nourish not punish

Nourish Not Punish Yourself Is Mel’s Mantra

nourish not punish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Part 2 of my interview with Mel Noakes.  In part 2 we celebrate how Mel has learnt to nourish not punish herself and now passionately helps other women to do the same.

This has been an amazing transformation after Mel’s early life was dominated by eating disorders from 12 years old.

After the therapy and some changes in her personal situation Mel took time out to really heal herself.

This time out enabled Mel to really understand herself and was an epiphany on her life journey.

Mel decided to fulfil a life long ambition and take a trip to South America.

What made this trip so special? 

As part of the year long trip I wanted to experience the Inca Trail in Peru. Before we undertook the trek I seriously didn’t know if my body was strong enough.  I simply didn’t know if I would be able to cope with the trek.

We started the trail in a grey, rocky formidable landscape.  We emerged from this and entered rain forests full of exotic life.  Finally we emerged at he summit and it felt like we were on top of the world!

I reached the summit and just broke down.

It was such a moment of clarity and pure joy as I realized that my body was amazing.  It also made me appreciate that I had so much to give others.

My life’s purpose was spread out in front of me and I was going to use my skills to help others.

Machu Picchu

When you returned from South America how did you take your ideas forward?

I knew I wanted to help people, but women, in particular.

My idea was to work with women who were ready to look forward and not backwards.  This meant taking on the role of coach and mentor.

Consequently I trained as a coach, NLP practitioner, Hypnotherapist.   As part of my self development I also studied nutrition. I wanted to learn how to nourish not punish myself.  This was part of my own healing process to treat my amazing body with the respect it deserved.  When I’d completed my training I started to build my brand and business.

I started to work with women empowering them to find their own strength and brilliance.  My aim is to help them find their way to loving the skin and life they’re in. It’s been an incredible transformation for my clients and for me too!

nourish not punish

While respecting client confidentiality do you find that the women you help share reasons for their unhappiness? 

Yes I do see patterns emerging, with clients saying similar things:

  •  I’m not worthy
  • I don’t deserve it
  • I’m not good enough
  • I’m overspending but it gives me something to hide behind

I do believe there is a much bigger picture and it’s ingrained in our culture.

From when we’re young, boys are praised for their bravery and exploration while girls are praised for being pretty. Girls are seen as ‘Daddy’s little girl’ and learn to become pleasers.

As we go through life we find that there are stereotypical roles for men and women.  Even in 2016 these roles are still being reinforced by the media, society and workplace culture!

We have a lot to address.  With the rise of social media and digital imagery – the pressure is mounting for those that are vulnerable.

stereotypical gender roles

Do you feel that you are completely recovered from your eating disorders? 

My personal experience has been and continues to be a journey.

Some survivors will tell you they made a full 100% recovery, and that’s amazing.

For me it’s been different. I have frequently found myself in stressful situations and known that I could starve myself or purge my food.  To be able to exercise that control has always remained an option for me.

But I’ve found in the past 7 years or so whilst I have been in recovery; I get real strength from knowing I could go there – but finding a better way.

This simply reinforces how far I’ve come and shows me how strong I am.

You live by a fabulous mantra of nourish not punish how does this help you?

 My overwhelming mantra is that I and we need to nourish and not punish ourselves!

I’ve educated myself in nutrition.  This means I have a better understanding of the food I eat, and how to cook and take care of myself.

Nutrition was not something that I’d taken an interest in before.  Particularly as I was so young when I first became ill.  For me then food meant something else entirely.

I also have certain things in place that keep me in a comfortable place.  For example I never weigh myself, even at the Doctors.  I simply don’t need to know that anymore.

eating disorders are not about food

You’ve shared the stage with some very motivational women speaking at a major event.  How did that feel?

I was approached to speak at Be Fit London.  Be  Fit London is a three day event to equip women with the tools to ditch the fads and become healthier and happier.

While it was a fantastic experience to be speaking alongside health and fitness icons for me it also represented a huge milestone.  This was because my talk represented the first time I’d shared my story in the public arena.

As I stood on stage ready to begin I noticed a woman and her daughter sitting in the front row.  Consequently I really focused my talk on addressing them.

I was determined that if that young girl had any issues, my talk would offer them a different way forward.  I wanted to give them the power of knowledge from sharing my experiences.   Most of all I wanted to give them hope and a possible solution.

 

What is the next big project you’re working on Mel?

I’m soon to be launching my second Love the Skin You’re In program.

I wanted to create something that would help women quickly revisit their own relationship with food, with their body and with themselves.  But I wanted to be able to offer this in a more cost effective way than 1-2-1 coaching.

From my own experience I know the power of group therapy, so I wanted to bring this all together.

It was incredibly rewarding to see it come to life earlier this year.  To hear how it changed the lives of the women that took part.  Going back to our discussion in Part 1 eating disorders are not about food.  They are about regaining control we feel we have lost.  Most sufferers of eating disorders are also caught in a cycle of self-punishment.  It is so important to learn how to nourish not punish.  This extends far beyond food, but also in taking care of ourselves, nurturing and treating our bodies and our minds with the respect they deserve.

The second launch will be September 2016 and I can’t wait to support more women in this way – it’s so humbling and so rewarding.

 

What advice would you give your younger self?

So much!

My principle advice would be to be kind to yourself.

Listen to your inner wisdom and know that everything will work out.

Despite all the pain and suffering I went through I actually look back over my teens and twenties and feel proud of that young woman. She was brave, determined, passionate and fearless in so many ways.

I’d also tell her not to change anything because every single bit of the experience would lead her to something special.

nourish not punish

If you would like to learn more about Mel’s ‘Love The Skin You Are In’ program and learn how to nourish not punish yourself click here.

In case you missed part 1 you can read it here.

Perhaps you have been inspired or touched by Mel’s story?  I’d love to get your comments below and I’d love you to share Mel’s inspirational story on social media.

We all have stories to tell which will inspire others.  Are you ready to share your journey?  If you are I’d love to hear from you.

anorexia is not about food

Anorexia and Bulimia Are Not About Food

Anorexia is Not About FoodWhen Mel and I first met we connected immediately.  It was not just that we had both battled anorexia s for years.  I felt we’d known each other for ages during the first hour we chatted! I had the impression that this was a feeling that many women would have when they first met Mel.

Mel shared her story with me and I was delighted when she said she would be happy for me to interview her for my Inspiring Women series.

Why? I wanted to show how someone’s determination could push them so far out of control that they were in control.  How Mel’s anorexia and bulimia were fuelled by her personality.  But how Mel used her strong personality to turn her life around and realise her destiny.

Mel, would you please introduce yourself ?

Hi I’m Mel, the founder of Naked. Naked is a coaching service designed as a rallying cry for women globally to accept themselves and love the skin they’re in.

I am passionate about empowering ambitious, successful and adventurous career women.   I want to help them balance professional success with their personal health and happiness, because there IS more to life!

Professional Woman

You haven’t always been a coach though?

No that’s right. I was a senior figure in the Events Industry for over 13 years.  I left my role as the Head of Experiential Marketing at Sony Mobile last year.

It was a role that I loved.  I was incredibly fortunate to be part of such an amazing company.

I travelled the world curating and creating experiences to showcase Sony Mobile products.  I had the privilege of working with some of the most talented individuals in the industry.

I was determined to be successful. My passion for doing a great job meant that I pushed myself to incredible lengths.  I  would often work considerable overtime, for significant periods of the year.  This was in order to meet the deadlines and expectations that I had for myself.

Subsequently I’ve realized that whist I worked in an industry that had anti-social hours and huge expectations; my personality type really put me in the firing line for things like burn out.

Clock face and calendar

Working in a male-dominated environment did you feel you had to work harder than your male colleagues?

I had to work extremely hard as it was a very visible role.  I was one of a handful of women in a very senior position.  But as an organization we were all very driven and determined, so my male colleagues worked incredibly hard too.

For me what was different was that I wanted to be a voice for women.  To show more junior female colleagues, in the wider industry as well as my immediate company, that you could succeed and do well as a woman.

I’m extremely proud that so many of the women I have mentored and coached have gone on to take up senior roles in the industry.

My own personality coupled with the industry I worked in really left me susceptible to problems.  I wasn’t very good at setting boundaries or taking care of myself.

 So what happened?

The inevitable happened I literally burnt out.

I remember standing in the office having a conversation with a colleague and I couldn’t make sense of it. I knew something was wrong and went to see my Doctor.  My thought was that I needed sleeping pills, as I was overtired and not sleeping properly.

I was signed off sick immediately right before my biggest event, something that had never happened.

I was off work for a month and slept for around 18-19 hours each day, while my body recovered.

When I returned to work, my boss said that he really hadn’t known.  I’d done such a remarkable job of papering over the cracks.

The result was that my team was expanded. The role I’d previously undertaken was divided between four people.

drugs

From the age of 12 you suffered from Anorexia.  Do you know what triggered this?

As anyone who has suffered from anorexia or other eating disorders will know it’s likely to be a number of factors that cause vulnerabilities to surface. I was no different.

I was going through a period of immense change, moving schools and becoming a teenager.  I was incredibly vulnerable and felt entirely out of control.

One day one of my mum’s friends commented on how fat my thighs were.  It was the start of what was to be a downward spiral.

But did that one thing cause my anorexia?  No, it was simply the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

anorexia and bulimia are not about food

There is a misconception that eating disorders are about food.  But they’re not are they?

You are absolutely right anorexia and bulimia, while they are referred to as eating disorders, have little to do with food.  Although the actions that sufferers take revolve around food.

They are mental health disorders and are typically about control.

When a sufferer feels really vulnerable and feels they are under attack they want to take back control.  Controlling what we eat is one of the ways we can do this.

With so many people on diets or wanting to lose weight gives Anorexia in particular more social credence.

That was certainly the case for me. I began to diet after the comment about my thighs and quickly it spiraled into Anorexia.

I veered from Anorexia to Bulimia and back again throughout my illness.   On reflection it was about control.  Looking back it is sad, because I was so far out of control with my illness for so many years.

 

Was there a particular treatment or person that really helped you with your recovery?

I was fortunate to join a small therapy group for women who had eating disorders.  But this was the first time as someone who suffered from anorexia and bulimia that I’d sat in the same group as people whose eating disorders involved overeating.

That group literally saved my life. I truly understood for the first time that my issues were not about food.   I also really appreciated that people with eating disorders are the strongest willed people in Society!

While I was only with the group for around 2 months I had such a fundamental shift it was incredible.

support of others

In part 2 of Mel’s story we’ll be talking about the trip that transformed her life. How Mel realized her true destiny and how her life has transformed.  You can also read more about my battle with eating disorders in my blog post.

If you have been inspired by Part 1 of Mel’s story I’d love you to leave a comment and share on social media.

Find out more about the services that Mel offers on her Naked Coaching.

 

Emma Jaynes

Angelic Reiki and the Power of Healing

Angelic Reiki offered the next stepping stone on Emma’s journey.  In the final part of my interview with Emma we explore the final steps she’s taken and how her life has transformed with the help of a very special person.      Below Emma’s story we look at her extremely interesting thinking and views on mental health.

Writing and sharing Emma’s story has been a privilege that I’ll always remember.   Last week when Emma shared a post on Facebook, I admit to being utterly choked…

‘The younger two very quickly got used to the new me, but with Angus it has taken much longer to build the trust.  So, when he came and sat with me this afternoon and put his arm around me, gave me a kiss on the face and stroked my hand, I was surprised … He had been looking at my facebook timeline and he said, I am so proud of you mum and everything you are doing to help people in your business, and I am so pleased you are getting your story down and out there, it’s very important’

1. I couldn’t believe the power of Angelic Reiki

I had won an Angelic Reiki session in a raffle and decided to use it in mid-February.  It was simply amazing and I had my first night’s sleep in months.

After the healing I discussed the experience I’d had with the practitioner.  She told me that the Archangel Michael was present.

A few days later I’d told a colleague about my experience while we were wandering round the shops at lunchtime.  I was starting to think it was just imagination.

We wandered into Oxfam. My attention was diverted but I heard her cry out OMG!

Right in front of us was a hand carved screen adorned with an angel. Not just any angel but the Archangel Michael!!

Needless to say it’s now an integral part of my living room.

angelic reiki archangel michael

2. Healing myself …

At that point I thought that there was something in this and started to have more Angelic Reiki.

The healer was very aware of my addictive tendencies, so didn’t allow me to become dependent on the Angelic Reiki. She wanted me to realise it was my own strengths and not the treatment that was making me better.

I decided to learn from her. The next year I did the Angelic Reiki practitioner and the following year I did the Master teacher.

When I finished my work in Mental Health I decided to take a break and set up my own healing practise.

It all became part of my own spiritual development and started the process of me getting to know myself.

Towards the end of 2014 I realised there was something missing.

angelic reiki

3. Meeting of Minds

Last year I met Keith Abrahams.

Keith provides executive mentoring and coaching with a number of partners as well as delivering social enterprise projects.

Keith is also a psychotherapist, specialising in trauma and PTSD resolution.  Keith applies the Human Givens Approach to his work with individuals and businesses.

It is a very simple and practical methodology founded on the basis that we have a list of needs. If they are not met we struggle.

Our internal guidance system and innate resources enable us to meet our needs.

If we are not using those resources properly or something is stopping us from tapping into them there will be a misalignment.

That’s when we struggle emotionally.

Initially I’d approached Keith for guidance.

I was struggling because I had so many ideas and things I wanted to do plus I needed some help balancing challenges within my family.

human givens approach4. Advice and where it’s taken me!

Keith had a number of things he wanted to do and there was a massive overlap with my own goals.

Keith offered me the opportunity to work under the umbrella of his group Just Clarity to start offering various programs for people feeling ‘stuck’ in their life.  People are really shifting by using the techniques we offer.

People may come to us if they are living apparently ‘normal’ lives but are struggling every day with intense emotional distress,

It may also apply to those currently out of work and under the care of services.

Part of my passion is getting people to understand that people under MHS are no different to people who are not.   We all walk around with the same issues.

Once we realise that all we need to do is talk and support each other it becomes easier.

support of others

5. Your other passion is Link4Growth – can you tell us about this?

Link4Growth is about nurturing, supporting, and connecting with local people, businesses and communities.

Link4Growth does this through:

  • Bringing local people together regularly at different times of day.
  • Learning about each other… sharing our passions, talents and how we can help each other.
  • Totally inclusive, open to anyone who is giving and supportive
  • Providing bite sized training to develop ourselves, our businesses, social groups
  • Rebuilding our community through understanding that everyone is important, we all have skills and we are all able to make a contribution.

Keith and I host Link4Growth events within MK, Beds and Herts.

Chris Ogle, the founder of Link4Growth, is a good friend and has been an inspiration to me over the past 18 months.

It is fabulous synchronicity that Keith, Chris and I have shared objectives in many ways.

community enterprise

6. What’s next for you Emma and where do you see yourself heading?

Recently Keith asked me if I’d become a director!  6 months ago I would have said ‘are you nuts’ but when he asked me I was able to say ‘that would be nice’.

The following day I produced three flyers for the programs we’re planning. I welled up when I realised how far I’d come and how this was exactly what I wanted to be doing!

If I can inspire just one person then I feel I will have really achieved something special.

This morning someone asked what I was doing this afternoon and when I told them that I was being interviewed for an inspirational woman blog, their response was ‘wow’.

It was then that it dawned on me that I might be able to inspire someone and others may think that my story is inspirational!

 Emma Jaynes

 

7.  If you had the opportunity to talk to your younger teenage self what advice would you offer her?

This question always makes me cry!!

Looking back my biggest struggle and lesson has been about self-love. I had no concept of myself as being useful, loving person. I had lot of shame. I literally had no idea that I deserved all the things that I wanted for everyone else.

I would tell my younger self that you have to practise acts of self-love and learn to recognise your achievements. Recognise yourself for being that loving useful person who has a lot to contribute.

I have been very blessed throughout my life to have people around me that believed in me and were able to see my potential. They could see through the stuff that was clouding my vision. Without their support I’m not sure where I’d be now.

Judging by the fabulous comments on the previous chapters of Emma’s life you’ve enjoyed this series of blog posts and been inspired by how brave and inspirational this lovely lady is!  I’d love to get your thoughts and comments about the final chapter and would love you to share this on social media, as it’s a story that deserves to be told!

In case you missed the previous posts you can catch up with them here:

If you missed part 1 of Emma’s journey where we looked at what it was like to be bullied at school or part 2 which described how Emma juggled having three young children and studying for a Masters Degree or part 3 where Emma was just going to drink until she died, you can read them here.

Part 1 – School Was Terrifying

Part 2 – Three Babies And  A Masters Degree

Part 3 – KD Lang Inspired Me To Stop Drinking

 Finally … 

Emma has some very strong views on Mental Illness and we have put together this FREE ebook to share her perspective.

 

 

Emma Jaynes

KD Lang Inspired Me To Stop Drinking

If I thought that my jaw had reached floor level as I wrote up Emma’s story, that was nothing compared to the shock I felt when Emma shared a photo of herself pre-recovery.  In Part 3 of Emma’s story we talk about how KD Lang, the Canadian singer, songwriter and actress inspired Emma to become sober.

Emma Jaynes Pre-Recovery

I was just going to drink until I died

I’d just been sitting on the sofa for weeks drinking.

I’d been to see my psychiatrist who’d asked if I wanted help coming off alcohol.   I said no I’d wean myself off.

I walked out of his office with no intention of stopping. I’d made a decision to just carry on drinking until I die.

I didn’t have the strength to stop. The cycle was that I’d stop then I’d start again and I knew I couldn’t keep doing it.

Emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally it was killing me both to stop and start. I’d got to the point where I couldn’t live with alcohol and I couldn’t live without it.

It was a terrifying thought that I’d live in a state of permanent fear both with and without alcohol.

KD Lang inspired me to sobriety

St Patricks Day 2010 my sobriety birthday!

I’d have my first drink at 4am.

I would get up and down a few drinks before sitting on the sofa sophisticatedly sipping a drink while watching TV.

I’d watch the funny channels to try to cheer myself up.

On March 17th 2010 the TV was on a different channel.

KD Lang was singing in St Lukes Chapel in London there was something about her.

KD Lang was no airbrushed celebrity but a woman who was beautiful on her own terms.

The fog cleared. It was like an out of body experience.

I could see the person I used to be, who I’d become and my potential all in the same moment. At 33 years old I realised, for the first time, that I had a choice.

 

AA was my Saviour!

The rest of the day was spent in a flurry of phone calls. Statutory Alcohol Services couldn’t help me for another 2 months! I decided to called AA.

In the next 24 hours I received more support than I’d received in the previous 5 years. It literally changed my life.

I learnt the power of feeling loved by room full of strangers, from the first meeting.

I chose to do the 12-step program*. The 12-step program is the SUGGESTED programme of recovery, though quite frankly, I wouldn’t be her without it.

The program facilitates the building of a relationship with yourself. It’s not about giving your power away. It is about taking responsibility and being honest with yourself.

I’d rejected the idea of God but I still had a spiritual understanding and this helped me with the 12-step program.

My faith in a higher power is very strong today. I’ve seen it in action, dozens and dozens of times!

divine-light

You were asked to speak about your journey

Mental Health Services (MHS) saw me transform overnight and that it had nothing to do with the pills and little to do with services though there were some amazing and supportive individuals along the journey.

It was my passion to tell everyone about my journey. I wanted to be able to tell everyone that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and start thinking about what you want for your life.

I was asked to speak at Mental Health Conferences.  My first talk was at a Multi-Faith Mental Health & Spirituality Project.

I was asked to submit my speech in advance and include what MHS had done for me.  My response was that I’d be honest and tell it as it was.

My recovery was about my inner resources and things I’d found out, the spiritual faith I’d acquired with some help from MHS.

conference

I was only an instruction away from being locked up

I was on a very high dose of medication. One drug in particular was extremely toxic.

I’d been discharged by MHS in 2011 and at the time had said to my psychiatrist that I don’t want to stay on the drugs.

His response was you are on medication for the rest of your life. If you plan to stop taking them I may need to reconsider the discharge. At which point I shut up. I realised that it was simply he was constrained by Law.

The law states you can be locked up if you are a danger to yourself or others.   It was extremely frightening when I realised that I was only an instruction away from being locked up at any time.

drugs

Another milestone in December 2012…

I started weaning myself off the medication, as I wanted to see what would happen.

By this time I was studying for my third degree this time in Psychology with the OU and I pinned down professors of biological psychology and asked about my theory of the drugs and effect on my brain.

The scariest answers that came back from learned professors is that we simply don’t know!!

When I shared my theory about Dopamine – I was told you might be right but we cannot be sure. The drugs affect our entire nervous system not targeted to a particular part of the body.

I took the last dose of my medication on 21.12.12. Then the real work started.

studying

How did you cope with the withdrawal?

Quite apart from the fact that I had flu, which lasted about 8 weeks, I was totally unprepared for how I would feel when I got my emotions back.

As I was going through withdrawal I felt so awful and had to keep it all to myself. I was frightened I’d be made to go back on the medication or would be locked up!

Never one to do anything by halves at this point I separated from Martin. I had to follow my instinct and being the person that I was to avoid moving backwards.

Martin is fabulous and goes to Al-Anon the support for friends and family of alcoholics. Our relationship is brilliant and we are good friends.  The boys don’t really think of us as separated.

Emma Jaynes Family

 

Finally …

In the final part of Emma’s story we will share how she got through the withdrawal from medication and the amazing work Emma is doing now to help others.

If you missed part 1 of Emma’s journey where we looked at what it was like to be bullied at school or part 2 which described how Emma juggled having three young children and studying for a Masters Degree, you can read them here:

Part 1 – School Was Terrifying

Part 2 – Three Babies And  A Masters Degree

*There is a common misconception that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the 12 step program.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other. Their aim is to solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions.

For more information visit Alcoholics Anonymous

 

inspirational women

Three Babies And A Masters Degree

The inspirational women that I have met have one thing in common.  They are humble about their amazing journeys.

Most inspirational women have simply led their lives and not really stood back to appreciate how far they have travelled.

Emma Jaynes is certainly one of those inspirational women.  Emma is only just beginning to realise what she has achieved and how much she has overcome.

There were many moments as I wrote up Emma’s story that my jaw dropped as I contemplated what her life must have been like.

inspirational women

In Part One of my Inspirational Women Blog with Emma we looked at her school days and an insight into her home life.

In Part Two we look at how self harm became a coping mechanism; and how becoming a mother to three boys was not going to stop her from commuting to Leeds from Stevenage to do her Masters Degree! …

1. From Cornwall to Japan …

Towards the end of my first year at University I was in a relationship with a University Lecturer much older than me.

Shortly after we’d started to see each other he moved to Japan to teach and wanted me to go with him.

In the summer I travelled to Japan but he turned out to be not a very nice person (a massive understatement).

While I was in Japan I started to self-harm as a coping mechanism. The physical pain kept me grounded and took the panic away. It helped to survive the mental agony of working out how I’d survive and get back to England.

When I got back the UK nothing was said about my scars and injuries at home.

tokyo

2. Back to University …

I went back to University but struggled to cope.

A friend recommended a doctor who dispensed prescriptions with no questions asked.

The final straw was a night out with a friend. We’d had a great evening and said goodnight before I carried on to my house.

A guy we knew emerged from an alleyway and offered to walk me the rest of the way home.   When we got back to my house he tried to attack me. I still don’t know how I found the strength to manhandle him out of the house.

That night I took an overdose of the sleeping pills that the prescription friendly GP had given me.

I really had meant to end my life, but ended up in hospital as one of my housemates happened to visit the toilet and find me collapsed in the hallway!

sleeping tablets

3. So much for counselling …

Back home I did see my own GP who arranged some counselling but it was a disaster!

The counsellor asked – ‘would you murder someone?’ – I said no, so she asked why did I think it was right to murder myself!!

I decided that I needed to take some time out from University.   By this time my former Primary School Head Teacher was an advisor in the Local Education Authority. We had stayed in contact and once again she took me under her wing and found me a job working for her.

My only goal in life was to finish my degree but I needed the strength and support of friends closer to home. I transferred to Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge and completed my degree in Art History gaining a 2:1

4. Then there were five …

I met Martin through my singing.   I was passionate about singing and we shared a common interest in music. Six months after we met I fell pregnant.

At the time I shared a house in Watford, which was known as the party house of Hertfordshire! Every weekend was one big party!

During the festival season I would load up the car with a tent and head off. So to suddenly find myself pregnant was a complete culture shock.

Martin was the antithesis to me – sensible, grounded and logical. We ended up having three boys in quick succession. Thinking each time it was a fluke!

My drinking became heavier between pregnancies but being pregnant was a blessing as I couldn’t stand the smell of alcohol within a mile of me!

pregnant woman

5. Commuting to Leeds …

I wasn’t destined to be a full time mum and was desperate to return to work.

But by the time we’d paid for childcare I’d be £1 in profit! Martin said ‘no’ but I was going crazy at home.

I’d been offered a place at Leeds to do my Masters Degree but had deferred for four years. I decided now was as good a time as any to take up my place!

So began another crazy time in my life! I commuted to Leeds to do my Masters twice a week.   I’d drive to the station at 4am and head up to Leeds twice a week arriving on Campus before the students in Halls! Journeys back were a booze filled jolly and crazy conversations in the smoking carriages!

book

6. Motherhood didn’t come easily…

I struggled with motherhood. It put me in a pigeonhole I didn’t think that I belonged to. I felt judged as a woman and a mother.   I didn’t want to be labelled.

Once I’d worked out how to cope with two babies I had this ridiculous notion that one more wouldn’t make a difference!

Needless to say it impacted on me way more than I imagined and I felt incredibly trapped.

I approached parenting the same way I approached everything else in life – doing everything to perfection, which meant putting myself under immense pressure.

But at the point of having three young children I worked out that I couldn’t actually express 27 litres of milk and so I became a more natural parent.

baby and motherhood

7. At 30 years old another very rugged milestone

Martin is older than me and provided a stability I’d never experienced. I couldn’t have chosen a better father for my children. But I realised that I wasn’t really happy in my marriage. I realised that my life to this point had just ‘happened’.

My moods were all over the place and I drank myself ‘better’.

At this point I was diagnosed bi-polar, which was convenient as I could blame my drinking and moods on my diagnosis.   I didn’t have a drink problem, well at least that’s what I convinced myself!

I was put on stacks of medication. I had more suicide attempts under medication under Mental Health Services than I ever had in my entire life. My drinking in this period just got worse.

empty bottles

8. Pizza and Cake – Life in a Psychiatric Unit

In 2009 I was admitted to a psychiatric unit.   It was a great way to spend a month drugged up to the eyeballs, we would order pizza deliveries in the evening and be offered cake every day!

On my admission I couldn’t speak, or remember my name. The only thing that stuck with me from that conversation was when the doctor remarked ‘you’re doing a Masters at the moment in what subject?’ I couldn’t remember and had to ask Martin.

The doctor’s response was ‘well you do realise that you’ll probably never do anything like that again!’ It stuck with me for the right reasons…

pizza

Subconsciously the doctor’s remark became a motivation to get better. I’m still not convinced he intended it that way!!

If you missed part 1 of Emma Jayne’s story in my Inspirational Women Series of Blogs then you can read it here.  In part 3 we will look at Emma’s destructive relationship with alcohol and the significance of St Patricks Day!

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about Emma’s remarkable story, so please share in the comments below.  I would also really appreciate your shares on social media to give hope to other women who may be struggling.

Emma Jaynes

School Was Terrifying

Emma Jaynes and I met around two years ago via a networking group.

From our initial encounter I felt an amazing sense of the warmth and love that Emma exudes as she walks in and lights up a room.

Emma Jaynes

Emma posted something on social media that offered a tiny glimpse of what her life had been like. I was stunned and wanted to learn more about this woman who gave so much of herself to others and wrote so wittily on social media about her family but had experienced an incredible journey.

I asked Emma if she’d mind being interviewed for my series of ‘inspiring women’ blogs and was delighted when she agreed.

Writing this has been emotional for me. To see how far someone has come and how they have turned their life around. I hope that this 4 part blog (!) will give you an insight into this inspiring woman.

As well as a mother to 3 amazing boys Angus (13), Hamish (12) and Duncan (10), Emma works in Emotional and Mental Wellbeing.

Emma is passionate about supporting people with any aspect of their Emotional and Mental Wellbeing which is keeping them stuck and preventing them from doing what they want to do.

So let’s begin Emma’s story.

1. Your primary school Head Teacher spotted your high IQ

I’d learnt to read before I even started school and had an insatiable curiosity.

My head teacher at primary school spotted my potential and quickly moved me up to a class with children 3-4 years older than me.

She believed I’d benefit from a private education and kept giving me additional projects to keep me stimulated until I could take the common entrance exams.  My parents who had no formal education questioned her sanity.  We came from a working class background and money was tight.

I sat the entrance exams and was offered a place at two schools in Bedford and awarded a scholarship.

I was very excited and understood the opportunity I was being given.  However, I was totally unprepared for the massive culture shock.

school books

2. Senior school didn’t turn out to be the happiest time?

I’d come from a friendly village school and suddenly went to a big formal single sex school.

Ironically the bullying didn’t start because of my background, but because the girl who had befriended me on my first week noticed I was getting better marks.

The bullying was physical and psychological until I left at 18. I was a sensitive child and spent most of my time hiding in Matron’s room at lunchtimes. I became a loner.

By the time I got to the sixth form I understood more about what was going on and decided I didn’t want to be part of the elitist group. I lived so far from school that I had my own friends out of school in the local community.

 

3. You did have one friend at school though?

Yes, though we didn’t have much to do with each other in school and mainly socialised outside school. Her family were fond of me.

We spent one summer together that had quite an influence on my life, although I didn’t realise it at the time.

I was invited to go with her to stay with her grandma in Spain.

Wonderful weather, very relaxing and no barriers to what we wanted to do and enough money to do whatever we liked.

Her father was so generous and would top up the money I saved to match my friend’s without me realising!

I realised that there was an alternative.  If I worked really hard I could create a life that was different from my current environment.

Home life became utterly unbearable on my return.

spain with school friend

4. Home life wasn’t that great

There was a lot going on at home. I had three sisters, two of them very much younger than me.

My mum had not coped that well when they were born.  There’d been challenges in the family before they were born but after they were born my mum was struggling with Post Natal Depression and drank very heavily.

There was a lot of stress and drama. Not helped by the fact six of us were cramped into a small house.

For me it meant there was no escape. School life and home life were both challenging environments and I was in a permanent state of hyper vigilance.

From the age of about 11 or 12 I started to develop panic attacks, migraines and suffered from anxiety.

anxiety

5. How did you cope?

I was taught to suppress what I was experiencing.

No one at home had the capacity to deal with a child who was going into school chronically terrified every single day.

I held it together in survival mode developing OCD rituals to cope. Reciting strings of words and developing an obsession with numbers.

Throughout my teens I drank heavily.

There was always alcohol around me. At home I was offered a drink as far back as I can remember.  When I went out with friends it was with a group of different ages and so there was no problem getting a drink.

I quickly found that severe anxiety and panic would be alleviated by alcohol, so it became a habit.

alcoholic drinks 

5. How did you end up serving the late Richard Harris Bloody Marys for Breakfast?

At 18 I was desperate to leave home.  I’d been on a school trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon and loved it! So decided I’d go to Stratford and become a star!

I picked the most luxurious hotel in the Good Hotel Guide, on the basis I thought more actors would stay there, phoned them up and asked them for a job!

I used to serve Richard Harris with his triple Bloody Marys for breakfast whereupon he told me it wasn’t alcohol as it had tomato juice in it!!

It was a really fun period of time. Most of the bar staff drank really heavily. We would head to the clubs after a late shift and on return to the hotel we’d get the night porter to help us avoid the CCTV!

stratford-upon-avon

6. University made you feel like a chameleon!

I’d decided I was only going to go to University if it was in Cornwall, my Career’s Teacher found a course I liked in Falmouth affiliated to Exeter University, so it was off to Falmouth after a year in Stratford.

I studied Visual Culture at the Art College. We learned about cultural, social and visual theory. Fascinated by the way Society works I still remember being in a class learning about socio-economic groups.

It was the point I realised I didn’t fit! My birth put me in a category close to the bottom but my private education put me in another group near the top..

My grandparents were grass roots labourers and I was hanging around with philosophers and I struggled with ‘where do I fit’ for a long time.

chameleon

Don’t miss Part 2 of Emma’s story!

In Part 2 we look at how a trip to Japan initiated Emma’s period of self-harm culminating in her first suicide attempt.  Emma shares her experience of motherhood at a young age and how she ended up in a psychiatric unit dining out on pizza and cake!

 

 

eating disorders are not about food

725,000 Are Affected By An Eating Disorder

eating disorders are not about food

725,000 people suffer from an eating disorder in the UK according to a recent report by Price Waterhouse Coopers*.

Women are most likely to develop an eating disorder, although the study found 11% of sufferers were men.

Adolescence is often the time that an eating disorder surfaces. But they have been diagnosed in children as young as 6 and adults in their 70s.

There are three main categories of eating disorders Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating.

10% of eating disorders are diagnosed as Anorexia.  Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

You cannot tell if someone is suffering from an eating disorder by looking at them.

So Why Am I Sharing This?

I planned to publish this post during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, but something held me back. I battled with the ‘should I/shouldn’t I’ monster for a few days and before I knew it, I’d missed the window.

But last week I had an inspiring discussion with someone who had overcome eating disorders.  She had both bulimia and anorexia. It was that conversation that led me to kick the ‘shouldn’t I monster’ into oblivion. Awareness week may be over but this doesn’t mean we should forget or ignore eating disorders.

eating disorder monsters

My Eating Disorder

As a child I suffered from continual bouts of tonsillitis, which made eating painful. I was 6 when I had a tonsillectomy and then I discovered food!

My mother, ecstatic that she no longer had a fussy eater, overcompensated! The result – one overweight child!

But at the same time I was receiving mixed messages.

My mother was always on a diet and would live on crisp bread and lo fat cheese long before it became fashionable to do so!

While I do not blame my parents, it’s often said that children who develop an eating disorder have one parent they idolize that pushes them hard. Enter my Dad! He had the best intentions, but put me under enormous pressure.

Telling a family friend that I’d got 98% in a French test, she remarked you must be proud.

Dad’s response was Carol’s disappointed she didn’t get 100% – err no she wasn’t actually! Given that I was 11 at the time and still remember this as if it was yesterday …

eating disorder parent pressure

Leaving school at 16 at college I lost weight, gained shape and self-confidence. I started to feel good about the way I looked.   My confidence suffered a huge setback though when my boyfriend made a negative remark about my figure.

Years later I realized this was the ‘trigger’ that sent my teenage desire to look good into an obsession that spiraled out of control.

For 20 years I was an anorexic/functioning anorexic/recovering anorexic as I battled with my own self-esteem issues and the desire to have control.

At my lowest point I was almost hospitalized a couple of times. As other sufferers can testify, deception becomes an art form. So while the admission forms were being prepared I set about convincing the medical team that hospitalization was not necessary. Once the pressure was off I slid gracefully back into my pattern of self-destruct behaviours.

 

How did my eating disorder affect my life?

Putting aside the physical signs and symptoms, Anorexia is a mental health disorder.  It is much more than an eating disorder.

It’s complex and manifests itself in different ways. Let me share with you how anorexia gave me a the control over my life that I didn’t believe I had.

The scales governed my mood for the day. I would weigh myself every morning.eating disorder scales

If the needle had gone down it would be a good day, stayed the same it would be okay, gone up and disaster!

I would immediately be thinking of ways I could reduce my food intake, purge my body, fit in another exercise class to burn more calories.

I was addicted to routine. The idea of spontaneity filled me with horror.   The suggestion of going out for a meal without enough planning of how I could burn off the inevitable extra calories would bring me out in palpitations.

The closest I got to this was a barbecue with friends – we’d been out for a drink and they invited us back for an impromptu barbecue. I made the excuse that I had to go home and feed the cat.

On arriving home I put on my running gear and headed out for a run, so that I felt I could justify eating. I then showered, fed the cat and headed back to the party.

eating disorder barbecue

The more that people commented on my slender figure, the more this encouraged me. I was being admired, as I’d not been as a chubby teenager.

It certainly affected my career. I lacked self-confidence and didn’t push myself forward. It was easier to stay in jobs that I’d outgrown than to risk my fragile self esteem teetering on the edge of my comfort zone.

 

How Did I Overcome My Eating Disorder?

That’s a really good question!

It certainly wasn’t an epiphany and neither was it the result of therapy, a life event or wakeup call.

It was a step by step process. I came to terms with food and not purging my body whenever I felt I had overeaten, before I cut down to more moderate levels of exercise!

Running, swimming and step aerobics every day (yes, all three!) finally took its toll on my body! I ignored injuries and did not give my body a chance to recover.

At my worst I insisted on going running on icy pavements with my arm in plaster.

On another occasion I ended up in hospital under observation, having gone running while suffering from concussion.

eating disorder exercise addiction

My running shoes were packed and taken on almost every holiday. Although even I couldn’t figure out how to get a decent run in when we went skiing! But that meant I would only go to hotels with a decent sized pool so that I could finish a six-hour skiing day with a mile swim!

Finding out I couldn’t have children sent me on a guilt trip. It was never diagnosed if this was down to AN. However, I saw a positive side, as I’d never have deal with a post pregnancy tummy!

When my marriage ran into the rocks my immediate reaction was that the stress would mean I’d lose weight!   A lifeboat saved my marriage but had little effect on my body image.

But as for recovery? It was a gradual process of coming to terms with my body and starting to realize that I didn’t need to be a size 6 to be happy. Injury meant I had to find new ways to exercise and establish a more balanced lifestyle.

Who To Turn To?

If you have or believe you have an eating disorder, it is important to find someone to talk to. If you do not feel that you can talk to anyone you know then Beat* offers a helpline and lots of advice.

Eating disorders are tough not just on the sufferer but on loved ones too. Sufferers will say that it’s vital for their recovery to have the unconditional love and support of their family and those around them.

My own experience showed this to be the case. Looking back I wasn’t always fun to be around. Despite my behavior, I was lucky that my family was always ready to pick up the pieces.

If you suspect that a loved one, friend or colleague has an eating disorder getting advice on how to approach them is vital. Beat has some great support and information.

Remember that an eating disorder is complex but can be treated, once the sufferer is ready to acknowledge the problem.

Do you have any experiences to share about eating disorders?  If so I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Please share this post on social media, together we can create more awareness and help others.

 

*PwC – The Costs of Eating Disorders – Feb 2015 – commissioned by Beat.

Beat is the UK’s leading charity supporting anyone affected by eating disorders or difficulties with food, weight and shape

Image Bri Mansys

#DisabilityFight4FashionRight

Welcome to Part Two of my interview with Gemma Flanagan.

In Part One we looked at Gemma’s story and how from being an active young woman travelling the world for her job, she ended up in hospital completely paralysed.    How she was in hospital for almost a year and has had to come to terms with life in a wheelchair.

In this second part of the interview we explore the work of Models of Diversity (MOD).  Angel and her team are challenging the perceptions of beauty as portrayed by the fashion, beauty and media industries.  They are campaigning for change, inclusion and equality.

In this second part we will explore the campaign #DisabilityFight4FashionRight.

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

I will share with you how important the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight campaign is, not simply for people with disabilities who want to make a career of modelling.  This campaign has a much wider impact offering inspiring role models to others.

Beauty is diverse across the full spectrum of Society.  There are many beautiful men and women who would not fit into the conventional and frankly outdated sense of what is defined as beauty by the fashion, beauty and media industries.

CH: MOD is more than simply fighting for acceptance of disability on the catwalk and is having some great wins – would you please share some of these with us?

GF: For a start diversity embraces much more than just disability. It includes ethnicity, age, size, height, non-binary gender.

Yes we are having some fantastic wins and that we have some businesses and brands we’re talking to. Unfortunately there are a lot who are not so enlightened and so it’s slow progress.

We are in discussion with various brands and some are really embracing what we’re doing. Top Shop are meeting with us and discussions are ongoing.   Jack Eyers is part of this Men’s Fashion Week for TopMan.

Male Disabled Models seem to be more readily accepted and I think that’s because of the association of War Veterans.

CH: Is the UK different from other countries in its approach and acceptance of diversity in the fashion industry and if so how?

GF: The UK is certainly behind other countries. Take the US as an example

There is certainly more diversity in New York Fashion week. In February this included our own Jack Eyers who was on the catwalk. The first amputee to feature in New York Fashion Week.

US Brand Nordstrom takes a more inclusive approach using models who would be considered diverse in all of its shows.

The UK does lag behind not just the US but other countries in Europe.   Our culture is much more reserved. We seem to be more awkward about embracing and celebrating diversity.

Image by Chio Photography

Image by Chio Photography

CH: Is there any sense that the fashion industry will use diversity simply to gain public approval, be seen as ‘doing the right thing’, an act of tokenism?

GF: Sadly there are indeed acts of tokenism. With a ‘hey look at us’ approach and the media attention dies and life returns to the way it’s always been.

We want it become just normal practice.

Our message is very clear.  We are passionate about not having special treatment.

We don’t want to be taken on as models because we are disabled, or due to our ethnic origin etc.

We want to be accepted as models because we have the attributes required for a model: Beauty, confidence, we are professional, able to take direction.

What we are campaigning for is not to be treated differently and to have a level playing field.

 

CH: Of course the campaign that MOD is fighting for is so important for anyone who wants to work in the fashion industry, but what are the effects for people outside the industry

GF: With over 80% of people suffering from body confidence issues it’s so important to celebrate beauty in all its forms.

Before my illness I was size 8, toned and tall. GBS has meant that my body shape has gone through many changes.

I know how seeing someone that I could have related in a role that is all about being visible would have helped me to get through an incredibly tough time in my life.

Our campaign is much more than the modeling industry. We want retailers to think more about Diversity.

  1. How many mannequins do you see in wheelchairs?
  2. Disabled changing facilities are often used as storage space?
  3. Which retailers provide a lower counter facility for wheelchair users?
Image by Tim Los Hemmingway

Image by Tim Los Hemmingway

CH: As an Ambassador for MOD and its campaign for Diversity can you tell us a bit about the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight and what you want to achieve?

GF: To put it simply we are 4 disabled women addressing exclusion of disability in Fashion.

We want to see fairness and equality. We do not want to be shamed or excluded.  We wear clothes, so why shouldn’t we be represented in the Marketing and Advertising campaigns that the industry generates?

Our #DisabilityFight4FashionRight Campaign is simply to ask the Government to Enforce & Regulate strict guidelines to the multiple areas of this industry.

On September 18th 2015 we launched our petition at the House of Lords.   We met with Baronness Benjamin and Baronness Hussein-Ece who were happy to add their support to our campaign.

We have until 23rd March to get 100,000 signatures for the Government to consider this for Parliamentary debate.

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

DisabilityFight4FashionRight

 

CH: Are people being supportive? How are you raising awareness of the campaign?

GF: We had a great response when we launched. But we’ve still got a long way to go.

We are starting launching a UK tour on 30th January and we’re hoping that this will generate more publicity.

It’s actually harder to get the disabled community engaged, their concern is that we’re trying to make money out of disability – nothing could be further from the truth!

None of us get paid for what we do!   We are all volunteers. A lot of modeling shoots and fashion shows are done to generate publicity – we don’t earn from them.

However, as our #DisabilityFight4FashionRight campaign is for equality, this will include embracing engaging models on equal terms.

DisabilityFight4FashionRight Tour

CH: How can we support Models of Diversity?

GF: Please, Please sign the petition.  We want as many people as possible to see the #DisabilityFight4FashionRight  campaign and have a chance to support us.

To get this out to as wide an audience as possible we are asking for everyone to SHARE this campaign.

Please put a link on your Facebook Profile, Twitter Feed, Instagram and wherever you hang out online.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who does sign for #DisabilityFight4FashionRight as you are supporting inclusion and fairness.

*Part 1 – read more if you missed how Gemma’s life changed almost overnight – from traveling the world to lying paralysed in hospital.

 

Image by Paul Cummings Photography

Gemma Flanagan an Inspiring Model

Gemma Flanagan lived a life that many would envy.   Travelling all over the world, partying in some exciting cities and getting paid it!

Gemma was a member of BA’s cabin crew until 2011 when her life changed forever.

Within a week of starting to notice slight tingling, Gemma ended up in hospital completely paralysed, where she stayed for almost a year. Gemma had been struck down by Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)*1, a condition that affects only 1 in 100,000 people.

I met Gemma last year when Angel Sinclair invited me to provide clothes for her Models of Diversity Catwalk Show in Shepherds Bush Market.

In this 2-part interview you can learn about Gemma her amazing courage and positive attitude.  In this part we talk about her illness and recovery.  In part 2 we will discuss the amazing work that Models of Diversity Does and how you can help.

Gemma Flanagan

 CH Hi Gemma can you please introduce yourself and your current role, plus your really exciting news!

GF: Hi I’m Gemma Flanagan I’m the Assistant Director of Disability for Models of Diversity. When I’m not campaigning for Models of Diversity (MOD) I am a fashion model, but this is also an extension of my role for MOD.

I’m so excited that I got engaged at Christmas!! We went to look at our first wedding venue last night and it made me realize just how real it is now!!  We are just celebrating our fourth anniversary.

 

CH: Your life changed forever in 2011 – what happened?

GF: I was on a stopover in Vegas and realized that I wasn’t feeling quite right.

My feet started to feel strange.  I had pins and needles and my legs felt heavy – Sounds daft but I put it down to the 6” heels I’d been partying in!

On the return flight I felt really tired and thought I’d been overdoing things.   I was due to report for my next flight to Nairobi 2 days later.

I made it out of the door and on to the street (in full uniform!) only to collapse in the street. I struggled to get up. The weird thing was that I was in no pain. I just couldn’t walk.

Gemma Flanagan Before & After GBS

 CH: Presumably you didn’t make the flight to Kenya?

GF: Hardly! My flatmate took me to a WalkIn Clinic – not surprisingly they were really unsure what to do with me!  So I ended up in A&E and was admitted to hospital for tests.

It was then that things started to get a bit scary as they mentioned stroke, meningitis and tropical diseases as possible causes for my symptoms.

The doctors confirmed the diagnosis as GBS* after a lumbar puncture.

From that point things deteriorated really quickly – within a week of being admitted to hospital I’d lost my swallowing reflex and was totally paralyzed. I was literally trapped within my own body.

 

 CH: How frightening it must have been to go from being an able bodied person to being completely paralyzed?

GF: The doctors kept telling me that it was a mild case and I was really calm.

However, I did get a bit hysterical when I’d been in hospital for 4 days and a friend who was visiting asked what was wrong with my face.

My face had totally dropped on one side. It sounds so vain but that was the point I got a bit upset!

I was moved to Intensive Care (ICU) for two weeks, when the paralysis kicked in.  This was despite the fact that I still didn’t think I was ill enough to warrant being there!!

After 2 months it stopped deteriorating and I was transferred to Liverpool. In January 2012 I entered rehabilitation.

Image by Matt Jamie

Image by Matt Jamie

 CH: What did the rehabilitation involve?

GF: It was tough with 6 hours per day of therapy.

As the nerves start to recover they become hypersensitive. This involves a burning sensation so intense it’s like an electric shock you can’t move away from.  I was in a lot of pain and trying to cope with this and 6 hours of therapy per day was not easy.

I had to learn to swallow, talk, write and partly walk again.   Not exactly what I’d planned to be doing aged 27!   I was in rehabilitation for 7 months.

I left the amazing Walton Neuro Centre on crutches and was told that it was highly likely I’d make a full recovery.   I missed the bit where they said it would take time!

CH: At what point did you realise that life was never going back to the way it had been and how did that make you feel?

GF: For 18 months after leaving hospital I refused to use a wheelchair. I believed that I would get better if I kept pushing myself.

Unfortunately I was my own worst enemy and have irreparably damaged my spine and skeletal system. It means that I now need to use a wheelchair full time.

Over the last 2 years the doctors have been telling me that I’m not going to get better.   It took me another year to accept the fact, so it’s been a long time.

Last summer I went through a grieving process as I came to terms with the changes in my body.

But I’m one of the lucky ones! Not everyone survives GBS!

Image by Andy Green

CH: You are now diverting your energy into an incredibly worthwhile cause can you tell us a bit about that and how you became involved?

GF: I needed a purpose in life and have been lucky that I’ve found that with Models of Diversity (MOD)

Since meeting Angel Sinclair in 2012 I have been an ambassador for MOD and recently been promoted to Assistant Director of Disability.

I have so much to thank Angel for as she helped me realize I could be glamorous and get back in front of the camera. It had an amazing effect on my self-confidence and self-esteem.

As a model Angel realized that in order for changes to be instigated someone needed to start raising awareness.   Angel founded MOD in 2008 and has been campaigning for change ever since.

In Part 2 of my interview with Gemma we explore  Models of Diversity and their tireless efforts to campaign for change in the fashion, beauty and media industries.  We will look at the Petition they launched at the Houses of Parliament in September and the race to get as many signatures as possible before March 23rd.

 

*1 Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)

GBS is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.  The peripheral nervous system is found in the feet and other extremities of the body.

GBS can affect anybody. It can strike at any age and both sexes are equally prone to the disorder. The syndrome is rare, and only about 1 in 100,000 people are affected.

No one yet knows what causes GBS or sets it in motion. What scientists do know is that the body’s immune system begins to attack the body itself, causing what is known as an autoimmune disease.  It can spread to the body’s organs and that’s when fatalities can occur.

The disorder mutates differently in each case which makes it difficult to diagnose and treat.  Some sufferers make a full recovery, others like Gemma are left managing pain and suffering mobility issues for the rest of their lives.

 

Whitney Valverde

Fashion Blogger Remembers her Ticos

Welcome to Part 3 of my Interview with Fashion Blogger Whitney Valverde, author of Whitney’s Wonderland Blog.

Whitney won the Best Fashion Blogger Category of my Women are B.E.S.T awards earlier this year.   One of the prizes for each of the category winners was the opportunity to work with me.

Whitney and I have some great ideas on how we’re going to work together. But to launch our collaboration, I wanted you to meet Whitney and share her story.

In Part 1 of this interview we looked back at what it was like to grow up in the exotic environment of Costa Rica.  In Part 2 we looked at Whitney’s move to the UK and the launch of her career as a Fashion Blogger.  How she used her blog as a way of integrating herself into life in London.

In the final part of this series we’ll explore how a Fashion Blogger develops their blog from a hobby to a business and how marketing is key to the success of your blog.

Whitney Valverde

1. Some time ago you published an article about whether being hardcore is a good thing?   I’m interested to find out why you shared Michael Wolf’s piece – as a blogger did you have to develop resilience to rejection or criticism?

This was on my early blogging days, and I suppose it’s the title that has made this post one of the most popular in the history of Whitney’s Wonderland.

I shared it because I was opening myself to my readers.

It could be regarded as stubbornness, strength, or resilience, like you say, but I’m very loyal.

So if for any reason, someone who I consider a very close person to me, disappoints me, I tend to shut them down for good. I suppose it’s a defence mechanism or how I cope with the disappointment.

Regarding blogging, yes, you must develop a thick skin. I remember in Costa Rica there were a couple of nasty comments on my TV interviews saying that I was probably just a lazy girl who had nothing else to do, or not nice comments about how I looked or something I said.

Other times, I’ve had other fashion bloggers copying every single thing I do which can be annoying.

One girl would just post something extremely similar to whatever I posted.  She would even contact all the brands I work with to simply try to echo what I was doing.  In the end I decided to take it as a compliment!

This means what I’m doing is interesting, otherwise people wouldn’t talk or imitate, right?!

 2. How important is video content versus words and pictures? Will Vlogging take over from Blogging as a more popular media form or do they appeal to different demographics?

 Vlogging is very interesting and lots of fun, and I would love to get more into it. However, I love writing more than anything!

I do love making videos, but I’d rather not make them if they’re not done well.

I’m good with photos but not so great at editing videos…yet but I’m working on it! So for now I’d rather wait.

Photography feels so much more romantic, much more intimate.

I think they’re both for different audiences and for different reasons but they are converging. I’d love to mix both potentially. We’ll see!

Whitney Valverde

3. How important is the content of your blog posts versus promotion of your posts, particularly when starting out? 

The promotion of your blog posts is possibly even more important than the content.

Of course the content must be great quality but no one will see your amazing blog unless you promote it.

Social Media is such an important tool for promotion and is our saviour, as it’s such an amazing way of reaching such a wide audience.  It’s vital that any blogger uses the platforms where their audience ‘hang out’ to promote their content.

As a Fashion Blogger Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are the key channels.  But for some bloggers the platforms will be different.

What is vital is that you understand your audience and talk to them on the platforms they use.  If you write a blog about financial advice for example you are unlikely to find your audience hanging out on Instagram, but it’s very likely that they will be on Linked In.

 4. You work with some amazing brands, but what is the most exciting assignment you’ve worked on so far? 

 Oh wow that’s a good question and a hard one to answer. I’m so lucky and so blessed to work and have worked with so many brands I admire!

Some achievements may seem big or small to others but the ones that are dearest to me will always be because they remind me of when I used to work towards a goal or dream of having something I now have achieved.

Recently, I have been working with shoe designer Julian Hakes. I remember about 3 years ago I posted a picture on my facebook of the famous “mojito” shoes saying I hoped one day I could afford a pair

Well just yesterday my gifted pair arrived… To me that’s surreal! Even more amazingly I had a dress made especially for me by couture wearable fashion art brand Edward Roth New York –another wonderful and surreal moment!!

Regarding something big, being on live TV on the top Costa Rican show talking about my blog is still a “pinch me” moment!

5. You’re quite a celebrity in Costa Rica! You have been featured on Costa Rican Television and Radio, is this because the Costa Rican people are very proud of what you’ve achieved?

Oh no, I’m not a celebrity! It’s just so rewarding to be respected and recognized for doing something well that you also happen to love!

I think the attention I have got is due to a few things.

One is the fact that I’m the one of the first Costa Rican Fashion Bloggers.

I am also the first International Costa Rican fashion blogger.

I also think that it’s because I’ve worked very hard to grow and improve. I have never forgotten about where I come from and my “ticos” (Ticos – is a colloquial term for a native of Costa Rica)

I write in English and Spanish so that everyone can understand and follow along!

I think and hope they’re proud of what I’ve achieved as it is rewarding for all of us, especially as Costa Rica is such a small country!

Any milestone, I feel like it’s not only a reward for me but also for my readers!

 6. You have a fabulous figure and are very petite; does this give you any challenges when you are looking for clothes? 

 Well, that’s very kind of you to say but it doesn’t feel “fabulous” when you go to a shop and any dress, jeans, etc, are incredibly long that not even heels will seal the deal!

It makes you feel like they are trying to tell you that you are the wrong shape!

Yes, there are petite sizes in Topshop and that’s great, but I don’t want to have to end up buying my whole wardrobe in Topshop.

There are a lot of brands in the UK that provide petite ranges, but very few that have everyday, affordable luxury items.

There is also a problem that clothes which look amazing on models do not fit the same way on real people!  It’s very upsetting to try on something that you thought would look fantastic and it looks very different!

I would love to design a range of affordable luxury garments.

I want to provide women who are not the ‘normal’ shape with the confidence to buy and go out in clothes that will fit them as they should.

So for example a short dress will be finish at the right length and a long one won’t need platforms in the style of Lady Gaga. Wearable, flattering, fitted clothes!

Whitney Valverde

 7.  Having a career doing something that you love is amazing but how do you strike a balance between work and relaxation? 

To be perfectly honest, I’m still searching for that balance.

It is really hard to switch off, especially with social media and when you’re the one doing pretty much everything by yourself!

Weekends always help me disconnect a bit, but I’d appreciate any advice that you or your readers can give me!

Tweet me @whitswonderland on how to balance, HELP!

8.  Who’s your style icon? And does this style icon influence your own personal style (and your brand’s?)

I have so many style icons.

But when it comes to modelling my own look and deciding on my outfits I tend to look towards women who have a similar figure to my own.

For example the Olsen twins are petite and so stylish! I know that if something looks good on them it will probably look good on me!

For a more mature look, I adore Miroslava Duma’s bold style, she’s such a doll! I was so lucky to meet her at London Fashion Week.  In spite of her fame and fortune, she was such a sweetheart!  (Miroslava Duma is successful Russian writer and entrepreneur).

9. Where do you see yourself in 2 or 3 years time? 

I really have no idea!

I have dreams and ambitions but who knows?!  If someone had told me 4 years ago I’d be a Fashion Blogger and blogging for a living I would’ve laughed at their face!

I love blogging and hope to grow the blog to eventually become more than just a blog but for that I need time, resources, and a team… Hopefully one day soon!!

The goal has always been to one day start my own fashion brand with my own designs. I’m just happy there are so many people now joining me on the journey, let’s see where we’ll go..