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.

Dressing Dolly :: Obi and Chocolat

 

I am about seven years old, standing in a suburban Christchurch store gazing at a selection of Sindy doll clothes. All of the narrow boxes contain a few items of clothing, stitched into a flatlay behind the cellophane.  I’m deeply impressed, ’cause you can mix and match different things together and everything goes with everything else!  I can’t wait to try every possible combination!

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This inspired moment must surely be the origins of my love for fashion and all things coordinated! I’m a girl who likes to get up and know that she has at least five outfit options to choose from, all of which have matchy-matchy potential.  I think this is why I love wearing black, or mixing it up with variations of colour or print. It truly does make dressing so much easier. It makes me calm.  When my first baby was born, I used to lay out the whole weeks worth of tiny little pink outfits in readiness. Ah Sindy. You were onto it.  Mix and match is a phenomenon designed for girls like me.

 

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Yesterday I had one of those very cool “is this my life?” moments.  I was at a bloggers event run by High Society, one of New Zealand’s biggest NZ made fashion houses.

The room we were ushered into had been decorated by the very clever Xanthe, with spools of thread and ribbons, the table runner hand-drawn as an oversized measuring tape. Along the table were little beribboned boxes, one for me (!) and one for each of the bloggers sitting beside me.  We were there to meet the designers of High Society’s fashion labels, Chocolat and Obi.  I could see the new summer ranges hanging on the wall beyond them.

 

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Kylie Niovara-Dave and Jon Dyball took us on a tour of their design studios, their cutting rooms and machining floor. I met Dolly, the clothes horse with the extra added boobage, who helps Kylie and John with their plus sized pieces. She made me think of my Sindy dolls all those years ago! I could imagine how dressing dolls could evolve into dressing people. Of course, both designers use real-life fit models also and are passionate about creating clothes that truly work for their customers.

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John spoke first, with great enthusiasm, about his creative process and the influences on his summer collection. You can expect from his label Obi, an attention to luxe prints, luscious fabrics and pieces that will work for their pricetag. I loved his passion for all things Japanese, the variations in texture and interesting juxtapositions. John has a gift for finding beautiful lines, colours and textures and weaving them together into a soulful, interesting collection.  I loved all of the pieces he showcased, here is a small selection, just look!

 

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Avise, Vigeur, Joliesse. We bloggers sat transfixed as he talked us through the ins and outs of each piece and how he makes sure his customers are catered for. I was particularly delighted that he understood the issues we (ahem) over forty ladies have with hot flushes!  Many of his items are sleeveless but with coordinating throw over options for coverage. There is a focus on the comfort + style equation, with flat fronted side elasticated waist bands. As he said “we’re over being fashion victims”. Yes, John, we are! I’m all for fashion that I can feel at ease in.  In trademark Rachie style, I did gush a bit (sorry fellow bloggers, I’m working on cooling that down!)  It’s just so hard to shut myself up when I am excited about something!  See? All these exclamation marks… oh my life.

 

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Nicky, Monique, Taylor and Becca; fashion bloggers.

Then it was Kylie’s turn.  Kylie is just how you imagine a clothing designer to be, she is wearing layers of edgy black mesh and her hair is a razor cut work of art. When she begins to talk about her collection, I am impressed with the confidence she has in knowing what her customers want; she listens closely to the feedback that comes directly from their retailers. She is loving the sense of ownership that is developing in this, her second year with the brand. Chocolat caters more exclusively to the Plus Size body and it shows in her cleverly constructed garments. I listen to her intently.  She is a creative powerhouse who thinks deeply about detail, drape, line and print and colour. Her collection speaks my language.  There is (happy sigh) lots of black, with a painterly print I just can’t get enough of, and a marimekko-ish finer print in the more structured corporate styles. Her colours are ‘lickable’ brights, orange tang, slushy blue, k-bar green (those are my names for them, because they speak to my eighties inner child)!  My eye is drawn to a super cute black and white spot jacket. It is adorable and I think it will do happy things for my waist. Kylie took me down to the factory floor to try some of her pieces. It was, dear reader, a little bit of fashion heaven!

 

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When I have been browsing stores before, I can find it hard to get a good grasp on a whole collection. Lookbooks help, so I do sometimes scroll through those online before shopping, just to get the gist. But yesterday, seeing whole collections displayed on the rails really captured me. I could see Kylie’s collection as an entire work of art, how each piece works with the others. It inspired me to find a way to shop more items in a collection than I ever have before.  In fact, 5 awesome pieces came home with me yesterday. Is it possible to have more than one ‘favourite’?!

 

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I’m off to the Victorian Derby Day with my brother next weekend and the theme is black and white. The short jump across the ditch isn’t a big packing challenge, but I like to be organised. I’ll be away in Melbourne for two nights and three days. Stay tuned for the outfits I have picked out from this beautiful Chocolat summer range, mixed in with a few other faves. I know I’ll be able to wear and wear every piece, and like my old muse, Sindy, mix and match to my heart’s content!

You can buy Chocolat and Obi’s new collections online or in store at Magazine or Zebrano. So gorgeous. Every single item.

Wanna play?

 

pssst…. check out these bloggers…

Oh She Writes :: Taylor

Dressing Up :: Monique

This is Jolie :: Beth

This is Meagan Kerr :: Meagan

The Style High Club :: Nicky

 

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

 

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:

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 🙂

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!)

The Bold and the Beautiful

I’m getting older, aren’t we all?  And as the years tick over I become ever more conscious of how fleeting life is. Or maybe that is because my kids are growing older and seeing them grow up makes me reflect on how that was me, what seems like just yesterday.  Or perhaps dealing with being sick for so long has given me a better appreciation of the importance of doing what you yearn to do, because tomorrows are unpredictable. They are not to be relied on. That’s what I figure.

Michael Leunig understands Life.
Michael Leunig understands Life.

Speaking of figures, I’ve wasted a lot of my years feeling ridiculous about mine. Have you? Like, embarassed, ashamed, exasperated. Even before I had reason to. In various ways over the years I have castigated myself for the shape I carry.  Too this or too that. And if you added up all the kilos I have lost on various diets, I think I’d have lost my entire body weight. But lately, it’s just been gains. Chronic illness and my medication side effects have made weight control difficult for me.  If it’s not the tummy cramps of my pyridostygmine and motilium, it’s the insatiable appetite and trademark round cheeks I have acquired on high dose steroids. The delayed gastric emptying, chronic constipation, dizziness and especially, the ever present fatigue. ‘Just Do It’ is a huge mountain to climb. Any one of those issues pretty quickly puts exercise at the bottom of my priority list. And, um, I love cake. So, slowly but surely, I’ve gotten rounder.

o-TESS-HOLLIDAY-facebook

And that roundy-ness has made me feel less beautiful. Fat does not equate with beauty in our media; most of the time. But that is changing.  There are women like Tess Holliday, above, who are changing things. She is so gorgeous! Then there are others, it’s a new frontier. Just google ‘plus size model images’ and you’ll be wowed!

In spite of all the reasons why my fat sits there on my frame, I haven’t been good at looking at myself as though I have beauty. I look at other curvy people and I think they look beautiful, but not at myself. Lately I have been following a curvy stylist on facebook. Seeing her daily looks has been inspiring to me.  A fellow roundy girl who celebrates her inner self; on the outside.  She’s bold.  She’s sassy.  She’s awesome. I really like Jenni, from Styling Curvy for her down-to-earth approach to life.  As a cancer survivor (she calls it being a cancer thriver) she sees life for all it’s imperfect beauty. She knows it’s for embracing. And she has changed the way I look at my wardrobe, my body, my self. And I think I’m ready to do this ‘being me’ thing a bit differently. I’m ready to feel beautiful, anyway.

 

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Jenni, from Styling Curvy

I’ve been shopping for plus sized clothing online for years. My inbox receives updates from all my favourite big girl stores, and the other day, one of those newsletters caught my eye.  I love Autograph clothes, they have sensible price tags and comfort, not to mention flattering styles. And they’re online. Half my wardrobe comes from them.The women in the shot were women like me. Women wearing life on their frames.  But they were confident.  I saw them and I thought I want to be like that. And a small voice in my head scoffed at me. It told me to get real. After all, I’m forty. And probably too big even for a plus-size model.  And I’m sick.  Yeah, don’t forget that bit, Rach. I clicked through to the Star Now website. I made a profile. I sent it to Autograph, anyway.

 

Autograph Model Search graphic
The 2015 Autograph Model Search is open all August. Get into it!

And last Friday, in the midst of my downward spiral about my diminishing treatment prospects, I got a call from Vivien’s model agency in Sydney. A very sophisticated scandinavian-sounding guy told me I need to get myself to their partner agency 62 Models, here in Auckland.  I’ve been shortlisted. So on Thursday, I’m off for a bit of a shoot and an interview. Can you believe it?!

It’s probably a foolishness on my part, but you know what?  I don’t care. It has been a wonderful distraction from the upcoming surgery on Friday.  I’ve had my nails done! I have some outfits to take along, it’s been fun having something exciting to look forward to.  I hope I can do this thing, but I have no idea if I can.  There is just this belligerent part of me that recognises how short life is, it calls me to be bold.  I’m not sure if my boldness will equate to the beauty they are looking for, but I’m going to give it a shot. It’s already given me such a boost.

Wish me luck!  Do you wanna see me in my outfits?
I’ll let you know if my boldness becomes something beautiful. x

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