Life was a dress rehearsal for Pamela
Pamela Bell cuts a happy-go-lucky figure in a new television advertising campaign to address the vexing issue of weight. In safefood’s catchy ‘Weigh2Live’ screen shoot, she giddily has an exchange with a drive-thru worker before coming to the realisation that it’s what she is eating — and not how much — that is the reason for her discontentment with her body shape.
The advert is carried along by its humour despite the extremely delicate nature of its subject — and the east Belfast actress is very much central to it.
The smiles and giggles, however, mask the dark past of a young single mother, who has herself endured a running battle with weight, low self-esteem and bullying.
The 31-year-old, you might say, stepped out of the dress rehearsal that was her everyday life to take the lead role in the all-Ireland campaign which aims to drive home the importance of healthy eating.
Within minutes of meeting Pamela, you sense the passion she has for her subject. She’s not just another actress filling yet another role.
She has been through the battlefield of weight issues herself and taken a bullet to boot. So, it’s with an unashamed sense of satisfaction that she talks of her new role.
“This is about promoting healthy eating really and saying to people that if you look after yourself, you will get to that ideal weight.
“For my character in the ad, she is so wrapped up in how many diets she has been on before realising ‘no actually I haven’t done so well’.
“What I like about this is advert is, that it gets the message across about eating well and healthy but does it with a bit of humour. That’s important.
“Weight is such a sensitive issue — there are so many people, whether they are a size six or 26, who are not at their ideal weight,” she says.
Pamela’s reference to both ends of the scale is quite deliberate. Her own battle is unique in that she never considered herself to be either overweight or underweight.
Instead, her body weight fluctuated from six to 10 stone, leaving her desperate to find a healthy equilibrium.
It all started for Pamela after she had her second child Caitlin at the age of 27.
“Weight was never an issue before that,” she admits.
“But after I had Caitlin I was very very ill and dropped right down to a size six.
“I took a hemorrhage and was rushed into hospital on Christmas Day. As a result of the illness I became really thin, a size six in clothes.
“But then over time, I found myself eating a lot. I was off on maternity leave and it became a spiral.
“It was easy to just go to the cupboard. Being a single mum with two kids, you tended to go for your oven chips and things like that — you didn’t have the same time to cook.
“My alcohol intake also increased around that time. I found myself just sitting there with a glass of wine. It all adds up,” she says.
Pamela’s weight rocketed to almost 10 stone, which left her feeling extremely uneasy as she is petite.
“I know I wasn’t overweight but I had gone from one end of the scale to the other in a relatively short period of time.
“My self-esteem was quite low, I think. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I wasn’t used to putting on that extra bit of weight.
“It was a gradual thing for me though. I was coming home from work and having my chippies and sausage rolls.”
The self-esteem issues for Pamela, however, weren’t necessarily down to her fight with her weight.
It stretches back to the school playground, where she was subjected to cruel taunts. Today, they still stick.
“I was never physically bullied,” she says of the ordeal, which has prompted her to become ivolved in question and answer sessions with children in schools.
“It was more verbal abuse — name calling. It wasn’t even a weight thing, I’m not even sure to this day what it was about. It was name calling in primary school, which ended by the time I went to my next school.”
Now, Pamela is able to take a step back from her situation and see that it was these troublesome times that drove her into acting’s comforting embrace.
As someone who had been involved for many years with south Belfast’s Belvoir Players drama group, she always felt that one day she would push herself that bit further.
And after her debilitating illness after the birth of her second child, she decided to go to Northern Regional College in Ballymoney to immerse herself in performing arts.
And she found to her surprise, a dose of self-confidence on the curriculum.
“I knew when I went to college — to maintain my health and to keep going and be able to achieve all I wanted — that I needed to be in good health.
“It was a good time to say ‘Okay, now’s the time to get on top of this’.”
And she did and still is, as her acting CV is proving. Pamela, still only in second year at college, has starred in a number of travelling theatre productions across Ireland and the UK, as well as television shows including Crimewatch UK, Give My Head Peace and Spotlight.
“It’s mostly theatre though,” she beams.
But, Pamela’s attention quickly returns to the Weigh2live campaign
— from which she has made strides in a traditionally cut-throat industry.
The 31-year-old is now fronting a poster campaign across Ireland and is staring down on people from billboards nationwide.
The ad campaign has also opened up doors for Pamela in getting her message out there — she is hoping to hold online chats on Facebook with people seeking her advice.
And the reaction has been nothing but positive, says the girl who still holds down a part-time job in an east Belfast filling station.
“People are recognising me when they come into the shop and asking, ‘Are you the girl from that ad?’.
“It’s quite surreal really.
“It’s all been really positive though and a few people have said to me that they can personally relate to the ad, which is nice.”
Pamela condemns the airbrushing culture which has put pressure on young girls today and says celebrity diet tips in magazines have a lot to answer for.
“I just think it’s more important to be happy within yourself,” she says.
“People can be negative at times and want to put you down, but as long as you are happy with who you are. If you are happy within yourself and feel comfortable at a certain weight, you shouldn’t feel pressurised.
“There are a lot of negative influences out there.
“For example, you will see these celebrity one-week diets in various magazines. What some people don’t realise is that these people also have personal trainers and that there are many contributing factors as to why they look how they look.
“I know when I was battling with my weight — I still am battling — you do tend to look at these sort of things.
“But as long as you’re happy, that’s the most important thing.”
So, what’s next for Pamela, who is due to return to her studies this week?
“TV is definitely something I’d love to do,” she admits following her advert success.
“But, I will continue with my studies at college and hope to go to university at Queen’s to study drama. They have a fantastic set-up there.”
For further details on the Weigh2live campaign visit www.safefood.eu/weigh2live