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    The Photoshoot That Pushed Me Outside My Comfort Zone

    A few weeks back a group of girls stripped down to their underwear and took part in a photo-shoot that would challenge the fashion industry and show the beauty of different body shapes, sizes and skintones. I was one of those girls.

    Directed and crafted by body positive campaigner and ex America’s Next Top Model contestant, Khrystyana, it was a shoot that united a group of women with honest bodies that revealed different stories and life experiences.

    I’ll be honest in that, I felt a tad nervous as I drove down to the studio in East London. I was well aware of the planned direction of the shoot, however, given I hadn’t experienced such a revealing photoshoot in the past and I had no idea who the girls were that were taking part, naturally, I had my reservations.

    I was quickly put at ease when I arrived and noticed a few familiar faces that I had worked with in the past, but what I was instantly struck by within a matter of minutes, was how positive the energy was. There were women wandering around, with a real sense of appreciation and openness in relation to their bodies, irrespective of what they looked like. I knew pretty quickly it was a sign that what we were about to create was going to be something empowering. 

    The shoot itself lasted for around two hours. We had a selection of individual shots, before creating the main images which included intertwining arms and hands which showcased our skin tones and a tight knit shot that would see us laying in position with our bodies slightly overlapping and almost cocoon like, for a peaceful shot that made us appear as though we were sleeping…

    Since the photos were released on Instagram, they have made their way around with magazines, body positive influencers and campaigners sharing the work of Khrystyana and the creative photographer, Irene Cano.

    With any media related campaign I get involved with, I always try to take away something positive or just opens my eyes to another way of thinking. With this shoot, I realised that body confidence isn’t about our body shape, skin colour or the size of our hips, its about our mindset, our beliefs and our ability to appreciate who we are without getting wrapped up in what the fashion industry tries to convince us is ‘body perfect’.

    In recent years, I’ve loved embracing challenging moments – pushing myself to do things that I probably wouldn’t have 5 years ago. From sharing my story live on radio without the comfort of a retake, to speaking out in schools, to hosting conferences, for me, these are things that I value and that allow me to prove to myself that with support, encouragement and faith, you can do those things that fill you with fear, because afterall “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and taking part in this photoshoot, was testament to the fact, once again, I pushed myself outside mine….

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    BARING ALL WITH LOVE DISFIGURE

    As someone with a skin condition, there was a time when I hated the idea of a beach holiday. The thought of couples strolling along the beach, women with ‘beach ready bodies’ and attracting stares that questioned why my skintone wasn’t typically mixed race, was enough to make me board a plane to New York rather than the Seychelles. It was only later, when I entered my thirties, that my attitude started to change as I realised just how much I was missing out on, because I was too busy worrying about what others thought of me.

    Earlier this year, I stepped (actually make that leaped!) outside my comfort zone and took part in a swimwear photoshoot set up by burns survivor Sylvia Mac, the founder of Love Disfigure and passionate campaigner for diversity within the fashion industry. Sponsored by swimwear brand, Swimwear 365, Sylvia chose 20 inspirational models, all with their own unique stories, with the vision of celebrating and bringing recognition to those with visible scars and skin conditions such as Vitiligo and Psoriasis.

    When Sylvia initially asked me to take part, I was apprehensive. Would I really be comfortable being photographed in my swimwear? Was I mentally ready to take part in a campaign that could go global and which would be heavily promoted across the media? I was uncertain because a tiny part of me still felt like the 15 year old that mostly wanted to disguise her skin rather than show it. Nevertheless, after giving it some thought and the importance of body positivity and embracing who we are regardless of how we look, I excitedly agreed to take part.

    The shoot, which took place at a North London leisure centre, was captured by photographer, Sophie Mayanne who is also the creator of the highly successful, Behind the Scars project. When I arrived, I instantly recognised some of the other models, not because i’d met them before, but because I’d read their courageous stories perviously in the press. In an instant, conversations started and everyone started exchanging stories that echoed strength and survival, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the positivity which quickly put me at ease with showing my body in swimwear.

    It didn’t take long for the official photo launch to come round. Taking place at a London venue, I’d not seen any of the photos and so had no clue what I looked like and to be honest, I was now more concerned about my unpredictable curly hair rather than my skin! Ultimately, I didn’t know whether I’d hate how I looked in front of the lens or if I’d be blown away! There were constant streams of people arriving at the auditorium to show support for the campaign, including ex Olympic swimmer, Sharon Davies. Sylvia opened with a moving speech about how she had conquered her own personal battles, after an accident involving boiling hot water which left her with scars on her back and various other parts of her body at the age of 4, followed by a beautifully edited clip of some of the photos captured on the day.

    As the reality of each photo revealed itself, my mind drifted back to those stories I’d learned about on the day of the shoot. It was then I realised just how proud I was of myself and all the other models that had taken part. The stories of those that had experienced difficult times, the struggles of acceptance and most importantly, being survivors of the path that had been put before them.

    Thankfully, I loved every single photo. They were incredibly natural. The swimwear design and colour complemented my skintone and my bright red lips worked well against my loosely hanging curls.

    Since its launch, the campaign has been praised across the media, featuring in The Independent, The Sun, The Daily Mail and Women’s Health Magazine. Some of the models have also featured on This Morning, modelling this years hottest swimwear looks. It really feels like change is coming and its most definitely better late than never….

     

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    Press, Radio & TV

    BBC 3 Online Series – Things Not To Say To Someone With Vitiligo

    Last month I took part in a recording for the long running BBC 3 series ‘What Not To Say’. The 6 minute recording featured six of us, all with Vitiligo, tackling and responding to all those crazy questions and statements we often get asked about our skin.

    I was paired with Bashir, and we had an absolute blast! The entire hour in which we recorded it was endless humour, with hints of sarcasm as we openly discussed what it felt like to be asked some pretty eye rolling type questions like “is it because you have one white parent and one black parent” to assuming a way to cure Vitiligo is through simply bleaching the skin!

    We wanted to shut down all those often unanswered questions that normally arise through curiosity and share with viewers exactly why some questions just shouldn’t be asked……

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    Press

    2017 Your Skin Campaign

    This week, Mediaplanet UK launched their 2017 Your Skin Campaign in The Guardian newspaper and online at Health Awareness.

    I was lucky enough to have my story featured; ‘One Vitiligo woman’s story offers hope to others, alongside a collection of motivating stories and insights from experts and thought leaders in the health industry.

    One of my favourite posts, features the work of Medha Iyer, who captures Vitiligo through her love of photography. Incredibly creative and inspiring!

    Check out the website for all things relating to skin and health.

    http://www.healthawareness.co.uk

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