Undressing for ‘Dressing Up’

Finding summer swimsuits when you are a curvy girl is all kinds of challenging. Here is my selfie from the Ezibuy fitting room when the togs first hit the shops. I thought if I was prepared and did my research I would surely crack the code for this summer!  As it happened, I didn’t need to because Monique, on her blog, Dressing Up has done the legwork for me and all of us ‘inbetweenie’ and curvy girls. Monique is a friend of mine, and so when she enthused about the vision for her swimsuit edit, I put my hand up. Quickly, before I could change my mind. I know, it surprised even me. These thighs don’t see the light of day very often!

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gimme all the supports please

The location was a sophisticated poolside in Greenhithe, nestled in native forest, bathed in sunlight. I was waddling my way around the location, adjusting my ample thighs, trying to find a position that was most ‘kind’ to my cellulite. But that cellulite was irrepressible.  No matter how much thought-control I used to will it away: it persisted.

I gave up trying.

And that is how, in the harsh light of day, the reality of every dimple of my legs got translated through a lens onto the screens of more than 30,000 people (at last count).  It’s been a freaky few days.

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But how could I let this happen?  You ask.  Do I really want my flaws out there for the whole world to see?  Well, um, yes… kind of!

See, I’ve been on a mission, not exactly to get my kit off, but to accept myself just as I am and to help other women do that, too. To recognise that all of me is okay, not just the bits I think other people will find acceptable.  I am just so tired of trying to live life with the brakes on. It just wears a soul down, living like that.

I’m tired of seeing other women limit themselves too, just because they are ashamed of their ample arms, rumptious bumps, mummy tummies or thunderous thighs.  It feels to me that if I am serious about self acceptance, I will be serious about helping other Curvy Queens to feel more normal about their bodies. That’s why I get in front of a camera so often these days, so girls like us can feel they are not the only one.

Our bodies deserve more credit for what they have brought us through.

Since going into remission I have been busy, and one of the things I have been doing is plus-size modelling. It’s been fun! It’s been mostly rather ‘safe’ in the way mature plus size fashion always is; most places don’t like to show too much of this old girl… so I’ve been modelling sedate numbers like this one:

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‘Yourself’ brand from Farmers, now sold out

Until I met Monique. She is a dynamo woman. A Girl Boss.  She told me about her vision for the ‘inbetweenie’ and plus sized women of New Zealand and I was sold; she’s awesome, highly professional and one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met. I love her story, I love her methods.

It was to be for this post, it’s been doing really well because it shines with relate-ability. She wanted to show suits on a range different body types.  Her post was all about how everybody already has a swimsuit body, we just need to put the swimsuit on! Is it any wonder we feel shy, when most retailers show their suits only on size 8 girls? It needs to change. Even some of the plus size brands still showcase their suits on size 12 women. They are beautiful women, but size 12 is not plus size. We’ve been labouring under the notion that swimsuit bodies are the ones mainstream media feeds us. Nu-uh. We can wear togs too.

Are you going to join me? This summer: we swim!

It’s time to release ourselves from all the things that hold us back and finally get into the ocean with our families. The idea of wearing the swimsuit anyway, aligns with my feelings about living this life to the fullest. Not walking away from the things that light you up.  Freedom for women, especially from the shackles of our own minds; lights me up.  And so, even though it terrified me, I did it, anyway. I got my kit off in front of the camera.  I’m a size 18-20. My boobs are 18DD/E. And I wore togs in front of the whole crew… and all of you. Eeep.

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Our clever photographer, Nykie Grove-Eades made me feel completely fine about being in a state of undress in front of the lens! When I put the first suit on, I threw my cover-up on top. Then I looked around at all the women, everyone so different. And I thought how ridiculous I was being. I took it off and wandered around just in my cossie. It was the culmination for me, of all the past months of working as a model. Learning to move my thoughts out beyond my own self.

I will however, leave the nudie shots to Taryn Brumfitt (!)  Her documentary, Embrace (have you seen it?) is partly responsible for the new, emboldened me. Thousands of women all over the world are baring all in bold new selfies, but I am more of a keep-the-lady-bits-covered girl. And not just for my sake!

The thing I am burning to address today, is that every single time I do a shoot, no matter what I will be wearing, my brain goes through the same tiring dramas. I wanted to share that with you because I think many of us go through this cycle. The same statements, on repeat. They used to be really loud and sounded compelling, like a ‘truthful’ person, doing you a ‘favour’ by telling you that you are not enough somehow.

The words in my head would be horrible to me about my worth and how pathetic I am. They would tell me that no one wanted to see me. That how I look, who I am, is completely insignificant and irrelevant to everyone. That I was disgusting, gross, obscene. Unlovable.  Laughable.  And exactly who did I think I was?

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One of you. With my lumpy bits and my lopsided tits (!) Realistic. Woman. Roundy and Rumptious. At your service.

What a counterproductive script! I am flipping that script. Slowly but surely, I am standing up to the girl in my head who loves to hate me. She’s shrinking a bit, every day, her voice grows less insistent. She’s learning that she’s not the boss of me anymore.  And oh my goodness, I like it. Why did I let that voice become so powerful?

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When I can make my thoughts shut up, I feel so free!

Have you got a loud, rude voice in your head, too?  Like any bully, that voice is like that because of insecurity.  So if you want to flip the script too, start by saying something reassuring to that inner-child of your soul. Something kind. Offer that anxious creature some evidence to knock down some of that nasty bully bravado. I start with looking at myself square in the mirror and saying “There are millions of other women just like me”.  And then “Every person has beauty”. Those things are facts. Sometimes, I remind myself that thinness is not a virtue, or that fat is not anything to do with my character. My fat is just a fact about me, it is not all of me, nor is it a catastrophic disaster. It’s just fat.

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My dear friend Jo recently told me something her grandmother told her. She said, “Each morning, when you face yourself in the mirror, simply make the best of what you have. Then go out and forget about yourself“. I love that wise advice.
Feeling self conscious? Concentrate on others, listen to them, be present to the people in your life. Because that is the key to true beauty, an outward focus. Connection. Genuine joy is out there, not inside your head, locked up with that aggravating voice of self castigation.

I think Roald Dahl understands beauty best:

“If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”

I want to say thank you to Monique Doy from Dressing Up, for the vision and radness she brings to the NZ online world of inbetweenies and plus-size girls. For asking me to be part of this shoot and seeing something in me I did not see. And to Nykie (camera), Natalya (face) and Alice (hair) for making the best of what I’ve got, so I could step out and forget about myself; being truly present to a beautiful experience. Thank you so much. I also want to thank Farmers, KMart, Beyond the Sea, Thunderpants and K&K Fashions. I loved wearing your swimsuits and hat; in them I am going to feel a million bucks doing the towel-to-surf dash this summer!

If you haven’t already, head on over to Monique’s blog, Dressing Up. If you are into instagram you’ll find her here. You’ll love her as much as me. She’s the kind of girl Roald Dahl was talking about, she always looks lovely, for all the right reasons.

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NB:  All photographs (unless stated) in this post are copyright to Nykie Grove-Eades and Dressing Up NZ. They have been used with permission.

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

Deep End Stuff

She was a tough nut sometimes, my Mum.

Brought up in the Bay of Islands, she lived down by the water beside a picturesque bay. I don’t think it was as idyllic as it sounds. Survival in the post war years, off grid with five kids can’t have been a walk in the park for her parents.  She spoke of having to go in the rowing boat around to the mouth of the river once a week so they could wash the clothes in fresh water. Neither she nor her four siblings could swim, and one terrifying day, her baby brother fell over the side. She recalled seeing his blonde curls just above the surface of the water, the rest of him below. Her mum managed to get him back into the boat and on they went to do the washing. I think it haunted my Mum, that memory.  So even though she wasn’t a strong swimmer herself, she was determined that we would learn to survive in the water.

Our introduction was at our neighbours swimming pool. It had a very deep end, and after splashing about in the shallows, one at a time, Mum took us along the outside pool deck to the deep end. “In you go!” she said. In I went, clinging by my fingernails to the shiny squares of the edge.  “Now-” she said, “push off from the side and use your arms and legs to keep your face out of the water” showing me the doggy paddle action with her arms.  I was so afraid.  I wanted to keep my tenuous grip on the tiled lip of the pool. But I trusted her. And in one crazy, better-not-think-about-it-moment, I pushed off. I paddled like she said.  My legs pushing against the water beneath me. Around in a big arc, the deep blue beneath me seemed to stretch down endlessly.  But I was moving! And as long as I was moving I was staying up near the top! I craned my neck and panted with the effort. I was exhilarated! As far I was concerned, I was swimming! I remember that moment because it was one of my biggest. I was afraid. I did it anyway. Some moments just stay with you. Do you remember when you first got into the deep end?

I was afraid, but I trusted her

Tonight I had a wee panicky moment, thinking about what lies ahead of me on Monday. I’m going to what is called a casting. A big retailer is going to check me out and take some test shots to see if I am a good fit for their brand. I’ll be there in front of the cameras, having a go at posing and trying to look natural instead of petrified!  I was initially feeling really excited about it, just kind of zen, you know? Then Kelly, the lovely girl I talk to at the agency, asked me if I had any questions. Um,
“Should I take my suck-it-all-in-pants?” I asked. She giggled. I think I surprised her with that question, I guess she deals with a lot of girls who don’t need suck-it-all-in-pants. But Bridget Jones and I, we are kind of attached to them. They help with the jiggle and give me a better contour. She asked me again what size I am. “18-20”, I said.  When I got my contract from Vivien’s I wrote my sizes down, and I noticed that my contract states that I can’t change my size. And, you know, I’m such a good girl, that for the last few weeks, I’ve been studiously maintaining my booty!  “Hmmm”, she said, “I wouldn’t have picked you for an 18-20, their sample size is 16”.  Ah. “Guess I’d better take the suck-it-all-in pants!” I laughed. “It’s a plan!” she said, and I began to imagine myself squeezing in to pants two sizes too small. This rumptious rear might find that a bit challenging!

So since that little exchange, I’ve been feeling a bit more nervous.  My hubster came home and asked me what was up.  I must have been chewing on my lip. I explained it all and he smiled that Bobby Dazzler grin. “Babe,” he said, like he was talking about an irrefutable fact, “it’s just deep end stuff. We’re good at deep end stuff!  Just get out there…and see what happens!”.  He’s good like that. Reassuring. Believable. And he’s right, we are good at ‘deep-end’ stuff. We’ve had lots of practise! So I am letting go of that safe space I inhabit on the edge of the unknown. I’m pushing off, regardless of how frightening this new world of modelling is to me. I’m just going to think of my mum, showing me that paddle action, I’m going to keep my head up and give it a go.

What’s the scariest deep end moment you’ve had?
How did it work out?
Did you keep your head above water?
Oh please, tell me encouraging stories!

Post Script:  it went well!  I fitted their samples by some miracle of brand-size-variation and the suck-it-all-in pants were not required.  Phew!  Just have to wait now to see if the brand manager thinks I am a fit for their stuff.  It was fun 🙂

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

 

_Take off the jewellery.Just be you_ she(2)

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!

_Take off the jewellery.Just be you_ she(1)

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!)