Confidence is Beautiful

 

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.

Sure.

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.

 

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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”
-Jane Fonda.

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?

 

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Your Age

 

 

large photo by Beverly Couper
#letyouragebecomeyou

I’ve been doing some writing for another publication. I can’t publish it here because it’s exclusive to them, but if they choose not to use it, I’ll be popping it up for you to see. I enjoyed writing it so much!

It’s all about curves and confidence, and the circuitous path it took my soul to find a way for both to exist simultaneously in my world. When I was younger, I had no idea that curves would eventually be such a useful part of my self-esteem. I had no idea that the things I hated about my body would become things that I celebrate. How did that happen? How did I get from self-loathing to self-loving?

I had a massive reality check in the experience of living with Pandysautonomia.  A gift of sorts, in the way that all the most memorable life learning can be simultaneously painful, difficult and uplifting.

It made me realise that there are body issues which transcend the petty concerns of comparison. It made me feel the sting of all the time I had wasted on self-criticism, there in front of the mirror, thinking about all the ways people would disapprove of my dimensions. So ridiculous. Mum used to tell me when I was a teenager, that most of the time, other people wouldn’t even be thinking of what my body looked like. That it was a kind of vanity to assume they were. I was convinced there must be others like me. That they were studying every other like-aged-girl to see what was ‘normal’, hoping that they could become it by studying it in all its minutae.  Hoping to find the magic code for ‘cool’ so we could programme ourselves to be so.

I couldn’t be. I was far too tall and generous of beam to ever fit the narrow-hipped, slim legged archetype of the eighties fashion teen; those oversized tops and legwarmers only looked good on petite little things. I didn’t yet understand that being a six foot tall woman required a certain level of bravado. That you need to own your height, your wiggle.  That the most uncool thing of all isn’t wearing a home-made dress, but being a mouseling in a giantess’ body. I had no idea that confidence and ease are the symptom of a simple choice you make. To accept your unique self, no matter how different you are to the established norm. Being free within your own expression of DNA to be your own kind of beautiful.  I wish I’d known that back then.

I could have done a lot with my gorgeous young self that was left undone, all because I didn’t understand. No amount of wishing, dieting, exercising, hoping, slouching, yearning or moping was ever going to change the facts.

I am a giantess.

Fast forward to my middle age… I’m so proud of being built this way. My size has become a bankable commodity since I started plus-size modelling last year. My confidence comes from finally getting it. I’m this person. Who you see is me. All of me. I wear my love of cake in my curves. I wear my love for people in my smile and the wrinkles around my eyes. And I wear my heart on my sleeve, because that is just who I am. No filter. No problem.

Some people love these things about me, and others don’t… and that’s no problem too. I can’t change a thing about it.  I’m happy, at last, in my own skin. Happy to be who I am, in a body that functions. Happy to be surrounded by people I love and to know that above all things, that’s the most beautiful thing of all. He tangata. Happy to be the age I am. To know the things I know. To leave behind me the pointless self-flaggelation of living to the standards of others. It’s a kinder, freer way to live. It makes space within my noisy head for more useful thoughts… the sort that create and feed and nurture me. Building me up to do the same for others.

I’m starting a hashtag across my social media, because I think we don’t celebrate nearly enough, all the ways that age can be ‘becoming’ to women. I’m all about the notion that beauty is relative to your soul, and sometimes, that takes a long time to understand. How are you letting age become you? What are you noticing about yourself that you finally GET, that you didn’t appreciate about yourself when you were younger?

#letyouragebecomeyou

Full Heart, Half-hearted

I passed a leaf on the path yesterday. Autumn arrived some time ago, but it’s a reluctant beginning. We’ve had an extraordinary summer.  Long, dry and hot. And the first summer in years that I have been able to function like a well person. Trips to the beach most weekends, drinking from the scratchy edge of the thermos cup, eating squishy sandwiches and luke warm sausage rolls. Lying on the blanket looking up at the sky, deeply content that it no longer wheels around me. I have read books this summer, lying on my tummy on the picnic rug, or sheltered by the beach tent.  The most memorable being Chappy and Being Mortal. And this summer, I have joined in, swimming in the surf, riding my bike, climbing the volcano that sits just outside my window. When I was sick I couldn’t make the walk up the steep track without the certainty that there would be payback. I couldn’t enjoy the views, bleat at the resident sheep or let the breeze push my hair back from my face, soothing the heat of my exertion. The few times I managed it, it was with teeth gritted, heart hammering, nausea rising. There is a seat up there, on the lip of the crater. It looks towards our house. It is a favourite spot, not least because I used to look at it from my bedroom window and despair that I might never sit up there again.

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But now I can.

Yesterday, Zed joined me for a walk up ‘our mountain’. He was keen to burn off some excess energy, I’m trying to improve my fitness. Six years of an extremely sedentary, sometimes horizontal life, is hard to physically bounce back from. But now I have a personal trainer, a plan, and yesterday it was my homework to go for a ten minute walk; an as ‘hard as you can go’ kind of walk. The kind of walk that our steep sided volcano track was built for. So Zed and I set off down the road.

I am blown away by how beautiful this country is. We live right in the centre of this sprawling city, but there are green spaces and volcanoes dotted all across the urban landscape. And trees, so many beautiful trees. Trees fill me with calm.  Look at this beauty.

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At the start of the track my intrepid 8 year old darts off to the side of the volcano: “meet you at the top Mum!” he shouts, already shoulder high in grass.  He’s climbing directly up, I’m taking the track. At the top he calls out that he’s going to run down into the crater and meet me up on the other side. He’s always been a ‘road less travelled’ kinda kid. I smile at him and relish the solitude. It’s gorgeous up the top here. Park benches dot their way around the crater rim, looking outwards.

Our national treasures of trees, the Pohutukawa, reach their arms across toward one another, high on the hill, circling the site that once was home to a Maori Pa. You can see evidence of their settlement in the kumara pits that still exist. In true Pa fashion, this crater would most likely have been barren of the grass it now wears. The ground would have been cleared around the whare. Now, the crater is resplendent with a thick carpet of grass.  Around the outside of the volcano, untrimmed by grazing sheep, it is long, rippled by the prevailing winds. But in the shelter of this hollow it resembles an inverted paddock. Like a fish-eye lens has warped the contours of the land. It drops away and lifts again in a perfect bowl. It would have been a safe and easily fortified home for those Maori villagers.  I wish I could go back in time and see how it was, see the cooking fire smoke and listen to the singing.

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Too soon, I’ve reached the far side of the crater rim track. My boy is ascending the steep edge.

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We hear voices, echoing through the natural amphitheatre, we are not alone anymore. A group of teenagers laugh and stumble through a gate that connects the volcano to the streets below. They take selfies and videos to upload onto their social media. One chases a sheep and another calls out “tackle him!”. The sheep has more wits about him than the boy, and is up the mountain faster than a goat. I smile and reach for Zed’s hand. “…it’s nice up here, hey Mum,” he says. His cheeks are rosy. We pass a stand of bamboo and slap the mosquitoes away.  It is nice up here. Even with other people around, it’s beautiful and serene. We come across a few more groups of people. I take some photos and think about how I would like to share them with you.

The two of us stop for a little sit down and I notice for the first time, a plaque attached to the bench. It’s a memorial seat, placed there by the wife of  ‘Michael’. A beautiful spot for remembering. I think about them, the people I don’t know. The words fill my heart. This is the song of my soul’s learning through all those years of illness.

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We sit and think for a while before heading home. Of course, Zed makes off to slide down the slope of the hill, while I take the dirt track. Back on our footpath, I see the trees turning and notice the colours of autumn, slowly but surely transforming the streets.

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I long for the cooler weather, but I have loved my first real summer in years. I realise I am half-heartedly welcoming my favourite season. And just as I think it, I see it, a half-hearted leaf, laid out on the footpath in front of me. Maybe, this year, nature feels the same as I do.

Full heart; half hearted.

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What’s in a word?

I’ve always loved word play. So when I started this blog, playing with the ‘chronic illness’ part of my title made perfect sense. I wanted to chronicle my life, a record of my thinking for my kids, a resource for other patients, a place where I could write through all the issues I was facing. So calling my blog The Chronic-ills of Rach was fitting and mildly funny.  I think even then though, I was hopeful. I didn’t reserve that name as a domain name, preferring to use rachelfaithcox.com instead.

And life, sometimes, does beautiful things and turns in directions you never expected. I’m in remission, I’m out and about. I’m working and being an active parent. I’m enjoying all the offerings of life in well-land! And it feels quite strange to have a blog called the Chronic-ills of Rach when right now, illness is not the all-consuming factor it used to be in my life. So I have amended my blog title. I wanted to do it this way, to pay homage to the places I have been.  But I’m no good at coding and my blog theme is too locked down.   This is what my title image would have looked like if I had those skills.

the CHRONICLES

It feels like it’s time to move and grow.  The Chronic-ills of Rach will become the Chronicles of Rach, and I will continue to write here.  About the full range of things that happen in my world. Maybe that will include things about remission, maybe relapse (but I really, really hope not!) and maybe there will be more about living life on the outside after a long time living on the inside.  Maybe you’ll come with me as I traverse these new paths? I’d love you to stay.

It’s been frankly quite weird going from mostly horizontal, to a job (plus size modelling) where my work is almost all standing. What a wonderful thing to get to experience the pampering and glamour of having my hair and makeup done by someone else! I’ve been learning all sorts of new tricks about how to make the most of my outward appearance. I feel like I have stepped sideways into a different dimension, into someone else’s life. And it would be a cinch to just drift away on the ease of feeling well, to take it all for granted and live the life that others seems to lead. It’s just that I can’t. I can’t forget and, well…
I don’t want to.

For me, all this outward beauty stuff is truly delightful. It’s a treat. It’s what so many little girls dream of.  Playing dress ups for a job! But I am keenly aware of the fact that outward beauty is ephemeral. There is smoke an mirrors, there is photoshop. There are skilled artists who sculpt and paint and tease and curl. It’s all very beautiful, but it is not soul sustenance. True beauty, the beauty I care about, is soul deep. And that kind of beauty is accessible to everyone, even without a team of hair and makeup and the skills of talented photographers!  True beauty shines out from the insides. And it is only created through experience.  Through living all of life’s highs and lows.

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So, from a girl-all-at-sea, into a fast world of action and busy-ness, I stop and survey the terra-firma. I hope to keep one eye at all times on the things that matter most. People. Connection. Communication. Kindness. These things easily get lost in the cut and thrust of everyday life. Mine is a strange shift of fortunes and I want so badly not to lose the lessons that washed up with me on this shore. I will gather them. I will continue to write about the things that matter.

So, welcome to my new/old blog!  Will you be hanging around?

Kendall Carter: In the Pink

In the pink… an expression which describes the look of good health. But what if your health isn’t good? Can you still look gorgeous? My friend Kendall looks just like an exquisite porcelain lady doll. She is redefining what it means to be ‘in the pink’! She is one of the sickest people I know yet she blows my mind every time she posts a photo. So stunning! I am so delighted that she agreed to write a guest post for the ‘Meet my Peeps’ series, because I think her voice is so important.  But it hasn’t been easy, since I asked her if she’d like to do a piece, she’s been in and out of hospital at least four times.

Kendall, I so appreciate the efforts it took to write this piece for my blog.
Thank you so much! x

Kendall has a complex medical picture. She is diagnosed with progressive Autoimmune Pandysautonomia. It causes POTS, gastroparesis, subacute urinary retention, breathing issues, CIPO, swallowing difficulties, temp regulation issues, small fibre neuropathy, pupillary dysfunction, anhidrosis, IST, supine hypotension, orthostatic hypotension, syncope and the other usual autonomic dysfunctions typical of Dysautonomias. She also has Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome (MALS), Hashimoto’s disease, demyelination disease, hypothyroidism, endometriosis, adenomyosis, chronic rhinosinusitis, chronic neutropenia, PCOS, pernicious anaemia and issues related to the malnutrition from gastroparesis.

And she is beautiful.  Read on, all about her journey into better self esteem and how she expresses her individuality through beauty, fashion and social media…

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Yes, let’s start this post bragging about what an inspiration I am and.. wait, what!? When did I suddenly become an inspiration? Beautiful? Confident? Calm? What’s all this about? Did someone start paying these people off?

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Let’s rewind. My name is Kendall. I have a chronic illness. It sucks. I spend a lot of time in hospital and an obscene amount of time in bed. But I also like to play dress up, usually just to go to a doctor, hospital appointment or even just if I’m staying at home, seeing no one apart from my significant other for a couple of hours when he gets home from work. At first I never questioned why, I suppose it was because my appearance was one of the only things I still had control over. I’m no great beauty and I’d never been the type to dress up, let alone slather on a full face of makeup and prance (well, roll) around in pretty dresses just because it made me feel good about myself. I was the jeans and t-shirt girl. The girl people would laugh at if they saw me in a dress. I actually recall quite vividly a friend stopping me in the street one day. She had a good laugh that I, for some unknown reason, had chosen to wear a dress that day! I didn’t wear a dress again for years. The quintessential tomboy, the shy little wallflower that wanted to perfectly blend into her surroundings… that was me back when I was healthy.

If my past self could look at my current self, health issues aside, I imagine she’d screw up her nose, call me too girly and make fun of me. PINK hair? Pastel at that! A floofy cat dress, complete with a bow tie? And what’s with all this damn lace everywhere? It’s almost as if I’ve done a 180 in a couple of years. It all started when a group of wonderful friends from a support group got together to organise a hairdresser to come to my house. She dyed my hair a beautiful pastel pink that I had been considering for quite some time. I had just gotten an NG tube and was curious about this pretty pastel hair trend that was going around. In the back of my mind I wondered if I could be the girl with the pink hair, instead of the girl with the feeding tube hanging off her face. It worked, and it was probably the best thing that ever happened to my self-esteem. You may be able to tell from my mentions of wanting to be a wallflower but I was, and still am to an extent, a very timid girl. Standing out was not my thing. I’d never dare admit to wanting to wear those pretty, glittery shoes, that beautiful floral dress with lace inserts or that adorable clip on hair bow back then. They were for other people, no matter how much I lusted after them.

Show the world you're still you, because(1)

I believe that my chronic illness, starting with being brave enough to go ahead with the pink hair, opened up many doors for me in regards to my self-image and self-confidence. I’d lost so much. I felt there was nothing I could possibly gain after the trauma of losing my health, my job; my whole life, as I used to know it. Sounds overly dramatic but that’s what it was. A sudden onset for me. All my losses happened, quite literally, overnight. But out of this mess, I gained confidence. I finally gained the tools I needed to not care so very deeply about what people thought of me and how I appeared to the world because after what I’d been through, any opinions on something as superficial as my appearance could hardly mean much at all. Really, what’s someone asking if my hair colour was a dare? Not much compared to coding yet surviving on an operating table in the middle of a life-saving operation. At 30. Yeah, it’s totally incomparable.

With my slow but steadily rising new found confidence I started shyly posting selfies of myself when I was a bit dressed up. Selfies were not something I’d usually do! I’d always worry too much about people thinking I was narcissistic, or that I wasn’t pretty enough, and all those things that people with low self-esteem think. My confidence took off even more as I received a few compliments here and there and started connecting with the chronic illness community via social media through images. Images of the good times and the bad. The dreadful unwashed hospital selfies, the tubes, the lines, the scars …but also the nicer times, of dressing up, of makeup, of pretty hair and cute collectibles. I’d become this girl with the pastel pink hair, fancy dresses.. and a NG tube on my face. Somewhere in there, I finally found the confidence to be me even with a feeding tube prominently displayed! Without knowing it, seeming to also inspire some people along the way. No one just considers themselves inspiring and rarely sets out for that to be their goal. It just.. happened. In finding and helping myself, I’ve somehow helped other people and even if that’s only a couple of people in a small way, it’s certainly more than what I was doing before.

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There are several movements with a focus on looking good or glamourous, even though you feel like you’re falling apart, that have taken off on social media. Karolyn Gehrig’s #HospitalGlam  (and you can find her on Instagram @karolynprg) is the most widely known. Some other friends or followers have created their own hashtags or names for modelling while on bed rest, such as #bedrestmodelling. When not feeling too great, people are creating poignant portraits that are beautiful in many different ways. I definitely recommend checking out some of these hashtags if you own an Instagram account.
(Ed: and you can find Kendall’s instagram account here: @Kendelfe it’s a confection of pink!)

Show the world you're still you, because

I personally just like to have fun with my style and there aren’t too many times where I’ll refuse to waste the extra energy into putting on the best damn dress I own, spending probably a little too much time on my makeup and stumbling into my doctor’s office or hospital appointment looking like I was going out somewhere special. Some people might say that their ‘spoonsmight be spent better elsewhere and I can’t argue with that. Others may say that their doctor may not believe that they’re ill if they don’t look sick but my argument is that if you have a good doctor or specialist, they’ll know. My doctors know me well enough to know that if I’ve no makeup on then I’m not doing too good at all. One claims I have an “Emergency Department face” when I walk in and will know straight away when things aren’t looking too good for me, even if I am dressed up to the nines. I do believe that attention to presentation can play an important part when it comes to others seeing how to feel about yourself as a person, and in showing that you’re still you and (as @minadraculada said in one of the opening quotes to this article) that it’s not over bitches, that you’re still you, still have control and that you’re still standing.

In closing, I suppose I wanted to express how you can still make gains even when you’re quite severely ill, whether that be through your appearance and fashion, a new hobby, new found friends or something else. I also wanted to show that just because we feel ill doesn’t mean we need to act or look a certain way, the way society often portrays the disabled and/or ill. Show the world you’re still you, because you’re still beautiful even if your body might be a bit broken. My only regret through all this is that I didn’t find the confidence in my appearance that I have now back when I was healthy but ironically, if I had remained healthy, I probably wouldn’t have.

Thank you for reading, and thank you to the fabulous and always lovely Rach for posting my piece!

The Business

I love the Flight of the Conchords.  Whenever I hear the word ‘business’ I want to just sing this song:  “It’s Bidness Time”… tee hee.  Here’s the song, because it makes me laugh so much.  But the business I’m talking about today is a very different kind…

The business of living is the opposite to what I have always thought. We think we know what this life holds for us. We’re that arrogant… or that foolish. We let the past and how things have always been build a logical picture of what will be. As if this life has a formula that makes solid, mathematical sense. Except it never does. Life’s twists and turns are complex, unpredictable and often quite weird. Less maths than chaos.  Less logic than creative. But we persist in thinking we know what’s coming. If only we could use that belligerent belief as a more positive force! But we don’t. We know better.

We map our futures and determine the course of our days as if we’re in charge. Pah! You know how it goes… because this happened, that will happen… because I’m this kind of person, that will never happen… because I’m doomed to failure I will fail… because nothing ever goes right for me… because our family genes are messed up… because good things only happen to other people… because that doctor said I could never… because there is only one possible pathway  (as if there is a sat-nav for the soul!)… because you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear… because. Just because.

And a thousand other silly statements we make to ourselves. A daily manifesto of negative expectations. Have you thought about being a little less human about it all? I’ve been trying lately to just stop analysing. To stop telling myself how it is going to turn out. To live in this moment instead of the next, or the last. I guess it’s part of the letting go. Humans are so expert at making meaning out of experiences. We test our hypotheses all the time with self fulfilling prophesies. Limiting ourselves based on what we know. But what about all the things that we don’t know we don’t know? The infinite combination of possibilities outside our ken?

A girl I have talked about a lot on this blog is Michelle Roger. I rave about her because she is truly wonderful. When I was lost in my diagnosis, her blog lit the exits out of my spiralling mindset. She’s been battling Dysautonomia for so long, she’s given it a name. He’s the unwelcome Bob, who lives with them. He’s an arse. He gives her jip. You can find her blog here. And even though her case is severe and complex, Michelle keeps doing the things she loves; anyway. She is a gifted writer who recently won a mentorship with Writer’s Victoria. She performed one of her pieces at the Emerging Writer’s Festival last year, and again this year. She’s been published. She carries on, and takes opportunities, even when most bystanders would say “how are you going to manage that?”. Somehow, that’s how. Somehow, anyhow. She’s a woman I admire. She’s a modern day Frida, making her art from the truth and pain of her experience. And she’s funny too, if you like a bit of the quirky/classy/smart, you’ll love her.

When I had a phone call yesterday from Vivien’s Modelling Management, telling me they’d like to sign me, and that 62 Models, here in New Zealand would too, my little brain expanded a bit. What an incredible opportunity! A whoppertunity! It’s so exciting to think that what I am, what I have; all of me, might be useful in a different way to what I thought. It aligns with my values around diversity, and being able to find the work that works for you. It gives me work in short bursts, with opportunities to recover in between. It will bring income back into our home. And one day, it might even be a platform for more awareness. A thought that surprises me. I never imagined this kind of thing. It was outside my experience and beyond my self-belief. I didn’t know that this opportunity could happen for someone like me. It wasn’t in the plan.

So. How will I manage? I don’t know. I just will, somehow! I’ll be picking the brains of my friend Helena, an established model friend who is also a Dysautonomia chick. I’ll take the advice of Claire, who had a classic response when I asked my friends that question yesterday. I am so fortunate to have a group of gals in my Dysautonomia community who have become very important friends to me. We chat online; they know all the ups and the downs of my journey, just as I know theirs. They get it all, and they are resoundingly positive. It fills me with good cheer. Claire said:
“-Silly! You’ll do it the way you do everything else – with a smile, kick ass attitude, and much complaining to us, about how fucking hard it is…” haha. Yep. I think I will. My girls have got my back. How much joy like-minded souls bring to this life. Solidarity and sisterhood. It’s important everywhere you go.

Last year I wrote a piece about my indomitable Granny (Her Stellar Career). It’s a good read if you have been feeling like your dreams are out of reach. She knows a fair bit at the ripe old age of 93. When I told her about this modelling thing, she twinkled and said “Dear, would you introduce me to them so they can sign me too?” 🙂  I think I’ve been learning her lessons. Because instead of sitting back and feeling like this life has passed me by, even though I might be forgiven for doing that, I am taking action. Like Michelle. Like Joyce. Getting busy with The Business of Now.

How are you at living in this moment?
Do you worry a lot about the future?
Do you think you know what it holds?
Let go a bit.  Let go and let life take you somewhere you never expected…

Inside Out

 

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I wrote about doing something way out of my comfort zone the other day.  You can read here about how I submitted my photo to Autograph’s online curvy model search. And got a call about being shortlisted (eeeek! At last, an appreciater of the curves!) I wrote all about how I was getting ready to go and have my photos taken yesterday.  It was all a very welcome distraction from some of the other stuff that is going on for me at the moment.  You can read about that too, here if you are interested in lady-business.  All’s well that ends well.  I had my surgery this morning and happily had zero problems with the anaesthetic.  I’d like to thank my six months of stability for that.  Woohoo!

So while I am lying here post op, letting my lady-business recover, I thought I would tell you the story of my day yesterday… thanks to those of you who messaged me to say you wanted to hear all about it!

I was awake hours early, staring up into the darkness and wondering how it could be that I was seriously going to rock up to a modelling agency, big butt and all, and have my photos taken. It filled me with terror and delight and self-doubt. But I let it all the feelings wash over and through me, proud that I am big enough and old enough to know that feelings are fickle.  I reminded myself of the facts.  I did this to myself. I want to try this. They want my photos. I’m me and that is enough.  And I went through the poses in my head, trying to remember everything Tyra Banks ever said about modelling. Ha!  I lay there in the dark smizing at the ghosts of insecurity dancing around my bed. They weren’t impressed that I wasn’t listening to them. I lay there humming in my head “I’m a MO-del, you know what I mean…?”  and hamming it up for the imaginary camera.

I had an early appointment up at our local salon so my hair would look like I was naturally bouncy.  My lovely hairdresser Eff, sent me out with one of those “oh, this hair? I just showered and tossed my hair in the breeze… ” hairdos.  Good hair makes you feel so confident, doesn’t it?  I came home so full of it that I thought I’d take a selfie. I looked up at the light to see where would be a good spot to take it… and just as I was thinking ‘over there…’ my equilibrium woogled it’s wiggle and I took a very inelegant skate along the muddy ground. In my fancy hair.  And my ‘outfit number one’. Because pride does literally cometh before the fall!  Thankfully, the fall was small. And there was loads of time before I had to leave. I cleaned myself up, dusted off my pride and all the grass stains and mud (how ladylike) and took myself up to bed for a little rest.

My best friend Flo arrived to pick me up. She’s so wonderful.  By then my nerves were rising and I was wondering if I should abort mission.  She’s not gushy that girl, so when she said I looked good; I felt a million bucks.  Good hair and compliments you can trust. Essential components for feeling great! She had made me a coffee to-go and so off we went.  Have I mentioned how wonderful she is? She’s deep in the thick of planning a triple birthday party for her kids, and she took time out to be my wheels. I loves her.

62 Models is in a beautiful brick building surrounding a little courtyard. Access to the agency is up two flights of narrow, steep, stairs.  If you are a Dysautonomiac, you will understand why I stood at the bottom of those stairs, quaking in my ankle boots.  I had been warned.  A friend from my online patient forum is a model with 62 Models (the tall, slender kind).  Helena had already messaged me with reassurance, parking tips and stair warnings.  I stopped at the top and used my phone to snap shots while I caught my breath and un-dizzied myself.

Voila!  The door!  Can you imagine, standing at the door of a modelling agency, how much hutzpah it would take to open that door? It swung away from me and inside were five huge flat screen computers around a large table.  Transparent furniture and a funky chalkboard wall. NZ Fashion Week and other campaigns scrawled across it in white grainy chalk.  Behind each screen, an impossibly gorgeous person;  among them, Katie of the groovy glasses, Kelly with the brilliant white smile. And behind them, a wall of more gorgeous-person-photos.  All their eyes seemed to turn in my direction at once.

“Hello!   I’m Rachel Cox”
Kelly, a model, mum and marathon runner, smiled at me and I felt instantly welcome. I’ve seen her in so many catalogues,  but she is even more beautiful in real life than in print. Wow.  I felt like I knew her just because her face was already so familiar. It put me at ease. And I guess we both run marathons, just of different kinds.  😉

She introduced me to the others and explained that the willowy, auburn haired stunner to the right would be taking my photos.  Her name was Marijke. The bits in between the introduction and the end of the photos are all a bit of a blur!  I didn’t feel afraid, just wanted to do the right thing. I stared down the barrel of that camera and thought ‘…here I am.  This is me’. Marijke gave me excellent feedback and advice. It was fun and self-affirming. It was good for my soul. If you are wanting to look your best in photos, here is some of Marijke’s advice… ‘think friendly thoughts and it will show in your expression’ and ‘being natural is beautiful, so just be you’. She was so lovely.  After an outfit change I had to make a little intro video.  I’m not very comfy being on video, are you? Yikes.  I think I managed; I hope they will see my enthusiasm in my short few words.

_Take off the jewellery.Just be you_ she

I told Autograph that I would love the opportunity to represent New Zealand in their curvy model search. That’s it.

But for me, doing this thing is about overcoming all those inner voices of limitation. No, you can’t. No, you’re not enough, no you shouldn’t put yourself out there, no. Just, no.  Women, especially curvy girls, do themselves such a disservice by remaining hitched to those voices. They’re just insecurities. We know we are far more powerful, interesting and significant than those voices tell us we are. We are much, much more. Those little, insignificant mewlings that we have listened to for so long have become loud and insistent because we let them. Well, I’m here to tell you that those ridiculous little voices are actually very small when you stand up to them. They shrink. They scatter.  And what they leave behind is the kind of person I want my daughter to see me be.  Bold. Beautiful. Brave.  And maybe just a little bit bonkers!  Tee hee!

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If you are a curvy girl and are thinking about entering Autograph’s Model Search, you can do it here. Do it for you.  Do it to send those insecurities scarpering. Do it because you are beautiful, just as you are. Exactly the shape and size you are.  Not because of your body, but because of who you are. If I can do it, you can too.   Marijke’s photos arrived this afternoon and the woman I saw in them surprised me. I’m wearing my inside, out.  And I like it.

(thanks Michelle for sending me this song the other day!)

The Bold and the Beautiful

I’m getting older, aren’t we all?  And as the years tick over I become ever more conscious of how fleeting life is. Or maybe that is because my kids are growing older and seeing them grow up makes me reflect on how that was me, what seems like just yesterday.  Or perhaps dealing with being sick for so long has given me a better appreciation of the importance of doing what you yearn to do, because tomorrows are unpredictable. They are not to be relied on. That’s what I figure.

Michael Leunig understands Life.
Michael Leunig understands Life.

Speaking of figures, I’ve wasted a lot of my years feeling ridiculous about mine. Have you? Like, embarassed, ashamed, exasperated. Even before I had reason to. In various ways over the years I have castigated myself for the shape I carry.  Too this or too that. And if you added up all the kilos I have lost on various diets, I think I’d have lost my entire body weight. But lately, it’s just been gains. Chronic illness and my medication side effects have made weight control difficult for me.  If it’s not the tummy cramps of my pyridostygmine and motilium, it’s the insatiable appetite and trademark round cheeks I have acquired on high dose steroids. The delayed gastric emptying, chronic constipation, dizziness and especially, the ever present fatigue. ‘Just Do It’ is a huge mountain to climb. Any one of those issues pretty quickly puts exercise at the bottom of my priority list. And, um, I love cake. So, slowly but surely, I’ve gotten rounder.

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And that roundy-ness has made me feel less beautiful. Fat does not equate with beauty in our media; most of the time. But that is changing.  There are women like Tess Holliday, above, who are changing things. She is so gorgeous! Then there are others, it’s a new frontier. Just google ‘plus size model images’ and you’ll be wowed!

In spite of all the reasons why my fat sits there on my frame, I haven’t been good at looking at myself as though I have beauty. I look at other curvy people and I think they look beautiful, but not at myself. Lately I have been following a curvy stylist on facebook. Seeing her daily looks has been inspiring to me.  A fellow roundy girl who celebrates her inner self; on the outside.  She’s bold.  She’s sassy.  She’s awesome. I really like Jenni, from Styling Curvy for her down-to-earth approach to life.  As a cancer survivor (she calls it being a cancer thriver) she sees life for all it’s imperfect beauty. She knows it’s for embracing. And she has changed the way I look at my wardrobe, my body, my self. And I think I’m ready to do this ‘being me’ thing a bit differently. I’m ready to feel beautiful, anyway.

 

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Jenni, from Styling Curvy

I’ve been shopping for plus sized clothing online for years. My inbox receives updates from all my favourite big girl stores, and the other day, one of those newsletters caught my eye.  I love Autograph clothes, they have sensible price tags and comfort, not to mention flattering styles. And they’re online. Half my wardrobe comes from them.The women in the shot were women like me. Women wearing life on their frames.  But they were confident.  I saw them and I thought I want to be like that. And a small voice in my head scoffed at me. It told me to get real. After all, I’m forty. And probably too big even for a plus-size model.  And I’m sick.  Yeah, don’t forget that bit, Rach. I clicked through to the Star Now website. I made a profile. I sent it to Autograph, anyway.

 

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The 2015 Autograph Model Search is open all August. Get into it!

And last Friday, in the midst of my downward spiral about my diminishing treatment prospects, I got a call from Vivien’s model agency in Sydney. A very sophisticated scandinavian-sounding guy told me I need to get myself to their partner agency 62 Models, here in Auckland.  I’ve been shortlisted. So on Thursday, I’m off for a bit of a shoot and an interview. Can you believe it?!

It’s probably a foolishness on my part, but you know what?  I don’t care. It has been a wonderful distraction from the upcoming surgery on Friday.  I’ve had my nails done! I have some outfits to take along, it’s been fun having something exciting to look forward to.  I hope I can do this thing, but I have no idea if I can.  There is just this belligerent part of me that recognises how short life is, it calls me to be bold.  I’m not sure if my boldness will equate to the beauty they are looking for, but I’m going to give it a shot. It’s already given me such a boost.

Wish me luck!  Do you wanna see me in my outfits?
I’ll let you know if my boldness becomes something beautiful. x

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Distance Vision

Two glorious days.

A ribbon day; discovering my love for plaiting horse tails, watching the school team compete, seeing the grins on the faces of each rider, the immense pride as a ribbon is tied around their pony’s neck. Noticing that the ponies feel pride too, a slightly rounder arch to the neck, prettier steps, a job well done.  The company of good people, shared food and the smell of sweet hay.  A daughter, reading horse encyclopedias after lights out… long after she should have let her exhausted self go to sleep.  Such a special day, and I got to be there, standing for hours, because I could.  My friend asked me if I find the heat difficult to deal with.  Yes, but not like before.  My very cells zing with some kind of happy elixir as I think that thought.  Not like before.

And today, my two little riders out on horseback.  Me, sitting on the grass, breathing in the country air and swinging my head from arena to paddock to take it all in. There is such a joy bubbling up from within, I can’t contain it. I smile at everyone and feel like hugging them all.  They are all so precious. I see all of their individual facets like I am marvelling at gems I have not seen before. So beautiful; our humanity. So breathtakingly gorgeous.

Driving home I see the lines of traffic snaking out in front of me along the highway. It’s busy. We’ll be a while. I turn up my daughter’s new CD and relax into the beat. Megan Trainor, it turns out, is not all about the bass. There is much more to that talented young lady.  I listen to this song, ‘Like I’m Gonna Lose You’ and the tears spring up behind my sunglasses.  It’s beautiful.  It’s how I feel about all of this.  The beauty of people, of life, this way.

And I notice the clouds in the distance, glorious in the late afternoon sun.  I see them, so far away, and realise that seeing things far away is not something I am used to doing.  My long range view has returned; I am seeing the breadth and depth, the future of life. I am loving it all, because really, what more can a heart do, filled up with the beauty of all of this?   My world is expanding in all directions.  I exhale and let the tears track new lines, down my cheeks and across the corners of my smile.

Do you know how beautiful you are?  People?  World?

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The Wide Blue

Oops.  I really AM having a break from the blog, but I just had to share this with you…

I’m listening to  ‘John Dunbar’s theme’  by John Barry, far above the Pacific Ocean.  The evocative, heart stringing melody pulls me into a contemplative space. The clouds out my window look like snow drifts on blue ice.  It is so beautiful.  My heart aches with the beauty of our world. I can barely understand how it is that I am flying through the blue atmosphere of this planet, eye on the curve of the horizon. Feeling so far from lost. Home in the clouds, in the air.  On my way.

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The first time I remember being in a plane was when I was around seven years old. I was clutching hold of a single rose, struggling to make sense of the painful lump in my throat.  If I close my eyes I can feel the shape of the cellophane stem in my hands, I can feel the sadness that overwhelmed me.  My best friend Dana had just said goodbye to me in the airport and given me a rose. The singularity of that flower made me realise; I was leaving the safety of being of ‘she and me’. It is the first time I understood the loss of friendship.

The strains of losses, goodbyes and farewells fill the spaces in airports and airplanes. Almost every soul on board this flight must have said goodbye to someone, somewhere.  There are heavy hearts and happy hearts, hopeful hearts and the heartbroken.  We are bound for a new destination and whatever might come.  I wonder about the stories they hold, all these people.  I wonder who they are.  What are they carrying on board today? Not their luggage; their heart burdens.  Are they as fortunate as I am? Do they have a compass for home? A warm nest of their own? Will someone be missing them tonight, reaching out their hand to find cool sheets where their warmth used to be?  Will someone be wishing they could hear them breathing, wishing they could rest their cheek against their back?

I sometimes feel so unfortunate.  I see how things are changing for me, how much less mobile I am, how much more I am struggling. And it makes me feel a strange combination of desperation, frustration and sadness.  And then, here I am, looking out the window; the arcing blue sea shifting into powdery sky and I feel calm. Blessed, even.  I get to do this. See this. Be here and have thoughts and words and experiences.  I get to make memories with people I love.

I can’t give you all the beauty outside my window; I see it, but so many people won’t.  All around me eyes are closed to the view.  People shift in their seats, or resolutely shut their eyes to the gift just there, outside the window. You have a window too, somewhere there, where you are. Have you looked out of it lately? Taken deep slow breaths and let the beauty fill you up?  I quench the parched terrain of my sad thoughts when I look outward. Don’t look down, look out. Look up. Just, look.

Listen to this music. Come, get lost and found with me, out in the blue.

(…and just in case you are wondering, that friend and I are still friends.  We found each other again at 19, saw a bit of England and a bit of the Netherlands together.  And twenty years later, we email still.  Hi Dana!  True friendship is never lost).