Every Woman

On Sunday I was flown to Sydney for the 2015 Autograph Curvy Model Search test shoot. I’ve written about what’s been happening here, here and here… and yesterday was the highlight of the amazing journey I have been on. It’s been so exciting!  I know some of you are keen for the lowdown, so here’s a little peek into my day being an ‘international curvy model’ (squeeee!)

Rachel, Lauren M & Rowena

“Maybe you could just photoshop that arm,” I self-consciously joked with the Marketing Manager for Autograph.
“No!” admonished Alexa, her corkscrew curls shaking emphatically, “We want real women!”  and I fell in love with that lady right there and then.

There were three women on the monitor in front of us.  One of them was me, 41, a wife, mumma and writer. My arms are roundy, like my Grandma’s used to be.  Baker’s arms, dimpled and soft like a warm bun.  Those arms make my embraces comforting. Then there’s Rowena, 25, a cop, daughter and girlfriend.  Her tiny waist curves the way down to her voluptuous rear end. But hers is not a standard pear-shape figure, no… she’s all spicy pear! The kind of wiggle when she walks that makes all the guys look.  And then there is Lauren, 26, a wife and mum to two under three, working for an airline. Cheekbones to make Pocahontas insecure and a figure with all the right oomph in all the right places, including a little curve on the tum, that beautiful space where she carried a baby just one year ago.  Our ethnic backgrounds are diverse.  I am a kiwi Pakeha.  My genes fetching me down through generations from the viking clans, through the British Isles and to my Aoteoroa.  Rowena is a Samoan Australian and Lauren, an multiracial-Australian. We are all testament to the antipodean pull of the decades; our families settled us in the lucky countries. We’re Tasman neighbours and new friends. We are every woman. Our bodies express our life experiences. We represent some of the vibrant spectrum of plus sized women down under.

Today, we’ve gathered here, from across Australia and New Zealand.  Altogether we are ten, chosen from more than 4,500 entries. The studio space is incredible. Hanging plants and exposed brickwork in an impossibly funky foyer space.  There’s a portrait photography exhibition in the foyer/cafe; the whole venue oozes artsy cool. Our studio is huge. A concrete curved backdrop arcs up the double height wall. The equipment is extraordinarily technical. When I first arrived and walked past all the monitors, lights, stands and foam partitions,  I realised what an out-of-the-ordinary day awaited me.

Ahead of me, the other girls had swished into the waiting area.  There were leather chairs and sofas, a big table, lighted makeup mirrors and all the trappings that attend a shoot. Clothing racks bedecked in bright summer colours, accessories in a jumble, a big bowl full of sparkling waters and Italian soda. The food had already begun to arrive.  Sourdough with avocado, goats cheese, tomatoes and basil.  Tiny little granola and yoghurt pots. Bamboo spoons. Fruit platters bigger than Carmen Miranda could handle.

It was all so chic!

I introduced myself to the makeup team and then to Nicola, the marketing rep from Autograph. She is all cool sophistication. Ruler straight caramel hair, groovy glasses, structured tunic, stovepipe crops and pretty flats. She is warm, too. Friendly and welcoming. I felt all fluttery and excited but also strangely relaxed. The atmosphere in the studio echoed the brand… all bright, comfy; happiness.  I found myself exhaling and letting myself go with it all. I could barely believe I was really there.

The clothes I saw on the rack were my kinds of clothes. Tunics, floaty dresses, crop pants. There were the necklaces that help bigger girls achieve outfit balance. Clinky bracelets and dangly earrings. I was in my fashion comfort zone. And the colours!  Deep cobalt and coral, apricot pink and sunshine yellow, jade and aquamarine. The happy colours of summer. I kept taking deep breaths and trying to memorise the moments before they slipped me by. I heard Richard the photographer asking about a light test, so I volunteered to step into the studio space. He sticks down two strips of tape on the floor (my ‘mark’) and I stand there, ready for him to set up his equipment. I love that moment, the first moment there in front of the camera.

He feels strangely close yet far away, a familiar stranger, connected to me via the invisible line between the camera’s lens and my iris. In the second the photographer bends to his lens, it’s just him and me. I am imagining what he is seeing.  Smiling at him through the lens. I think, Hello over there, Richard! He smiles back.

Rachel Mowbray (11)

After adjusting the flash and moving some of the foam walls, he said “Why don’t we just do this?” and that’s how it started, I was having my test shoot! I felt giddy with happiness, floating around my mark in a coral embroidered kaftan. I felt beautiful. Someone blew cool air towards me from a gap in the movable walls.  It made my hair blow back from my face, just so. And the coolness was so welcome under the lights.

I still can’t get over being able to stand for this long. To feel the energy coursing through my body. It makes my heart sing, this freedom to move. It’s not that long ago that I could not have done this and the familiar gratitude fills my heart. It is so easy for me to smile.  Who wouldn’t? The joy of life bubbles up and engulfs me. I want to giggle. A girly giggle for all the girly goodness I am experiencing. I am modelling! I am blown away by all this. So lucky. So incredibly grateful!  For health, for opportunities, for this life of surprises and soulfood. Thank you, I think.
Just thank you, for this. For all of this loveliness.

Rachel Mowbray (29)

The day passed after that in a giddy blur.  Two more shoots happened. I met my Australian modelling agent, Ekke, and the Vivien’s Model Management boss, Catherine.  They felt like family within minutes. We talked about the lovely people at 62 Models in Auckland.  We sipped on our Italian sodas and organic juices. A lavish lunch arrived. There was time to chat and selfie with all the girls; every one, a beauty, inside and out.

Every now and then I felt old. Eleven years separated me from the nearest in age to me.  All the other girls were in their twenties, fresh of face and firm of curve. I felt a little intimidated in flashes, and then I just told my brain to shut up. It was the only way. To stop that inner critic so I could enjoy being myself. I’ve been practising it a lot more lately. Once I’d silenced my self-sabotage-software, I enjoyed just being there with them, sharing their youthful energy and infectious laughter. We all changed into a second outfit for a small group shoot. I was grouped with Rowena and Lauren, all of us in gorgeous summer dresses.  It’s impossible not to feel breezy and beautiful in Autograph clothes. I linked arms with them and felt their warm energy, their hearts hammering in unison with mine in that small space. We joked with each other and the laughter came easy. I am glad I have had the chance to meet them.  Impossibly lustrous hair, velvety skins, clear healthy eyes. There’s that familiar internal self pinching again.  Was I really there with those beauties? It made me smile.

Rachel, Lauren M & Rowena (7)

Group (25)

All of these women are not just beautiful because of their outward curvy lusciousness. They’re not just beautiful because of the expert hair and makeup attention they’ve received today. They’re beautiful because of the lives they live, the families they love, the work they do, the women they are. Like me, they’re representing every woman. Women like you. I wish I could have had you all there with me in that studio yesterday. I wish you, too, could have been treated to makeup artists and hair stylists and friendly warm people making you feel like a million bucks. You there, with the roundy arms, or defiant boobage. You, with the mumma tum, the wobbly bum. You are woman, and you are beautiful.

I hope you feel beautiful today. X

I HOPE YOU

 

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!