The people making a difference: the man who made blokes strip off and feel good about themselves | Men


Paul Goddard was susceptible to peer pressure growing up. “To try and fit in I’d commit crimes with the other guys who were older than me,” he says. “Shoplifting, stealing cars. I was a bit of a turd, to be honest.” He grew up in Newton Heath, Manchester, a post-industrial community that ranks highly in the nationwide index for deprivation. “I didn’t have much choice,” Goddard says. “Commit crime to be one of the boys, or sit alone in my room all day?”

Goddard, who is now 39 and works in promotions and marketing in Manchester, struggled with his mental health throughout his teens. His father wasn’t around and he lacked a male role model. “There was this demon inside me,” he says. “I hated the world. No one was there for me. It made me into a pretty bad person for a while.”

When he was 15, he had his first panic attack. “I was smoking some weed, and I panicked. I fell through a glass table and went out cold. I still have a scar.” For the next year and a half, he felt depressed almost every day. “I’d ring ambulances all the time,” Goddard says, “because I thought I was dying. Everyone could see I was a mess.”

His is not a story of sudden reversal. He worked on his mental health for many years, and in his early 30s, slowly started to feel more settled, partly because his career in security for films and TV programmes helped build his self-esteem. “It did loads for my confidence,” he says. “I put my focus into becoming a better man and being more stable mentally.”

Goddard started to think about why so many people struggle with their self-worth, and about how he felt about his body. The year before, he had been going to the gym regularly and felt really good about himself. But then he injured his wrist while boxing, and wasn’t able to train any more. He gained weight, and began to feel worse.

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“We all feel pressure from social media,” he says. “Men have to have a six-pack and a tan.” In September 2021, Goddard was walking down the street when an idea popped into his head. “I thought, why not do a dad bod calendar, to raise awareness of mental health?” He is himself the proud owner of a dad bod, he says. “I do have a bit of a belly. I’d say I’m pretty average.”

The next step was to recruit some willing dads to his initiative. Understandably, persuading men to strip off for the camera was a tall order. He put a post on Facebook, and men initially volunteered, but as the shoot approached, they got cold feet and backed out.

Eventually, he managed to corral enough men, and God Bods 2022 was shot in the basement of a central Manchester bar.

“I wanted it to look seedy,” says Goddard. He was the project manager, photographer, editor and designer, as well as a model. “We had men from all different walks of life,” he says. “A married gay couple. Some brothers. A pipe fitter. A construction manager. Someone who works in a museum. A proper mixed bag.

We all just went for it – a load of naked guys in a basement. It was quite a moment.”

Jollity aside, the calendar had a serious purpose. “People are so controlled and gripped by this peer pressure,” says Goddard. “They’re told what to do and how to feel, and it can build up to them harming themself, or someone else.” He wants those who buy the calendar to realise that “anyone can have that sexy feeling”, he says. “The average bloke who has a bit of a belly on them, or dodgy teeth. They can still feel sexy and appealing, even if the world doesn’t see them that way.”

Barry Lester was one of Goddard’s models. “The reason I got involved is because I’ve suffered with my own mental health,” he says. “I felt really proud. It gave me so much confidence.”

The success of the calendar has inspired men to share their experiences regarding body image. “Guys reach out to me and ask what they can do to boost their confidence levels,” Goddard says, “or to deal with their anxiety. I always tell them to get professional help.”

Goddard with his new camera
Goddard with his new camera, courtesy of Canon. Photograph: Alicia Canter/the Guardian

Goddard is hoping to set up a mental health initiative called Petal of the Mind, and to film and share content on social media to raise awareness. But he doesn’t have any equipment. Which is where the Guardian Angel team gets involved, and the camera company Canon kindly agree to provide him with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, to shoot and produce video content.

“The camera means a lot to me,” he says. “Now I can produce films about mental health. I’m going to put out as much stuff as I can.” He may even do another nude calendar, he jokes, only in higher resolution. And with that, an unlikely calendar model moves on to bigger and bolder projects.

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