If someone had said to me that this year, I was going to be one of the winners for a plus size modelling campaign, I would’ve laughed hysterically, and told them to jog on! Little did I know that after entering the Yours Clothing competition for the Face of Yours campaign, would I now be sitting here, as a plus size model, after becoming one of the winners.
I’ve never really spoken about my weight, or the issues that I have with my body away from mito, but I think it’s time that I speak about them here, in this blog entry, because I promised honesty, in all it’s painful glory.
I’ve never been ‘skinny’, or blessed with an athletic frame. I was bullied throughout school because of my weight, leading me to believe that I was fat. It is only years and years later that I can finally look back at photographs of myself and realise that having breasts and curves doesn’t mean that you are fat. I can see now that I was slim, but curvaceous, and because the other girls hadn’t developed breasts yet, I was seen as fat and unattractive because I didn’t look at skinny as they did.
Fast forward a few more years, and now I’m actually overweight. How ironic that all those years I believed I was bigger than I was, to now actually become the person that everyone bullied.
I’ve struggled with my weight for years now, trying fad diet, after fad diet. I could never stick at them, I could never exercise enough, and I would always give up, because ‘my head wasn’t in it’.
As the years went on, the more and more I began to dislike what I saw in the mirror. My confidence has never been on the higher end of the scale, and my self-esteem has kept it company at the bottom of the pile.
Last year, in 2018, I stepped onto the scales and saw a figure that I’d never seen before. I’d become the heaviest in my life, and it made me feel sick. I promised myself then and there that I would go on a diet, and do all I could to lose some weight. I’ve never wanted an athletic figure, or a figure so slim that I could get away with wearing hot pants and bralette. A size 14 would do me nicely. Hell, right now I’d settle for a size 16! I’d like to keep my hips, my curves and my breasts. I want to embrace the hour glass figure that I once portrayed.
My diet has never been very varied. It’s pretty bland, and pretty beige. Give me a beige buffet any day, and I’d be in my element. I’m not adventurous with food – I know what I like, and I stick to it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a slice of (or whole) pizza as much as the next person, and my cravings have always been centred around chocolate, but I don’t think I over-eat. In fact, I know I don’t. I may eat the wrong things, but contrary to popular belief, overweight people don’t have to be over-eaters.
Last year, I was referred by my consultant in Newcastle to a weight management team, to help me in my quest to lose weight. It was there that I was told that I had food anxiety. Some of you may be rolling your eyes now, or having a chuckle to yourself, thinking that that doesn’t exist, and that I’m just a typical plus size woman. That’s fine. You can react however you want, and you’re entitled to your opinion. But the truth is, that I cannot eat vegetables (other than peas, and only when they’re on the side of my plate), and I categorically cannot eat salad. It’s not for the want of trying though. I never say that I don’t like something, or I can’t stomach something, without having tried it first. But my reactions to the foods I’m anxious about can be as severe as gagging, and retching, and having my breath taken away. It’s not a nice experience, and it makes losing weight all the more difficult.
Now throw into the mix the wonder that is mito, and I’ve got myself stuck in-between a rock and a hard place when it comes to losing weight. I’ve never been very good at exercising – I’ve always become exhausted very quickly, sore and feeling unwell. Growing up, I knew people just thought I was lazy, and I guess I wondered if I was to. But now I know that there had been something going on the whole time, and I keep trying to remind myself that I wasn’t just a lazy school girl, or a lazy young woman. There was a reason I hated exercise. It was because it made me feel awful. I’ve never understood when people say that had excess energy after going to the gym, or that they were flooded with endorphins after a workout. It had never happened to me, no matter what I tried. When I was younger, I took part in lots of activities and classes, but I always ended up quitting and not enjoying them. Apart from swimming. I loved swimming, and it was the one thing that I was good at. But after everything else, I would feel so utterly exhausted and sick to my stomach, that I could barely move. I didn’t have any renewed energy, and I didn’t feel high on life just because I’d been exercising. Now I understand why. It wasn’t my fault. It was mito.
So, after deciding to lose weight last year, I managed to lose a stone on my own, just by cutting back on calories and not snacking between meals etc. But I wasn’t fully invested in it, even though the weight I was made me feel even worse about myself. And don’t even get me started on photographs of myself. I hated having my photo taken, and in some respects, I still do. I felt ashamed to look the way that I did, and to have let my weight creep up so much.
It was after Christmas, in January of this year, 2019, that suddenly something clicked in my head. I don’t think I could tell you what it was, because I honestly don’t know. But something happened, and all of a sudden, I was focused, determined, and full of a will-power that I had only ever dreamt of having. I was turning down unhealthy meals, making an effort to blend vegetables in the food processor so that I was getting some form of nutrition, and try to combat my food anxiety. I was saying no chocolate, cake, desserts, and fizzy drinks. I was on a mission, and the weight was coming off me quickly. 8lbs one week, 6lbs the next week. It went on and on, and I was so proud of myself. I had a long way to go, but that size 14 was getting closer and closer. I started getting compliments, and comments about my weight loss, and how good I looked. It made me feel better about myself than I had in a long time.
I guess I always thought that eating disorders couldn’t really happen to overweight people. It was a naïve and ignorant thought to have, but I have to be honest. So, I was surprised when my nutritionist told me that I had Starvation Syndrome. I remember thinking, ‘bloody hell, how many more conditions can be possibly added to this list?!’ She also told me that I have Body Dysmorphia. Again, I thought that only happened to slim people, who looked in the mirror and believed that they were overweight. I’d gotten so caught up in the thrill of losing weight quickly, that I’d started turning down food at every opportunity, until I was only eating when Wes, or my parents were around, and I couldn’t get away with going without food. I’d lost 10% of my body fat within two months, and my nutritionist told me that my body was in shock. I’d lost this weight purely by not eating enough. Some days I would enter my calories into My Fitness Pal, and by the end of the day, discover that I had a thousand calories left, and had only used five hundred. I celebrated those days silently.
What I didn’t realise though, was that I was helping Mitochondrial Disease to take over my body. My mitochondria don’t break down the nutrition in food the way that someone else’s mitochondria would. So, by not eating, my mitochondria were getting worse, as they had nothing to try to break down into nutrition.
I was told that I had to eat several small meals a day, and I found that this terrified me. How could I go from not eating, and losing weight, to eating several small meals a day?! How would I lose weight like that?! But I was assured that by eating sensibly, and regularly, I would still lose weight.
My nutritionist then asked me to maintain my weight. She may as well have asked me to give her my first born (when I have one). I was mortified that she would even suggest this, knowing how passionately I felt about losing weight. I’d convinced myself that by losing weight, it would help me to wean off some of the medication I’m on for my Restless Legs, Anxiety, IBS etc, and by doing that, I’d be able to get pregnant, and have a child. Everything always comes back to having a child. But by my method of weight loss, I was doing the opposite – I wasn’t preparing myself for a time when I could potentially try for a baby, but more so I was damaging my body, and I’d never be ready to carry a baby. I have enough challenges to fight every day where mito is concerned. I don’t need to be fighting my body as well.
I agreed to try to maintain my weight, not weigh myself as much (I was weighing every day), and to try to eat small, multiple meals or snacks throughout the day. It would give my mitochondria a better chance of breaking down food little and often, rather than giving them a mammoth task of trying to break down food from one meal a day.
I seemed to have convinced myself that by losing a certain amount of weight by a certain time, would mean that I could be happy with myself, and I would be one step closer to having children. For example, I was completely, and utterly convinced that if I didn’t weigh a certain amount of weight by the time I went on the cruise, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself. Of course, that wasn’t the case in reality. I didn’t manage to hit the target I was aiming for, as I tried to follow the advice that my nutritionist had given me, and so my body was maintaining, rather than losing. But to my surprise, it didn’t impact on how much I enjoyed the cruise. It was one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on, and overweight, or slim, I would’ve enjoyed it regardless.
Typically, my weight hasn’t dropped off the way that it was dropping off. I’m having real difficulty with food, and I know I have an unhealthy relationship with it, caused by my food anxiety, and believing that certain foods are ‘bad’ foods, and that if I deviate from a diet plan, I haven’t ‘been good’. That way of thinking impacts on your mental health, and much of my days are spent worrying about my size. Instead of continuing maintaining, I’ve put on a little weight. This makes me really unhappy, as I worked so hard to lose it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a huge amount, but it just means that I’m a little further away from my target than I was a few months ago. But because of this set back, I now feel like I can’t ‘get my head in the game’ again. I don’t know how to get back the will power that I had at the start of the year, and I don’t know to get back to losing weight, without stopping myself from eating.
I’ve been referred to a sort of food psychologist, who I’m hoping will be able to help me address my issues with food, and my food anxiety. If this is successful, I hope that I will be able to change my dietary habits, and the weight will come off healthily, and naturally. The waiting list is extremely long, however, so I’m just having to try my best with dieting healthily in the meantime.
So, now that you know that I’ve always struggled with my thoughts on weight loss, and my own body image, you can imagine what a big step it was for me to enter myself into the Face of Yours competition for Yours Clothing.
But I thought to myself, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose’, and ‘I’m never going to win’, so I was able to settle my nerves a little while sending in my photograph and entering a little bit about myself. I shared the competition on social media, and asked my friends and family, and friends of friends, to vote for me. There were thousands, and I mean thousands (1500 to be exact), of entries, and there were some really beautiful women who had entered, so I didn’t think for one minute that I would get to the next stage.
But a few weeks later, I received an email from the lovely Alice from Yours Clothing, and was told that I had made it into the next phase of the competition. 1500 entries had been narrowed down to 50, and I was one of them! I couldn’t believe it! I was beside myself with pride and giddy with happiness! I remember thinking, that if I didn’t get any further in the competition, that would be fine, because I’d made it so far, and that was more than I’d ever hoped for.
I had to send in a selfie with no filters or editing, a full body photograph face on, my height, and confirmation that I was available on certain dates. This next phase of the competition was not based on votes from the public, but more a panel of people making a decision.
It was quite a while before I heard anything more about the competition, so I thought perhaps I hadn’t gotten any further. But the more I thought that, the more nervous I became, and the more I realised how much I wanted to win! It was only a few days after thinking this, that I had an email confirmed that I was one of fifteen winners! I couldn’t believe it. I read the email over, and over again. I even sent it to Mr. J, mum and dad, and my brother, Jack, to read it for me, and see if I was reading it right! They were all in agreement – I was a winner!
I decided to keep it to myself until I had arrived at Yours Clothing Headquarters, in Peterborough, and I had taken part in the photoshoot. Mum travelled with me, to help me with the mito side of things, and generally just being a huge support to me throughout. I had explained to Alice about Mitochondrial Disease, and Mito and Me, and the whole company were brilliant at encouraging my blog. They even followed me on Instagram!
Day one saw me and mum being collected from our hotel, and driven to Yours Clothing HQ, where we were greeted by a huge team of people, introduced to everyone, and given a tour of the building, and the photo studio. Then came hair and make-up. I’d been looking forward to this part so much! I absolutely LOVE getting my hair and make-up done, and this occasion didn’t disappoint! I could’ve sat there all day; it was so relaxing. I have to say, I was really impressed with my make-up. I’m extremely fond of a red lip, and so my make-up artist obliged, and gave me the most gorgeous colour. I felt on cloud nine. I still couldn’t believe I was about to do a fashion photoshoot!
The studio was equipped with all the backdrops and lights that you’d expect to see on a photoshoot set, and behind the scenes were rails upon rails of clothing. With a rail dedicated to me! I had my very own outfits chosen and hung up ready for me to put on, before working the magic in front of the camera.
My first outfit was something that I never would have chosen for myself. When it was first showed to me, I immediately thought that it wouldn’t suit me, and probably wouldn’t fit me. Even as I was putting the clothes on, I was dubious, and apprehensive about how I would look. I wanted to do their clothes justice, but at the same time, I was so nervous about how I would look. These were photographs that the public would see, so I wanted to look my absolute best. I wanted to be proud of myself for being a winner, and to look at the photographs with a smile on my face, instead of criticising every inch of my body and face.
When I’d put the outfit on, I was amazed. It wasn’t my usual style, and it was something I’d never worn before. Ripped jeggings! And they looked fantastic!! They were teamed with a long line, black, studded jumper, and snake skin ankle boots. I was in love. I actually ordered the jeggings straight away when I got back to my hotel room. I couldn’t believe how good I looked! And I don’t even feel embarrassed for admitting that! It’s so rare that I ever praise myself, or think anything positive about myself, that I feel that I am allowed to say I looked good in an outfit. This was emphasised when I re-emerged from the dressing room. I was met with whoops and cheers, and all-round smiles! If the stylist team thought I looked good, then I must have looked good! Onto the set for my first round of photographs!
I was nervous starting off, but I think I got into the swing of things quite easily. I perfected my own signature pose – hand on hip. Nothing sassier than a hand on a hip. And in one photograph, where I was given a grey check dress to wear, I was also given a handbag to work with, and damn, did I work it. I held that handbag like I was the Queen of Sheba! There must have been hundreds of photos taken – individual shots, group shots, winners’ shots, confetti shots… the list is endless. And I thoroughly enjoyed every single one.
After a full day of shooting in the studio, all of the winners were gifted an outfit of their choice. Such a kind thing to do for us all! I chose a blue, patchwork dress, that is so elegant, and so feminine, that it’s the kind of dress that you just want to live in, and twirl in.
We were shuttled back to our hotel, before swiftly being driven to a bar in town for cocktails and a winners’ meal. Unfortunately, mum wasn’t able to attend the meal, so I was nervous about being without her. But all of the ladies were so wonderful, and were on hand to help or support me with anything. It was a great night, filled with good food, cocktails (mocktails for me), and laughter. I was exhausted though, so it wasn’t long before I was ready to go back to the hotel and tend to my swollen legs and feet, and lie on the bed in whatever position I landed in, for a solid five hours. A few of the girls came back with me, and walked with me to my rooms, where Mum had waited up for me, so I could tell her all about my evening, whilst pulling off my shoes from extremely swollen feet.
I could barely lift my legs to get them onto the bed because they were that sore. And don’t get me started on my shoulders. I think it was the hand on hip pose that I had perfected over the two days that did it – my muscles were rock solid and swollen. I looked like a female body builder, whose speciality is her neck and shoulder muscles. A bed had never felt so comfortable. I think I could’ve been lying on concrete, and my body would have been grateful for the rest.
I only had a few hours sleep however, as day two, saw us being collected from the hotel at 7:25am! Definitely another full day on the cards! And I was excited to see what day two would bring!
This time, I went straight into hair and make-up, before being ushered into the studio and the stylists’ hands.
The outfits I wore for the second day, again, were not outfits that I would’ve chosen for myself. But they don’t call them stylists for nothing, as I was once again surprised by how I felt in the outfits.
A chunky knitted wine-coloured jumper, teamed with jeggings (I was falling in love with jeggings more and more with each passing second!) and ankle boots. A grey check dress teamed with a black belt, black tights (I never thought they’d go over my thighs, but they did!), and ankle boots. Navy jeggings, paired with different ankle boots, and a gorgeous navy and rose gold thread, over-sized shirt, with floral embellishment on the right shoulder. Navy jeggings with a Christmas (possibly one of my favourite parts of the shoot) novelty top, and silver chunky sandals. A ‘girls’ night out’ metallic shimmer top, with jeggings and silver chunky sandals. And the Christmas outfit to end all other outfits – a Santa Dress. Not a dress with Santa on it. But a fully-fledged, Mrs Claus dress. I know what I’ll be wearing for the rest of my life!!
Nothing could’ve compared to the Face of Yours opportunity that I experienced. I met friends for life in those two days; women who have their own stories to tell, and who are an inspiration to many, including myself. I’m proud to know them, and I’m proud to stand with them as winners. I enjoyed myself so much, I don’t think there are enough words to convey how happy my time modelling for Yours Clothing made me.
What I didn’t enjoy, however, was mito, trying its hardest to push itself to the foreground again. It pushes and pushes, and always wins. It always manages to take over whatever I’m doing, whenever I’m doing it. If I feel like I’m having a better day, it isn’t long before it plummets. If I feel happy, and excited about something, mito is always there to remind me not to be too happy, and get too excited, because I’ll be sharing all of my experiences and opportunities with it for the rest of my life.
I was adamant that I wasn’t going to let mito push me out of the way for this opportunity however, and I pushed back with every ounce of energy I had left in my body. I was in pain, I was swollen in places that I didn’t think could swell, my migraine was unbearable, I was aching in every single part of my body, and I didn’t think I would be able to move again. Not to mention that with my drooping eyelid, I looked like Quasimodo’s stunt double.
Would I go through all of that to be a plus size model for Yours Clothing again? Yes, I would. In a heartbeat. Because mito has taken so much from me already, and it will continue to take more from me. So I will experience everything I can, as fully as I can, before I may no longer be able to do so. I may not have the will power to turn down a doughnut right now, but believe me when I say I have the will power to fight mito.
Head over to Yours Clothing UK and check out some of their fantastic fashion. There's something for everyone, so you won't be disappointed. And when you're scrolling down the homepage, keep your eyes peeling for little ole' me making a couple of group, and individual appearances, with some of the other winners.
Photographs taken by Allison Lewis and Yours Clothing