Synergy

Euphoric!

I love a good coincidence. I love the synergies between things and finding unexpected connections.

You who know me and know my story will understand the particular significance of the word ‘euphoria’ for me. Euphoria was my most significant side effect from the immune modulating steroids that put me into remission. I wrote about that here.  Ah, such a buzz that was, and so nice to have a positive side effect from medications! It’s rare, you know, for the meds to produce something lovely!  I like the synergy, that the med that made me happy also made me well.

So, euphoria and I were an established pair.  And that bubbly happiness spread out across the joy of my remission, across the beginnings of becoming a plus size model. And then one day, I found myself in the uber cool flat of a brilliant photographer, Carolyn Haslett, who was going to do a shoot for me. She was so lovely. I felt really embarassed by my lack of knowledge about the high end plus size fashion scene. I mean, I’ve never really had budget for high end fashion, so my knowledge extended to bagging bargains and making style out of what you’ve got. And of course, when I was sick, there was very little call for fancy things.  It was all comfort and practicality, perched up in my bed looking out at the world.

Carolyn is vastly experienced in the world of fashion, here and overseas. She was a patient educator. She chatted about Georgia Pratt, a plus size model she had photographed previously. Georgia is a forerunner for plus size modelling in New Zealand and is now wildly successful in the UK. Carolyn also told me about Euphoria Design. She told me how much I would love their pieces. We went upstairs to her rooftop and she took some photos. I love all the pictures she took, but the one above feels particularly breezy and confident, it’s one of my favourites from that day.  I was wearing my beloved dress from TCD (another oustanding NZ fashion label for plus girls) and enjoying the whole experience.  It was a day for stepping into confidence and learning to move my body for the camera. I learned so much, not just from shooting with Carolyn, but from analysing the photos with her later.

I looked up Euphoria Design when I got home, and joined their facebook page. I am always keen to support local fashion houses, and I wanted to know more about them. Their clothes made me swoon. Luxurious, flowing layers and unique signature prints, I loved them all. I was thrilled when they announced an end of season sale, such a great opportunity to pick up designer delights at a fraction of the new season prices. And then, one day, Euphoria announced they were running a competition. They were looking for ten ladies who exhibited the ideal that ‘Confidence is Beautiful’.

I was beyond excited! I rifled through my photos and found the one Carolyn had taken all those months before, up on her roof. James Taylor‘s song started floating through my mind… I uploaded my pic and wrote about that experience, strutting across the rooftop terrace, totally new to modelling, a novice at confident posing. I wrote about how confidence is a choice you make, to back yourself. And then, even though I will never be comfortable asking for votes, I shared and shared and hoped and hoped.

Last night, I got an email saying I was in!  What a win for women like me, over forty, a little frumpy, a little frazzly, a little frightened about being thought ridiculous. We’re not ridiculous. We are beautiful, for all that we are, all that we do, all that we have experienced.

It made me dance up and down my hallway. I love this competition because it is all about the very thing I believe. We shine when we stand up with confidence and believe in ourselves. We are beautiful when we know ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness; we radiate positivity when we accept ourselves for all that we are and have been through. Beauty and confidence go hand in hand. It’s a feeling. It’s quite a lot like euphoria!

I sat down this morning to write this post because I knew you’d want to know how that competition went.  And as usual, I went to my online graphic program, Canva, to make the blog graphic for the beginning of the post.  I kid you not, look at the font name!

See! Synergy!

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If you’d like to look at Euphoria Design’s beautiful clothes, you’ll find them online here.
Or join their facebook page here and follow the competition as it all unfolds.

So thank you: Carolyn, for the image that helped me place among the winners, to anyone who voted, to Monique at Euphoria & Jane at Identify Marketing for choosing me…

…and thank you ‘synergy’, for making it all feel like a kind of cosmic kismet. I like that.

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! 😉