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Cam’s body image battle: ‘It’s ok not to have abs!’

After years of being bullied when he was younger, the CTI star wants to help empower others
Pictures: Michelle Hyslop

Lying shirtless on the beach in his Calvin Klein togs, enjoying pool time in Tauranga or diving into the harbour in Auckland, former ZM radio host Cam Mansel lived his best life over the summer – and he’s no longer reluctant to share such moments with the world.

During his youth, as he endured taunts about his weight and covered up with a t-shirt while swimming, the 32-year-old never envisioned that he would be sharing photos of his beach body on social media. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Cam told Woman’s Day about how past bullying experiences sparked a lifetime of struggles.

“There’s aspects of body dysmorphia I still struggle with. When you’ve spent years being told you’re fat every day, even when your body changes, you still hear those voices in your head,” Cam told us in 2022.

Two years on, Cam recognises he’ll forever face good and bad days with his body image. But he hopes his story – and shirtless snaps – can empower others.

“It’s so bizarre going from wearing T-shirts in the water to posting shirtless photos, but it’s important that people see different bodies online,” says Cam, who recently became marketing and operations manager at Play It Strange after seven years hosting ZM’s Late Show.

“If everyone’s seeing photos of super-ripped guys with six-packs, that’s not realistic. If someone who follows me is in that phase I went through, where you grow out before you grow up, it’s cool if I can be that person who makes them think, ‘It’s OK not to have abs.’”

As a kid, Cam used to wear T-shirts to hide, but he now uses them to spread the word.

That’s something Cam had to remind himself after regaining the weight he lost while competing in 2022’s Celebrity Treasure Island. A diet of beans and rice saw him shed 8kg on the series.

“Afterwards, I was like, ‘Let’s not put this weight back on’, but in normal life, there’s food in the cupboard you can eat any time! After regaining the weight, there was a period I felt quite down on myself. But I try to remember that my body’s healthy, it allows me to go to concerts and do everything I love, which is way more important than my size.”

It’s that same message Cam hopes to convey to his thousands of Instagram followers. Of course, social media also has its darker sides. While his followers have become like “family”, he occasionally gets mean comments, which can be difficult to shake.

“You could have 100 positive comments and one nasty comment, and that’s the one you’ll remember. I often get, ‘Is that a girl or boy?’ And I used to get upset. Also if someone wrote, ‘Your man bun’s ugly’, but I don’t take it to heart as much now.

“I remind myself there’s still 10,400 people who like me as a person. And whoever wrote something mean isn’t still thinking about me, so I should get on with my life too!”

Knowing the scars that bullying can leave is why Cam is an ambassador for Pink Shirt Day. The day aims to encourage diversity. Cam remembers feeling horribly isolated when bullies targeted him. So, he hopes Pink Shirt Day on May 17th will remind victims that they’re not alone.

“Sometimes you think, ‘Maybe I deserve this’, or, ‘This is normal’”. Cam explains, “Pink Shirt Day’s a nice reminder that it’s not normal and there are others out there who don’t think it’s OK. That can be comforting.”

Cam’s advice for anyone facing bullies or hard times is to have something to look forward to. For young Cam, that was performing, whether joining school productions or playing trumpet in the school band.

“It was cool because we went to international competitions in Hawai’i and Sydney. We played the Sydney Opera House, which was surreal. I got a taste of the rockstar life and I loved it!”

Music remains paramount in Cam’s life. Whether it’s attending gigs, interviewing artists or strolling down the street “singing my heart out”.

“I love sad songs. I can be having a bad day and find comfort in a sad song because it’s like, ‘This is the most talented person in the world, but they’ve also had a sad day’. It makes me feel less alone. Even in the happiest mood, I still love a heartbreak anthem!”

Cam’s love for music is what attracted him to Play It Strange, an organisation helping young Kiwi songwriters. He left ZM because he felt there was little opportunity to explore other roles within the company and he wanted a new challenge. The former radio host hopes the storytelling skills and contacts he gained in radio will help him in his new role.

He also has valuable insight into what it takes to succeed in the industry from spending time with the world’s biggest stars. Among the highlights of his ZM interviews were Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Dua Lipa and “amazing” Ed Sheeran.

Their common thread? Authenticity. “That word gets thrown around tons, but it’s so important. With social media and direct access to artists, it’s crucial to 100% be yourself.”

Pink Shirt Day is this Friday, with tees sold at Cotton On. To find out how you can help prevent bullying, head to pinkshirtday.org.nz.

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