I clearly remember pulling up outside Liverpool based Photographer Bri Mansey’s studio, almost crashing my Juke (according to Top Gear voted the worst car of 2018 – There goes my street credit!), into a neighbour’s car as my legs were shaking with pure angst. At the time, brand new to modelling I had agreed to participate in a group art nude photo shoot promoting positive body image. So many thoughts raced through my mind before getting out of my car. From: ‘I am a 42 year old mother of 2. Should I really be doing this?’ To: ‘I am not good enough to be photographed minus my ‘normal’ cover up of clothes to hide those so called flaws’. And ‘What if the published images cause people to laugh at and ridicule me?’ Could I cope with that? Back then I was suffering with terrible low self esteem and self worth. None of the thoughts that went through my head were either positive nor self loving. The brief of the photo shoot though was to promote that true beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, skin tones, ages and ethnic backgrounds. How wrong was I, thinking those damaging thoughts? As 3 years down the line I am back pulling up outside Bri’s studio, still in Top Gear’s voted worst car, still feeling slightly anxious but with a total new mind set ready for another body positive campaign with a fabulous tribe of real beautiful everyday people.
Let me introduce you to Jane Bellis; former model, mother of 4, established hair and makeup artist and founder of the Alternative Fashion Fest (AFF) and the Art and Souls Tribe. This incredible role model has already touched so many lives since forming AFF back in 2016. I have witnessed people from all walks of life who joined her tribe blossoming, growing in confidence and embracing their unique identities. I have seen lasting friendships being formed backstage at her kick ass fashion shows. All because Jane has a vision to change people’s perception of beauty that the media makes us believe we should live up to. She has a vision to make us think twice before judging that metaphorical book by its cover. She does give the “misfits” of today’s society a chance to strut their stuff on the cat walk. Jane also changed my life for the better. By giving me a change to join her AFF crew, encouraging me to rebuild my ‘lost’ identity, helping me grow in confidence and showing me by standing proud and facing up to a few fears and with a healthy dose of self love, you are never too old to turn a corner.
When Jane and Bri put their heads together in 2016 they decided to create their first Ruben’s inspired body positive campaign. Ruben, a Flemish renaissance painter, was also famous for being a bit of an outcast among other painters in that era. I so recommend googling Ruben as I have a feeling you will love the dude straight away like I did! Ruben believed the human body was never just a simple body. For him it was a canvas to explore moral, ethical and religious truths. Not only that, he painted women the way they were. In his eyes all bodies are beautiful in their own unique form. Ruben saw and painted bodies that would have been most probably photo shopped in today’s fashion and beauty industry. I know the debate about the media’s portrayal and obsession with unrealistic beauty standards is not a new one. However so many of us still struggle with our own so called imperfections, insecurities and expectations of what we think we should look like. Hiding away behind clothing or using a million filters before posting a selfie on social media (Yep, I am still guilty of that from time to time). Beating ourselves up behind closed doors because we simply don’t embrace the way we look. But why though? What sets you apart from that picture perfect image can sometimes feel like a burden but it really isn’t. Most of the time that’s exactly what makes you great and makes you stand out from the crowd.
Not only that. Quite often when you are a lil different and deviate from the norm but proud and happy to be you, there is always someone around the corner with a put-down comment. But being different isn’t a bad thing at all. It means you are brave enough to be yourself.
Take a look at the image we created in 2016. Six woman; Mia Resa, Emma Vickers, Lynsey Rogan Tasker, Ruthy Red and myself. We all are so totally different. Yet all sensual and beautiful in our own ways and all should be appreciated and accepted for the unique way we look. Just like you, reading this right now should. I can honestly say, that day was a life changing experience. Not only was the reaction of family, friends and through social media been incredibly kind and supportive. That day I truly learnt and understood it’s enough to be just me. Even on the days you look a little rough around the edges, with bags under your eyes and unkept hair. As for the other 5 gorgeous and brave women involved stripping bare that day… That powerful empowering feeling we all had after the shoot has given us not only a massive confidence boost but a sisterhood bond to last a life time and how beautiful is that!
In 2017 it was time to get some naked males to join the AFF/Art & Souls Tribe positive body image campaign and bloody hell did the guys involved kick up a media storm! I remember watching their journey unfold after the images were published and was constantly high fiving with excitement and pride. Not only were they invited to join the ever so judgmental Piers Morgan on BBC Good Morning Britain in London, they were also rushed back to Manchester on the same day to join ITV Granada Reports. The impact this campaign had on the males involved wasn’t only liberating for their own personal insecurities, they also reached out to other men struggling with body hang-ups, showing it is okay not to have a six pack and a big full bush of hair. I personally think it’s so much more acceptable for women to chat about their body and image insecurities among ourselves than it is for males. So I really couldn’t be more proud of this gang getting naked and revealing all raising, awareness that real beautiful men also come in all shapes and sizes. Peadar Carragher, Nick Gregory, Ian Wilkinson, John Hyland, Stephen Higginson I salute you guys!
Here we are 3 years later and another Ruben inspired Body Positive Campaign. This time men and women joining forces to show the world we should never fear being judged by our own unique bodies. Showing we all come in different shape and sizes. Showing we should celebrate our bodies and stand tall and proud. You have to be unique and different and shine in your own way after all. Looking at the images I think we nailed this campaign yet again.
Yes, I still do struggle sometimes with insecurities. However, since being made aware of the comparison trap, the effect unrealistic beauty expectations can have and being a little bit kinder to me is so liberating. Therefore I hope these images will inspire you to be your own kind of beautiful and encourages you to tell someone else today they look beautiful too. It’s amazing what a genuine compliment can do to boost someone’s confidence.