. It sounds odd, but in this industry one becomes interested in oneself and why it is that others are interested in you. In Vanity Fair magazine, Donatella Versace was asked; 'what is it you like in your male models?' and she said: 'cleavage'. I thought that was fascinating and totally what I'm about; I really like straddling the grey area between heavy masculinity and femininity - that furrowed and developed muscular chest being simultaneously reminiscent of quintessential female traits. I find myself being more comfortable in that ambiguity than I do either as a feminine person or a masculine person - I am not blokey and I'm far more comfortable in an environment that is more sensitive and empathetic and emotional. I don't know how I would have felt about that quote prior to meeting Donatella, but spending time privy to the creative process behind one of her shows, I do think that she's a deeply thoughtful person with the creative orientation of her brand as her priority, rather than the success of it.
I feel that any exaggeration, like that hyper-masculinity, is often seen as ridiculous on the surface, but on a deeper level it is actually intentionally ridiculing what it is presenting on the surface. A piss-take of gender - drag, for instance.
Totally, I think that cis-white males who dress in a way to ridicules femininity somewhat do a disservice to legitimate identity, but I agree with you that it's as right as any other walk of life. So I guess fundamentally it's about sensitivity and awareness of oneself within a world which is gendered.
Do you feel that the modelling industry has made you more aware of gender and its outward appearance?
Modelling hasn't made me think about it, but being a model and interacting with people who knew me prior to it has been interesting. I come from a small village in East Midlands, the kind of place where there are no gay people in the village. My family have lived there for hundreds of years and suddenly I'm not living a life which fits the schema, and that has been funny. 'When are you gonna get a haircut?' or 'It's fine, he's enjoying it, it's just a phase' - well obviously, I'm never gonna do something I'm not enjoying, but this is more than a 'phase'; this is me doing me now. I'm 22 in London. I don't consciously identify this as a phase, but I'm also aware that like everyone else I change throughout my life.
How do you express yourself?
I write my thoughts and ruminations down. I think that whenever anyone writes anything down, even if it's just to yourself, you unconsciously write it with the intention to be read. Maybe as we grow up we write things to be assessed in school, but when you write your thoughts and feelings you give them a shape and a colour, and that's a sharing experience, even if it's just you who'll read it. So often when I write something down or talk about how I feel, I then know how I feel - otherwise it can get lost in the stress and mental junk. You have to single them out for your own sanity.
Do you feel London is particularly aware of reception and audience?
Yeah, I feel that the Other is a huge part of one's identity and in a place where there are tons of people, weirdly I feel that you are forced to think about yourself. You can spend weeks in London in crowds and feel deeply alone, and then go home and be in a field with no-one there and feel far less lonely. You're reminded of how atomised you are, you walk through London Bridge and become so aware that you are just a small constituent part of a massive whirling system; transport system, business district, the whole thing.
I stopped for a second in Waterloo Station the other day and it was terrifying the amount of people who passed.
It is scary. I don't know why I wanted to live in London in the first place, and I don't know why I still want to be here, because I don't think it's very good for me. You're so alone, yet surrounded by people; you feel very aware of your self image, because there are so many people to witness it and you can't help but think about it. Throw into the mix a profession based entirely on the reception of yourself, it's very hard to not think about yourself. The profound psychological effect of this industry hits me after having a team of people look at me all day, a day entirely about the way I appear, and I'd be lying if I didn't leave the shoot on these days and walk down the street and think 'why aren't people looking at me?' At that moment, I'm heavily creeped out by that. You can see how it lends itself to self-worship, so I've had a lot of showers at the end of the day where I take the time to think about other people. It's a lot of sitting on benches by myself. Exercise helps, because it gives me time to be alone and have a purpose, and results in a chemical euphoria when I feel good and don't have to think about it. I just have the feeling of goodness without thinking about why.
You also told me you were a distance runner?
When I grew up, I did cross country at school from when I was ten years old. I was made to run - you don't decide many things when you're ten. I was always the biggest and the strongest boy in my school and then I was suddenly the one who could run for the longest. We had a very passionate coach and had to run three times a week before lunch, just five of us. We'd go to all the events and finish top five every time, but it didn't come without it's challenges. At the age of 12, I had an eating disorder and was hospitalised for two and a half months because of it. We were constantly pushed further, and didn't lose rugby games ever. We were just exceptionally good, but we weren't - we were just pushed. It drove me really mad. I was in a situation of absolute peril and loss of control, and found myself retaining control in a very self-deprecating fashion. Ever since, I've had a real appreciation for health and the mental aspect of it too. I'm still a very compulsive person, but I've never been physically ill again.
It's seen as more of a 'female illness', for boys it's more unrealised.
Yes, there was a stage when it was being advertised that the male equivalent of anorexia is 'manorexia', which of course is just ridiculous. To say anorexia is about girls wanting to be skinny or models, or for it to be a girl thing or a guy thing or any kind of thing other than a thing of control, is to miss the point. It's a mental illness born out of a psychological reaction to needing control in a situation where there is none.
Do you feel that the industry puts pressure on you?
I've never been asked to lose weight, I've only been asked to gain weight. I feel that I can take things less seriously, because I'm a bit older and have a degree and my friends aren't friends with me because I'm a model, but for other reasons. I only have three friends who are models; they model, but they are not 'models'. I didn't enter the industry on my own terms and I won't leave it on my own terms - there'll be one day when I turn up and someone won't like me and I probably won't be invited back, but if you come to terms with that then it's fine.
Interview and words by Jonny Clowes.