At thirteen years of age, I thought confidence could be bought and worn.
It was a black dress with an attached tartan ra-ra skirt that held all the power.
I knew it was the key to social glory at the upcoming school social. I knew that if I could just wear that dress, accessorised with carefully scrunched long socks and black karate shoes (de rigeur in 1987) …every person in the room would sigh with envy. Marvel at my meteoric rise to uber-coolness. Like in the movies. I knew that in that dress, all my adolescent problems would be solved.
My mother hated it. She thought the dress was cheap and nasty, too short, altogether wrong on every level. Somehow, I convinced her. The dress was bought. My social success was assured.
School socials were hot and steamy affairs in the tropics. The air was thick with the smell of Impulse body spray and teen sweat. Palm fronds decorated the breezeway under the stilted classrooms; our makeshift dance hall. Beats and synthesized riffs pumped out of the speakers. A swarm of coral colours and pimply faces hovered around the sound system. It was high excitement. I could feel my pulse fluttering in my neck as I walked into the crowd of teenage energy.
“Carrot!” rang out from the cool girl huddle as I walked past. Laughter from the gaggle of girls buzzing around the Queen Bee.
“Carrot!” she hooted, staring straight at me. I was confused. I leaned in,
“Are you talking to me?” I asked loudly, over the music, my smile hovering. I was unsure but a little eager to even have airtime with Her Social Highness. I didn’t know what she meant by ‘carrot’. She laughed like I was the stupidest creature ever born.
“I’m going to call you Carrot from now on, because you always look like you’ve got a carrot RIGHT UP YOUR ARSE!”. She and her friends fell about laughing. One mimicked my walk. I tried to evaporate away into the shadows of the palm leaves. Suddenly ridiculous in my dress, my socks, my attempts to fit in. And conscious for the first time of the way that I walk. Wishing I could stand stock still until they were all gone. Knowing I couldn’t enjoy the dance floor, or life itself, with a theoretical carrot up my arse. It didn’t matter what I wore. A dress wasn’t enough.
By my forties, I’d discovered that confidence is a choice. Yes, it took me that long.
I discovered it when I did something well out of my comfort zone. I entered an Australian plus size modelling competition. The prize was a contract with Vivien’s Model Management. I didn’t win that competition, but I did win a contract; it was the start (or perhaps just a part) of the life-long process toward feeling confident in my own skin. It seems that mature, curvaceous, giraffe-ish ladies are needed in the fashion world. My speciality seems to be showcasing clothing for mid-life women with a bit of hip and sass. And doing that has built something beautiful in me. I am confident in who I am. Confident that I can be beautiful; me. With all of my flaws and all of my failings.
Working as a model has taught me so many things. But above all, I have learned that feeling beautiful is an inside job. It’s just a choice we make. A decision to believe that everyone can see the best of us, to let it shine even when we feel insecure. So, for me, confidence is just self-belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In the face of those millions of reasons why I feel unworthy about calling myself beautiful, the same reasons that cripple so many women. It’s listening instead to that small, insistent and compelling voice that tells me we all are beautiful. And that means, me too. If I could go back in time to my thirteen year old self on that night of adolescent embarassment, I’d whisper to her:
“-fake it, baby. Stand up tall, flash that mean girl a brilliant, dismissive, smile. Stride away, don’t skulk in the shadows. Just fake it til you make it, until the only person you need to impress, is you. Because one day, you will make it to that place. And it is going to feel amazing’.
On Saturday, I spent the day in that place. We were in the studio and design space of a renowned New Zealand fashion label, Euphoria Designs. We were shooting beautiful clothes from the new summer range, in a campaign that has me all excited about the future. Euphoria Design’s campaign selected ten ladies from their competition, ‘Confidence is Beautiful’. The entries were put to public votes, and between those (thank you if you voted for me!) and the judges deliberations, we were chosen. They were looking for a diverse group who would represent their customers, their world of wearable design. Our world, as fashion consumers. It is rare to see ourselves reflected in fashion media, regular & irregular women, diverse women. Women of various ethnicities, ages, heights, sizes, social status, health. Some fashion houses are ahead of others. Some fashion houses get it.
Monique Angus (designer of Euphoria clothing) is a woman who understands how important it is to show it. She herself is effortlessly elegant. The archetype of a classical beauty. And yet she comprehends the significance of diversity in fashion media. On Saturday she swished about the studio, quietly supporting all the girls, explaining her pieces, listening …and even clearing away our dishes. She is a thoughtful soul, with an eye for detail and a commitment to all the things that make New Zealand fashion great; quality, superb cut, beautiful construction and unique prints. Her clothes are simply gorgeous: drapey, elegant, quirky, interesting. And her campaign was simply lovely: inclusive, affirming, generous and encouraging. She made us all feel so special, so much a part of the Euphoria philosophy. I hope our pictures might encourage others to explore Euphoria, too. Monique has something for everyone, even when the budget is tight. I found such treasures in her outlet racks!
It was a very special day for me.
It’s a while since I’ve been booked for any commercial modelling, and my day with this campaign felt like a quiet confirmation. Whether it is over, or still beginning, I can do this. I love to do this.
Representing women of a certain age, women with curvier form, women who have taken a long time to discover their own beauty, women for whom confidence has not come easy… that lights me up.
(And if you, too, would like to see more diversity in fashion media, more women like the ones above modelling clothes on websites and in magazines; let your favourite brands know!)
A dress isn’t enough. Confidence comes from an active choice. And when you choose to step into your own kind of beauty, to own it, well then… that’s when a dress can truly do magic.
Recently a dear friend of mine told me her favourite quote. It is now one of mine. I hope it will resonate with you, too.
“We are not meant to be perfect, we are meant to be whole”
Let’s not waste a moment more on self-doubt. Whoever you are and whatever your story, you are beautiful. Just the way you are. Maybe you, like me, have moved on from that ‘carrot’ feeling. Maybe instead you’re in the unhappy-pear-stage, or feeling like an apprehensive-apple, or any one of the body shapes stylists love to group us into. Whatever it is, it’s sweeter than you realise. Stand up, square those shoulders, put a grin on your face and move that body like only you can. Listen to the voice inside you that speaks the truth of your beauty, not the many that speak only to bring you down.
Because when you are confident, it is a beautiful thing, it showers all of your inside sparkles onto the people around you, like glitter, like confetti. Like a celebration of something amazing. It would be a shame not to share it, right?
I’d love to know what gives you confidence.
Do you have it? How did you find it? Did it take you as long as me?