Changing the stories that get told – BF026

Part of Beth's Ocean 7 attemptThis week my guest is Beth French. Yep, the Beth French.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Beth set out to swim the Oceans 7 in 12 months. Seven channel swims in a 12 month period. That’s one every 7 weeks. A filmmaker recorded her journey, and the film, Against the Tides, is currently being screened around the UK.

Underwater shot of Beth swimmingI saw the film before I spoke to Beth, and before we had even talked about her being on the podcast I had messaged her just to tell her what an impact it had had on me – one line in particular.

The line was, “You just need to let go of whatever is holding you back”. You’re right, I thought. But if it was that easy we’d all be doing it and therapists would all be out of a job.

Beth preparing to start a channel swim at nightThere is so much to reflect on in what Beth shares in the 50 minutes we spoke for. But one of the most interesting things is about the stories that get told, and who gets to tell them. The narrative for the film quickly became about, in Beth’s words, a rags to riches health story where she overcame ME and did the Oceans 7. Beth had hoped it would be an environmental story, drawing the contrast between not only being fit enough to swim in the sea, but the fact that the sea has to be fit enough to swim in. This isn’t the angle the media were interested in.

Beth exits the water after a successful channel crossingA central part of Beth’s story in Against the Tides is Dylan. Dylan is Beth’s son. Beth became an adventurer after having Dylan, which in no way fits the dominant narrative in our culture about adventurers. In the stories that get told most often, the adventurers are men. When they are women, they are single and childfree. Adventuring is given up when they become mothers. Not so for the men, who can continue adventuring as fathers, without external judgement, it would seem.

Beth looking ready to take on the challengeIt is extremely rare for women to take up adventuring after becoming a parent. This is what Beth did, and the reasons are central to her story. She talks a lot about listening to her own voice, and ‘choosing different’.

Beth’s adventure narrative is also unusual, in that it doesn’t conform to the ‘never give up’ or the ‘bigger, better, faster, more’ narrative that many outdoorsy documentary films follow. Beth does not complete the challenge (spoiler alert!) and her exploration of that is fascinating.

Against the Tides film posterPeople who are the first at anything that we haven’t seen before are always curiosities.

They have to pave the way for others to follow in their wake.

Beth certainly demonstrates what it means to find your own path, to follow your own voice and to make choices that other people may not like nor understand, but that are right for you.

She is just a normal person. But she is also so much more.

Things we talk about

Haunts of the Black Masseur, Cornwall to Isles of Scilly swim, The Good Life, Swimathon, vipassana meditation, Kendal Mountain Festival, Ann Daniels, Our Screen

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