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

Weightless

This is not a diet post. But it is all about how I shed some dead weight that was keeping me down.

It all began with blogging.

Some of my friends didn’t like me blogging, they felt it was too public, others commented that I had too much time on my hands or that it was narcissistic. Those comments stung. But blogging has proved to be one of the chief delights of my life. You see, as my health declined, so did my self esteem.  I felt that I grew less useful and more of a burden as time progressed. I watched myself get sicker and less mobile as if I was watching from outside of myself. And there was, at times, a kind of loathing I felt for the girl I saw living in my skin and dealing with those problems. She was living on a different planet, with a gravitational field ten times the weight of earth’s normal. She had sunk low, very low into the quagmire. And she didn’t think she would ever re-surface.

But blogging threw me a lifeline, it kept me present, it forced me to examine what was happening in my life. I smile now to think that becoming a blogger was actually accidental.

Building a blog was a brilliant thing for me to focus on. It brought me out of myself utterly and forced my brain to work in new ways. It gave me further writing opportunities and I had the chance to dabble again with rudimentary graphics, something I love to do. Almost as much as writing the posts!  And the writing was therapeutic. I was on a roll, but still interrupted by self doubt. Then, a few weeks into the course, I discovered blog stats.  A lot of bloggers don’t pay them any mind at all, they don’t like to look at them and they don’t like to attach meaning to them.  But for me, it was like an objective, definitive message every time I looked at them. For the first time in years, I had performance feedback. It was like water in the desert! And then people began to comment on my posts, and I had connection and conversation about my writing. It blew me away.

Since I started blogging (if you average it out) I’ve had 4000 hits a day, according to the stats provided by my web host.  So that is how it began.  My confidence started to grow because something as meaningless as numbers on a screen showed me that I don’t have to be cool to have something of worth to offer.  Well that is how I interpreted it. Every click on my site felt like validation! Blog stats are a funny thing. There’s a big difference between hits and page views, and purists who crunch numbers get really into all the permutations and details of all those stats. I actually don’t give a rats about the technical meaning of those stats. What they meant to me, was that I had something to give. People wanted to read my words.  And that was the beginning of seeing my worth as separate from my health.

Writing a blog opened up other opportunities for me too. I was accepted on to a Leadership Programme for people in the disability community. I was very excited to learn more about social leadership in the field of chronic and invisible illness. I hoped the leadership programme would help me to step into something much bigger than myself.  I listened to some of New Zealand’s most influential leaders in social change.  Every speaker gave me food for thought. Every reading taught me something new. But even better, that programme taught me something you only learn from experience. I learned in a very real way how to stand up for what I believe in. I learned that I can survive judgement and criticism, that it can help me to focus on my core values and test the things that I say are true for me.  I learned that sticking up for myself is empowering and builds strength. I learned that I can cop flak and carry on.  The lesson was painful, but it healed, and I grew.

That particular lesson would prove a very useful tool in my personal growth.  In August last year, I got the opportunity to embark on a new line of work; plus size modelling. It was extremely left field.  I have not felt beautiful for a long time, I wasn’t sure if my outer package could be considered a bankable commodity. But I got signed by Vivien’s Model Management at 41, older and fatter than I have ever been… yet healthier and happier than I remember being.

My year in the Leadership Programme had coincided with six months of immune modulation therapy and a further six months of oral steroid support. It kicked my immune system into line. I was in remission! And modelling, a preposterous concept the year before, was actually a possibility. I went for a test shoot in Sydney. I started work as a model for the agency 62Models.  In October, I volunteered to do a breast cancer fundraising lingerie calendar.  Something well outside of my comfort zone. We were photographed out at Ambury Park Farm on a blustery Sunday, lying in the grass in our bras and knickers. But I did not expect the publicity that it would bring.

 

Photograph by Mike Mikha for the NZ Plus Size Calendar by Regina and Peachtree
Photograph by Mike Mikha for the NZ Plus Size Calendar by Regina and Peachtree

Fatness is a fact of western society. We live in a world of plenty, we are time poor and we are sedentary. We are yet to grapple with the problems that obesity brings us as a country, but let me just address the elephant in the room (no pun intended), it is a real problem.  More than 60% of women are over size 14 and considered ‘plus size’ by our fashion industry; but that doesn’t mean over 60% of women are obese. My own fatness is the result of six years of illness, medications and an inability to exercise. And my love of cake!  I acknowledge the facts of my fat. It would be better for my body if I was not this heavy, yet I am. And my size does not dictate my worth. I don’t celebrate my fat. But I do celebrate having womanly curves and stepping into body confidence regardless of size. I do celebrate honouring our bodies for what they do for us instead of putting ourselves down. These bodies go through so much, and often things out of our control. Fat is a complex issue.

Media interest in the plus size lingerie calendar resulted in a long discussion on TV3s facebook page. A number of people wrote deeply hateful things about fat girls in their comments. I watched with dismay as the brave, lovely ladies who posed with me for such a good cause, became targeted by the comments levelled at the models.

“They should all be taken back to the farm and trained like the pigs they are”

“I would not want any of these women to be role models for my daughter”

My dismay was not about the comments, although they are awful. My dismay was that some of the girls were letting nasty words decimate their sense of self. Opinions are cheap. I see now that any person delivering criticism at my door has to be someone I really respect for it to hurt. I know this, because I wasn’t hurt in the slightest. In fact, I wanted everyone to ignore those comments rather than bite back. I have reached a place where criticism has found it’s proper place in my head. Realising that I wasn’t hurt by those words made me pause and think about how far I have come.

I’m just being me. Doing my thing. Using my voice about the things that I feel strongly about. My voice won’t always agree with everyone else’s. My thing won’t always be your cup of tea. Who I am might cause you discomfort or make you feel like judging me. And finally, at this ripe old age, I am okay with that. When I started blogging in May of 2014, I had no idea that I was really starting a journey in knowing who I am, what I stand for, and what I will put up with. I had no idea that I was girding myself with the truth of who I am as a human being. Learning how to activate my force field and deflect the worthless words of detractors.

If you are feeling weighed down and your self esteem is at an all time low, please find something to do that brings you joy. Take a step into the passions that give you a sense of success and provide you with useful feedback about who you truly are. Every single person on this planet is worthy, has something to give and a soul purpose.  Ignore those stupid detractors in your head or in your ear. Tell them where to go. You have much more to do than spend your life anchored to a negative perception of yourself. Find your thing. Find your self.  Let go of the shackles and heavy burdens you carry, you’d be surprised how much easier it is to travel without the weight of all that.

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Here is one of my favourite songs of all time, oh James Taylor! I referred to it in a competition I entered the other day run by a NZ designer label, Euphoria, it’s all about how confidence is beautiful. If you are interested in helping me out with a vote,  you can find my entry heremine is the one titled ‘Up On the Roof’. 🙂

…and listen to this soul-weight-lifting song all about getting away from the quagmire, here:

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?

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

 

Standing, still. Moving forward.

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The lights cast a soft whiteness across the photographic back drop. The studio is quietly humming. The equipment pops and flashes for each shot. Nods and short sentences between the photographer and stylist. I’m standing there, in my tenth outfit of the morning, swishing one way and another, a small dip of the head, a smile at some imaginary friends, a little on-the-spot walking action… it’s a sequence of movements like a slow motion dance. I am handed a bag, someone teases a rogue section of my hair.  Someone else adjusts my sleeve so the wrinkles will fall ‘just so’. I am modelling.

I smile at the lens, my mind racing along with the shoot, keeping up but in a parallel reality. I’m stunned by the surrealism of it all. I find it hard to compute that I am here, doing this. I’m not sure how long it will take me to adjust to feeling this way. Only 6 months ago I was struggling to manage daily life. Standing was my nemesis. Yet I have been on my feet for two hours straight… and I can still smile. Flash!  Pop! I feel my calves flex to keep my balance in my size-too-small prop shoes. I’m really doing this. Still standing.

“That’s it, we’ve got it!” smiles the photographer. The stylist and makeup artist give each other a high five. We. Are. Done.  Everyone thanks everyone. I change back into my own clothes. And just like that I clock off from another shoot as a curvy model. It’s such a fun and affirming thing to do. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I’m being paid to try on clothes and show people how they really look on a curvy body. I’m contributing to the kind of online shopping environment that works for curvy girls. I can’t count the number of times I have not purchased online, because the model looked too small for me to really understand how the clothes would fall. It makes me happy to think that there are DD-cup+, curvy girls out there who will purchase clothes this season because my boobs and bum provided some realism to help them with their shopping choices!  Here’s to the bootylicious bods out there, and some fair representation!
Here’s a grainy phone picture of me all glammed up, on my way home from yesterday’s shoot:

I’m really doing this. I'm still standing.(2)

But besides the representation of plus-sized bodies, the glamour and the fun of doing a shoot, there is always something running along underneath, for me. An incredulity. An awareness that just standing is still a dream for so many of you, just as it was for me, not so long ago. I remember how that felt, longing for a body that could do the normal stuff; every present moment is echoed with the contrast. I carry my past with me, I carry a knowledge that I can never forget.

And it is precisely because of all those years that I am seizing the day! I am doing what I can, because I CAN! But I have not forgotten you, out there. I stand for you as much as I stand for me. With every health win, every symptom I walk away from, with every medication I wean off, I am laughing in the face of Dysautonomia. Take that!  See this? Wham. In your face mother plucker! I so hope that if you have been following my journey, you feel me carrying you into everything that you cannot do. Into all of my upright hours, through all of my busy days. You are with me, in spirit if not in body. Your own body biding it’s time, battling it’s own way through the maze. Hanging in there.

I stand for you.

I stand for a world that is kinder to people like us.
I stand until you can.  I will stand as long as I can.
Hang in there my friends.  Hold tight. Never, ever let go of whatever it is pulling you onward.  Because if this can happen for me, then that means, it is possible.  If I have this reprieve, this time of plenty, this freedom to be who I always used to be, then why not you, too?

It’s a paradox, but nonetheless, here I am standing still and moving forward.
Kia Kaha.

*the necklace in the image above is from Uberkate. She ran a competition last year for women to nominate their friends/sisters/mothers using one word for the pendant.  My friend Nettie nominated me and chose the word ‘standing’. My sister in law Cathie seconded the nomination.  And they won it for me! It is a necklace I treasure.  I wear it every day and it draws me back to my purpose every single time I look at it. Thanks Nettie, thanks Cathie, and thanks Uberkate!
** Nettie has a blog called I Give You the Verbs. Which tickles me, because in winning that necklace for me, she literally gave me the verb! 😉

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!

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…