Dr Luke Evans MP: ‘I always wanted to look good, but social media has warped reality’

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Dr Luke Evans - John Robertson
Dr Luke Evans - John Robertson

Luke Evans is squirming at the notion of being labelled one of Britain’s “hottest” politicians. The GP-turned-Tory-heartthrob has won legions of admirers on social media, where he frequently shares his photographs.

He’s even earned the nickname “Dr Luke Heaven” thanks to his “chiselled chin and ruffled dark hair” (according to fans). A topless Instagram picture showing Evans’s equally attractive blonde wife trimming his hair in their garden during lockdown went viral, seemingly contradicting the notion that politics is “showbusiness for ugly people”.

As one of the only MPs to have fully embraced TikTok, where his videos have been liked by nearly 300,000 people, the 39-year-old is arguably better placed than most to campaign on the issue of body image.

In PMQs, Evans asked Boris Johnson to back his campaign to stop companies altering images to give a more favourable impression of body image – because of the impact this can have on mental health. He told the house that 1.25 million people suffer with eating disorders and one million people are using steroids, before confirming that 84 MPs from seven different parties have signed a supportive letter calling for companies, brands and charities to sign up to the Body Image Pledge (a voluntary commitment to not digitally manipulate body proportions). The PM commended Evans on his campaign.

After months of lobbying, the MP for Hinckley and Bosworth now appears close to persuading the Government to recognise the issue of body image in UK law for the first time.

But has Evans ever felt personally “objectified” by the coverage of his impressive pectoral muscles, eclipsing his policy ideas, I wonder?

Evans lets out an embarrassed laugh. “I find it a strange place to be, people generating stories about the way you look, rather than what you do,” he says. “There are merits to being able to use that as leverage, but you do become the story instead of the issue you are dealing with. The end goal is what you’re trying to deliver – that’s the key. If my appearance happens to be a part of that, then I know I’m going to get questioned about it.”

Dorset-born Evans, the son of a GP father and a nurse mother, started campaigning on the body image issue as soon as he won his safe Leicestershire seat at the 2019 general election – six months after marrying fellow GP Dr Charlotte March, whom he met studying medicine at Birmingham University. The quest came after treating increasing numbers of young people with body dysmorphia – not just female patients, but men too.

“In my surgery I was seeing a lot of young men asking for prescriptions to bulk up, as well as a lot of young women concerned about their weight, their shape and what they ‘should’ look like,” he says, blaming social media for creating a “warped sense of reality that doesn’t exist”.

“The peer pressure that people felt when looking at their friends’ images, added to images of celebrities as well… they simply weren’t able to climb that mountain,” he says. If they were a healthy size 12 or 14, they were disappointed at not being a size six. The curvier women, the Nicki Minajs of this world, also caused problems. “They’d say: ‘These celebrities are curvy, but not in the way in which I’m curvy’.”

Evans cites statistics which suggest one in three teens and one in five adults feel ashamed of their body. “I grew up in the times of Baywatch and Gladiators,” he says. “I always thought – if I had the right diet and worked out at the gym – I could get there. I played a lot of rugby. I always wanted to look good when I went to the gym and then on the beach. But the world is different to how it was when I was younger. Now, even if you did all that stuff, you still couldn’t replicate the images that are on social media. That is a big worry.”

Dr Luke Evans - John Robertson
Dr Luke Evans - John Robertson

While Evans agrees that the Kardashians’ photoshopped images can fuel eating disorders, a key area of concern for him is the distortion of workout photographs. (A day after we speak, Kim Kardashian finds herself at the centre of a controversy after revealing she followed a crash diet to lose 16lbs to fit into Marilyn Monroe’s dress at the Met Gala).

“I don’t follow the Kardashians, but they must be under a huge pressure to maintain their image, not just because so many people look at them but also their business interests tend to be around their advertising,” he says of the gravity-defying reality TV stars. “I have no qualms with them wanting to get on and look their best. But I would ask that they be honest about the reason they are looking their best. And for those images not to be digitally altered because of the impact on other people who are looking in.”

It’s all about healthy living, he says. “But we go the wrong way about it. It’s the image first and then, “How do I get to look like that?” which then leads to unhealthy dieting and supplement taking.”

Evans points out that a marathon runner can be just as unhealthy as a couch potato. “These are opposite ends of the same spectrum,” he says. “ It doesn’t matter if you’re 20 stone or six stone, you can find that healthy medium somewhere in between.”

The solution, he argues, is three-fold. As well as persuading the government to recognise body image as a priority harm in the Online Safety Bill currently winging its way through parliament, he is also campaigning for images to be properly authenticated by adopting an Adobe-led system which acts like Shazam, the song-identifying app. The software would enable users to see if and how an image has been altered by allowing them to see where it was taken, who has doctored it and how.

Evans has also introduced his own parliamentary bill calling for photographs which manipulate body proportions to carry a warning label, echoing the policies that require television programmes to include the product placement “P” and influencers to tag “#Ad” in posts when they have been paid for promoting a product. France, Israel and Norway are already applying the policy to commercial photographs and images posted by people with “big social influence”.

Ultimately, he hopes to persuade celebrities and influencers not to post such images in the first place. A number of companies including Dove, PureGym and Boots have already thrown their support behind the campaign, along with James Brittain-McVey, the lead singer of The Vamps, who has spoken of his battle with anorexia. But Evans would like more high-profile figures to get on board – not least after the likes of actress Kate Winslet have been very vocal in complaining about their own pictures being “excessively retouched”.

“It’s about body proportions,” says Evans. “Ever since photography came around, there’s always going to be that element of artistic impression. But when you go to buy a house or rent a flat, you can change the lighting and paint the walls but you can’t make the kitchen bigger or the garden longer. Because, in reality, it doesn’t exist.”

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