As someone who has grass roots when it comes to building a business like Manhattan Digest, I am always ecstatic and happy to feature other gay men who are doing the same with their own business. It is an even bigger thrill when the business itself doesn’t shame in any body type or image in the entirety of its community, something that certain businesses pride themselves on when it comes to excluding people based on a variety of things that sometimes they can’t help. A great example of this type of positivity and inclusiveness is the fantastic Instagram account of BearsCubsnBeards, which is run by the equally delightful Stephen Blyth.
I have been a fan of BearsCubsnBeards for quite sometime now on Instgram, double tapping each and every photo which exemplifies bear types in a variety of shapes, colors and other factors that showcase how beautiful they really are. I was honored that Stephen included me in this recently, and really love the message that he is getting across on his page. This is a message that it is OK to be you, you don’t have to conform, which is a message that I have written about several times before about the gay community. I sat down with the beautiful Stephen over the weekend, to discuss the meteoric rise of his IG account, amazing accomplishments in its time being active, and a great Kickstarter account that you should check out. Take a look.
What inspired you to start this Instagram account in the first place?
Like every bear, and everyone, I had a lot of body issues growing up. I was the fat kid in class. In 2014 I lost a bit of weight and was feeling really good about my body. It was July 14th, my birthday, and I sent a pic to a “Bears” shout out page, followed their rules on posting their logo and tagging them. Their response was “you’re too fat and ugly to post”. That was it, they had spoken and I wasn’t worthy.
I’m not one to back down from anything, so instead of retreating and feeling sorry for myself, I said “F you” to the situation and to the pages that have a very narrow idea of what a bear and beauty is. After chatting with a friend I met on Instagram, who encouraged me to start it, BearsCubsNBeards was born.
Certain bear pages are prone to one particular type, yet you include several different body types. Was that the goal from the get?
Yeah, right from the word go, BearsCubsNBeards was always about inclusion. “Be proud of yourself” has always been at the back of my mind since BC&B started. I don’t have any right to say someone isn’t beautiful or worthy, and if you have the balls to send a complete stranger a half naked picture of yourself, more so if you have body confidence issues, then you’re already beautiful in my mind.
I wanted it to be community based, to be personal. Each feature always has a personal comment. I don’t do cookie cutter “this is…” comments. It’s also the reason I’ve added some photos of myself, what I’m doing, eating, etc. If I’m having a bad day and want to eat a pint of ice cream, I might share that, because we have all been there, and I’m sure everyone can relate to that, not the robotic churn of muscled hairy men that no one can identify with that other pages post. And, once a week, on average, I do an “ask BC&B anything” which usually creates a big dialogue on varied topics.
How have you been able to accrue close to eighty thousand followers in such a short span of time?
I’m really shocked that the page has over 77,000 followers. In my head, it’s still at 1000 followers. I attribute it to the followers. From the very beginning, they have shared the page over and over. The hashtag #bearscubsandbeards has been used 105,000 times, all by word of mouth. I think BearsCubsNBeards is one of the few shout out pages that doesn’t demand anything. You don’t have to follow the page, you don’t have to shout the page out, and you don’t have to pay. All I ask is that you send me a pic. The follower count is lower than some newer pages, but they do tend to pull images from Tumblr without crediting who is in the image, which is something I don’t like. If you see a hot guy, you want to see more, you want to know them.
With BearsCubsNBeards, you can. Every post has a link to that persons Instagram. That’s one of the things I think sets BC&B apart from the other pages, and something I’m very proud of.
Social media is obviously huge nowadays, besides the followers what has been your biggest success with this page?
My personal biggest successes have been getting to meet some amazing people. People that I can call my friends. There was one time, I was heading home on a bus, and I overheard two guys in front of me talking about and a really hot guy that they saw on Instagram. They were chatting away and the guy showed his friend a pic of cooperthecub that I posted that morning. That was such an amazing feeling.
The successes of the page are huge. The follower count is crazy. It’s unbelievable to me. The thing that I’m proudest of is the amount of love that everyone has for one another on the posts. The very first official BearsCubsNBeards meet up is happening in LA in May. Two amazing man, Brett and Remo, have set up “BC&B Invades LA” at The Eagle, which will be the highlight of my trip.
Has there been any personal stories from the Instagram page that has touched you just from what the page has done?
I’ve had a few people say they met their partners because of the page. It’s seems that the new form of flirting is to make that red love heart appear on Instagram. There was one guy, a really sweet guy, who had extremely low self esteem. He sent me a message privately saying that he had no confidence, but seeing the page feature guys like him was helping him. He sent me a pic after about a week of chatting and when I posted it, the comments he got were amazing and supportive. He sent me a beautiful message talking about how he hadn’t looked at himself in the mirror properly for a few years, but he did after he was featured on the page. That he tries to look at himself how others see him and not what he thinks he looks like.
He’s got an amazing boyfriend now and he’s happy to go topless in the sun. It’s beautiful to see someone become the person they were destined to be. He says it’s because I had no judgment on his body and accepted him for who he was, I think all it takes is to be free to allow yourself to love who you are.
What is your honest take on the bear community today?
I’m actually very new to the bear scene, only just over a year really. So I’m more on the outside looking in. But I think we could support each other more. It takes so much effort to be negative. With everything that’s happening in Fort Lauderdale at the moment, just shows this. The actions on one man has been seen all over. I’ve had some very heated and emotional discussions about this. A friend, who is a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, posted that he hated all bears because he know a sister who was “trespassed”. It really upset me that he was including me in that because of one man’s actions. It happens here in Edinburgh too. There seems to be a bear “power couple” and if they have an issue with you, you’re left out and they gather the bears to lock you out of the community. I just hate the thought of that.
As a community, we cound do better.
I see you also have a Kickstarter page, and it looks fantastic. Can you tell our readers more about it?
The Kickstarter is something that I’ve wanted to do for about six months. The BearsCubsNBeards page is all about being proud of who you are, and who we as a group of people are. What better way to show that pride than to wear it over your chest and heart. I’m looking for £8500 ($12000) to produce three Tshirt designs in sizes s-xxl. If it gets fully funded, I will be offering free shipping worldwide on the first phase designs.
As part of the pledges, there are a few rewards. For £25, you will get a thank you feature. For £50 you will get a free standard Tshirt of your choice. For £75 you will get a standard Tshirt, personalized with your Instagram tag under the logo. And for £100 you will get a limited edition (one of two) Tshirt(design will be disclosed not to those who pledge for it).
What are you most hopeful for with the Bearscubsnbeards page in its big future?
I really have no expectations. More BC&B meets, a regular club night maybe. I’d love to expand BC&B WEAR into more apparel. As long as people love the features, have positive dialogue with each other, that will make me a very happy mamma bear.