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.

The Embrace

 

Some years ago I came across a seminal video clip that was going gangbusters on social media. I think my cousin, Kylie in Australia posted it. It was made by Taryn Brumfitt. I remember most the way she looked at herself in the mirror. The things she said out loud that sounded like the script I’d had swirling around my own head about my body.  She was talking about the shocking way we look at ourselves as women, and why that has to change. As I watched her clip, the tears began to run down my cheeks. I felt that old familiar despair about my body. I felt shame. That tired dirge within my heart, a deep disappointment weighing down my soul. It had to change.  I added Taryn’s clip to the arsenal of information I had begun to gather around my fledgling body positivity. I’ve thought a lot about this body of mine since then, all the things it has endured. I thought about how truly wonderful it is to be here, in it. This vessel deserves thanks. Not deprecation.  I hugged myself in a long, forgiving, kind-hearted embrace. It was the beginning of this new phase in my life, the start of something brand new. Liking myself exactly as I am (how sad that liking ourselves is almost revolutionary). It’s been liberating!
Thanks Taryn for your part in this shift for me!

 

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A little drawing from my sketchbook of me, embracing myself.

 

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Taryn Brumfitt’s viral social media post.

 

Taryn has since made a full length documentary, EMBRACE, exploring the potent body-ideal saturation of our media and the various ways that affects self image. She discusses the powerful, soul destroying ways we fight the unattainable fight and why we do. Sharing perspectives from a cosmetic surgeon, an anorexic girl, a plus size model, photographers, campaigners, educators, an actor, a public figure, and the general public. The themes and message in her documentary are world-changing.  I urge you to find a screening near you. I hope it will be available soon on DVD. It’s incredible. Last night, I took my daughter and my Aunty to see that documentary. It was a special screening hosted by Meagan Kerr and Monique Doy.  At the end of it, my eleven year old girl hugged me and said “Mummy, everybody needs to see this”.  She’s smart, my girl. She’s right.

 

The documentary was hit by controversy when it was first screened here for the Film Festival. Due to the images of female genitals during one part of the film, it was considered to be sexually graphic and had to be reviewed by the censorship board. The purpose of showing those private parts, was to address a very real problem for young women; asking crucial questions about the rise of labiaplasty among young women. Labiaplasty is surgery to removed the inner labia and create a more ‘streamlined downstairs’ sometimes known as the ‘designer vagina’. Women, especially young women, are clamouring for this surgery because their vulvas don’t look like the ones in pornography. They may not know this is the standard to which they are altering their bodies, but pornography and soft-porn magazines are often the only place women see other women’s vaginas. The proliferation of porn across our internet means young people encounter multiple images of one particular type of vagina (to be technically correct, vulvas). The type fashionable in the porn industry. Waxed or shaven, minimal labial folds. A vagina more stylistically akin to that of a pre-pubescent girl. It’s a sick world, and we wonder why?  Taryn shows a  range of female genitalia to shine a light on the fact we are meant to be unique. In showing realistic, post-puberty vulvas she valiantly attempts damage control. Thankfully, our censorship board watched the film and approved it’s screening. I actually dearly wish that we could make it compulsory in all schools, for girls and boys. But there are some themes that are significant triggers for our youth and it needs to be approached with care.  NB. Suicide, self harm, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery.

 

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Photographer B Jeffrey Madoff

My favourite part of the doco was when Taryn was shooting a special diversity project with New York photographer Bernie Madoff. I’ve been involved with a few diversity shoots, bringing up the rear (pun intended) and representing women over 40 and over size 18. I adore shoots with other women where encouragement and acceptance are part of the scene. It’s a rare thing in this world, for women to accept and encourage other women, just as they are, for being who they are, not just what they look like. It’s intoxicating. It’s a force I want to see more of in this world. Not just for me, but for the generations coming through. Empowered women empower women and when they do, happiness… wholeness, happens.  I’ve been involved in education, the disability sector, and now the plus size fashion world. Advocacy seems to be part of my purpose. But I can’t help wondering if all of the disparate sectors of my life, of my society, are together the thing that lights my fire. Diversity.

 

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Shoot for Euphoria Design’s “Confidence is Beautiful” campaign. 2016.

I want to see more fully grown women fronting women’s fashion brands and having a stronger presence in the media. Women of various ages, various stages, body types, abilities, ethnicities, backgrounds and gender histories. I want the fashion world to give us all credit for wanting more than the one type of ‘woman’ (girl) we see everywhere. I want more representation, not just because I love modelling and I am not a typical model, but because it matters for our young ones coming up. It matters for them to see that women are diverse. It matters for them to see that they have a place.  Here, with us. The women of the village. If we don’t show them they have value, that their image is beautiful, how will they ever embrace the realities of growing upward, outward, and older?

 

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Shoot for Autograph Curvy Model Search. 2015.

 

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Backyard shoot for Sera Lilly jeans. 2015.

Taryn Brumfitt makes room for us all with this documentary. With her wonderful fun loving sparky approach, she elbows the status quo out of the way and asks finally, and loudly, REALLY?  Is this what we want for our gender moving forward?  She calls us to wake up and begin the revolution in our own mirrors. She’s a rockstar, and I wholeheartedly embrace her movement.

#Ihaveembraced #TheBodyPositiveMovement