Hello From the Other Side

In Wellington airport the other day, I was flicking through my internet stream. And I came across this awesome Rolling Stone interview with Adele, have you read it?  Her voice sends vibrations down into my reptilian brain. She moves me. She’s amazing.  But I was a little relieved to read that her new song “Hello” isn’t about another lost love, it’s about her younger self. It really resonated with me, because I was about to fly into Sydney, the land of my ‘old self’… (who is really my young self, suspended somewhere in time). My passport is in my maiden name, so every time I looked at my boarding pass I was seeing my old name, the name of that Sydney school girl. It all conspired to make me very nostalgic. So on the plane I wrote this little reflection piece. Thought I would share it here…
because I think Adele tapped into something universal with her song.
If you could call yourself twenty years ago, what would you say?
Would you warn that girl? Apologise?
Hmmm. I’d try to bolster my old self up.  Give her some encouragement.
She didn’t look like she needed it, but she sure did.
I wish I could go back and give her that.
Anyway… here’s my piece about my two selves. My then, my now.

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I used to go walking there, far above the chase, and perch on a rocky outcrop in a blue-green sea of gum. I liked thinking that maybe centuries earlier, indigenous people had sat there, watching the bush fires maybe, or searching for signs in the skies. Maybe they were children, maybe they were not so different to the girl I was, hiding in the wide bush, running from the things she couldn’t shape with words.  My legs were strong then, I would relax my breathing and let them carry me along the barely perceptible bush tracks, avoiding the hostile prickles that seem to typify every Native Australian plant. Stay away!  the barbs and spikes screamed. Yet they sheltered me, surrounded me on my rock. Hummed and buzzed with all the wildlife they sheltered, too. Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate, one by one into the heated haze of afternoon. I was the only person who knew about the rocky outcrop. Just me. No one ever replied to the chalky poetry I wrote on the rocks, stone against stone. There were never any signs of any other person but me. Yet I felt the ghosts of the aboriginal children who sat there too, kept from me by time alone. In the bush I was anonymous. Alone. Free to think my thoughts and ache my pains. I loved it there.

Sometimes I could be there for hours, watching the seconds evaporate into the heated haze of afternoon.

Today I am flying back to the city that cradles my rock of anonymity, a small space amongst the wide Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park. I haven’t been there for so long. Maybe the rock has been discovered by another person by now. Maybe the bush has changed so much I would never find it again. The landmarks I used, now grown and burned and reshaped in the decades since I walked there. Strong on those young legs. And there wouldn’t be time anyway, I tell myself. I couldn’t absent myself to go bushwalking alone.  I am scheduled. Planned. There and back. Quick trip.  Short stop. Turnaround.  A thought panics my mind. Maybe I left my girl self on that rock. I have an urge to find her again. To see the banksia and gumnuts and breathe the eucalyptus in the air.

I remind myself that nothing ever stays the same.

I didn’t. I think of my internal topography. The rifts and seismic shifts of the years between. The person I have become, so far from the girl on the rock.

Soon, the driver I have never met, will hold up a placard with my old name on it. The name of that bushwalking poet. It must be the strangeness of that, making me nostalgic for her. She’s had two other names since then, two more selves layering over her original self.  She was so afraid of what would come. But she should give herself more credit. I return in her name, a brief walk in her shoes, back in her town. That pony-tailed girl in the white school shirt and grey checkered skirt. She had long brown legs. Strong legs. Walking legs. I will walk on the same bones, strong of heart, towards a new and exciting experience of this place. The questions I don’t know the answers to, the questions I won’t ask, will hang, palpable in the air. I will be patient. Wait until I am at the studio. Prepare the strength I will need to walk in my body, proud of who I have become. Because confidence is never as easy as it looks! There will be no sign of that girl, troubled and stormy, hiding on her rock in the vast space of the Australian bush.

Sydney will feel so big and busy. It always does. Everybody bright and smooth and slick. The cars so fast, glossing across the flat wide roads. It’s an efficient city. No pause for poems scratched on rock faces. For ancient faces. I turn inward and begin to sculpt my outward self. There will be expectations and I don’t know what they are, but I will smile and read the social cues I find. I will joke and try not to say the embarassing things I often blurt out. I might talk about the Sydney I used to know, so long ago.  I will stare down the blank iris of the camera and imagine myself within it. Caught in a nanosecond, angles and tilts, light and shade.  I will stand tall. Kia kaha.

And while I am doing that, the girl inside myself will look out across the Chase, somewhere north of here, back in time. Somewhere between a rock and a hard place, she will find a pathway through. If I could, I would wave to her, out there on her rocky outcrop. I would wave to her and tell her I’ll see her on the other side of twenty years. Older, wiser, taller, kinder.

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry
for breaking your heart

But it don’t matter, it clearly
doesn’t tear you apart

Anymore

lyrics from Adele’s ‘Hello’
You can listen to the song here:

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