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Midlife Body Confidence

Why representation of older women in the fashion industry matters to our mental well being.

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Rachel Peru
Embrace your midlife body

Four years ago, I began a new career as a model and imposter syndrome was real, as a grey haired, curvy sized 14-16 older model stepping into unknown territory. I’m loving my new career path and have really learnt to embrace my body and have become passionate about encouraging women, particularly over 40 to regain their body confidence back.

Iwould never have thought about modelling in my earlier years, I was very self-conscious and lacked confidence in my twenties and thirties. It wasn’t until I hit 40 that my attitude towards my body started to change. I really struggled to feel comfortable with my body and particularly the size of my chest by the end of school I was already a 34DD and am now a 34G. I was surrounded by lovely friends who were naturally very slim, and I tried every diet going, from the grapefruit diet to detox teas to whatever was the latest miracle worker. I even booked to have a breast reduction in my thirties as I was unhappy in my body. I am so glad that I changed mind at the last minute.

I got divorced aged 39 and suddenly had to re-find myself and realised that I had a second chance to embrace life. I went back to university and gained a degree, threw myself out of planes doing tandem skydives, immersed myself in charity work and travelled. This was the start of gaining new confidence and self- belief in my abilities and made me realise the size of my body really played no part in it. I know I’m not the only women that relentlessly weighed themselves every day and the number on the scales would be the marker for the mood of the day. Lost weight left me feeling great then the next day I gained and felt rubbish about myself.

The lightbulb moment came after I had already started modelling, mostly beauty and lifestyle work and the Loose Women ‘My Body My Story’ campaign came out. We saw images of the Loose Women team in their underwear completely untouched to highlight how we are all different, we all have our own stories and to try and stop our judgement on each other and most importantly of ourselves. A local photographer, Mya Fawcett, placed an ad on Facebook for any women that would be up for recreating the image and I decided to say yes. So off I went one Sunday afternoon to meet 14 other women that I had never met before to spend the afternoon being photographed in our bra and knickers. I came away realising that we all spend so much wasted time worrying about our bodies and what we see as imperfections. This group of women embraced each other, we all had different stories, some more obvious than others, but we all had that common ground of massive insecurity. That day had a profound effect on how I saw things. 

I have continued to challenge my body confidence from taking part in the Real Catwalk wearing my bikini in the middle of Trafalgar Square, London to standing in shop windows modelling swimwear. 

What drives me to do this is talking to other women who really struggle with their own body confidence. If the media portrayed a more diverse fair representation of women in midlife, then less women would have these confidence issues. I am classed as a plus size model which doesn’t make sense when you think the average size in the UK is a size 16.  

Wouldn’t it be nice to walk into a lingerie store as a woman in your later life and not just be bombarded with young slim models which we can no longer relate too and instantly demoralises you from going to find something you might look good in. 

I’m now going through the menopause and have to learn to accept the changes this brings but I’m not going to let it be all consuming. It’s not just the pressure from the media that can knock our body confidence but also from other women. I have really struggled with this as I find others’ critical judgements of older women who are confident in their body can be unnecessarily harsh and wish we could be much more supportive of each other. Perhaps it’s because it isn’t the norm to see women in their 40’s and 50’s in marketing that society struggles to accept it. I long for the day that an older woman is seen in swimwear campaigns alongside younger women as standard practice and not just tokenism. 

How we feel about our bodies can have such a detrimental impact on our everyday lives, looking back I can see how my lack of body confidence stopped me from trying so many things when I was younger. It feels liberating to not worry about wearing a bikini at the beach or showing my cellulite to the world, there are far more important things going on in the world right now than a few lumps and wobbles.

So next time you are about berate your body why not stop and give yourself a pat on the back instead!

Rachel Peru

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