“I would be lying if I said I don’t have days where I wish I was a bit more lean, toned and strong like I used to be.” So writes supermodel Megan Gale in the foreword to THIS IS ME, proving that even the most genetically jaw-dropping among us fall victim to the comparison trap. “But it’s in the same way that I wish I was basking in the sun on a tropical island when I’m in the midst of winter. It’s a fleeting thought and a whimsical wanting. I have more respect for my body now and I have my children to thank for that.”
It’s a common theme running through the book, a collaboration with The Grace Tales founder Georgie Abay and one of our most-loved photographers, Julie Adams. The book captures women and girls of all ages, sizes, shapes, colours, and experiences, unretouched and raw, and asks them about their relationship to their bodies. For so many, motherhood not only changed their bodies for good, but also their minds. “The experience of being pregnant, giving birth and feeding my children with my body has given me a newfound respect for it”, Megan explains.
It’s not just supermodels and supermamas featured in this beautiful book. Women from all backgrounds bring the pages to life with their stories about learning to love and embrace their imperfections. From eating disorders, to cancer, to ageing and growing, women share their vulnerabilities, and in doing so, their incredible strength and resilience. The tide of criticism and judgement on women’s bodies is turning, and in its place grows self-love and joy. Perhaps one of the book’s models, eight-year-old Luna, puts it best: “I like to look at myself in the mirror in the morning and sing to myself!” That’s the kind of reflection we can all aspire to have.
To purchase the book THIS IS ME, $39.99, go to www.bauerbooks.com.au | All photography by Julie Adams
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, which is an autoimmune/inflammatory bowel disease when I was 17. It followed a lifetime of misdiagnosed IBS. By the time the diagnosis was made, my large bowel was damaged beyond repair, and although the specialists tried to treat me with a range of drugs, nothing could be done to reverse the damage. At the age of 19, I learned that I would lose my large bowel and spend the rest of my life with an ileostomy bag, which involves the end part of your small intestine being redirected out through your abdomen and into a bag to remove the waste from your body.
The surgery was huge. I spent many months recuperating in hospital and then at home. I’ve had around six subsequent surgeries to remove additional parts of my small bowel and drain abscesses that formed on my small bowel. Living with a bag has its moments. Sometimes I can go for weeks without it really bothering me, but other times I really struggle. This tends to be when the skin that the bag is stuck to gets irritated and sore, which then causes the bag to come away, usually in the middle of the night while I’m asleep, which results in waking up in a big mess.
You can’t control the timing of the waste flowing into the bag, which means I need to get up anywhere from two to five times each night to empty it. That’s become pretty tiring after 18 years. All in all though, I have many more great days than not. Dealing with my illness from such a young age has made me very resilient, but also extremely positive and pragmatic about everything. Not much gets me down, and even when I’m terribly sick, I just get on with life with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.”
“Exercise is a personal journey for me. It’s not something to be documented on social media, which seems to be the norm now. I exercise to clear my mind, become strong physically and mentally, and to give myself time without all the noise of my life. My recent weight loss journey was accidental, it followed me deciding to do something that was on my schedule and no one else’s. I chose running, as I could do it anywhere and any time. We are all so fuelled by visuals these days, comparing ourselves to everyone around us. It takes a lot of strength to be 100% happy within yourself. Everyone is different, but I find happiness when I eat well, take care of my body and stop thinking I am not good enough.”
Nadine Bush, 57
“When I started school, I really struggled with competition and comparison. You need to have healthy self-esteem to grow up within the current system without body image issues. Some schools say they nurture the individual, but that’s rubbish. Very few of them do. Kids are rated, graded, compared. If you don’t conform to the norm, you don’t fit in. It teaches children to measure their sense of self-worth from external sources. We need to celebrate and respect the individual child to keep their self-esteem intact as they grow.
I think society as a whole needs to get over its obsession with this idea of perfection. We are all perfectly imperfect, everything in this world is perfectly imperfect. I love the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. It’s a concept that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the cycle of growth and decay. If a teacup becomes cracked through daily use, that crack is looked upon as a thing of beauty. The crack might even be filled in with gold to highlight the imperfection. I like this way of looking at life.
I’m proud of my body for keeping me thriving over the last 56 years, enabling me to bring my two boys into the world and being the vehicle that I can express myself through.
I’m a civil celebrant and part of my work entails doing end-of-life rituals, ceremonies and celebrations on behalf of the families of people who have died. It means I’m very aware that we should live each day like it’s our last, because one day it will be. We should enjoy every aspect of our lives and that includes ageing. It’s a privilege to be able to age! Every part of life should be savoured. It’s such a waste of time to be worrying about perfection and lying about how old you are. Life is very short – make the most of it.
Two years ago, I joined a modelling agency and they found me work pretty much straight away. I’d always been self-conscious about being photographed, but turning 50 was like having a light switched on inside me and I no longer care what other people think of me.”
“It was only when I had my son that I was able to acknowledge that I’d spent more than a decade juggling an incredibly complicated relationship between my mind and body. There was a lack of connection between the two. As a teenager, I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and went on a path of a few steps forward and a couple back with my eating, health and body image. When Jet came into my life, everything seemed to come full circle. I found peace with it all. Babies are such miracles and I knew how blessed I was to have this child enter my life. So, through the journey of becoming a mum and wanting to be the best role model for him, I decided that I needed to become the best role model for me too. I wish more people would realise that the most important element of health is how you feel. You can look a certain way, and it’s often a way that much of society might deem ‘healthy’ looking, but remember that health encompasses the mental, emotional and physical being.
There needs to be a balance between it all. Make time for all these elements – quality nutrition from delicious whole food; movement that excites and inspires you to do it daily; practices for your mental wellbeing, such as surfing, yoga, meditation or allowing white space in your life to just be and not do; and ensuring that you understand your emotions and have support around you to work through the highs and the lows in life.”
“About 18 years ago I noticed patches of white on my skin. Over the years, my vitiligo has spread all over my body and face. At first, I tried to cover it, especially because it looked like I had a bad fake tan around my arms and décolletage. But one day I just went with it and stopped covering it up. I actually love it now and so many people around me have embraced it and want to know more about it. I’ve even had people say it suits me and is very creative and beautiful. I guess being a make-up artist and having a skin disorder is ironic, but I have accepted that this is me. If I can help others with vitiligo, then I am very grateful.”
“My attitude towards my body has fluctuated since high school. The biggest revelation that I will pass onto my children is that my body size never correlated with happiness. My happiest moments weren’t at the same time as when my body was at its thinnest.”
“I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at age 36. It was completely out of the blue. At the time my children were only nine months old, four and six. I was in complete shock, but I immediately went into practical/pragmatic mode and decided I would have anything removed that would give me the best chance of staying alive for my kids. It took me about three seconds to decide whether to have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. I chose the latter and asked to have both breasts removed, even though cancer had only been detected in my left breast.
The surgery was followed by chemo. Suddenly I had no hair, which was actually quite liberating. Then I went ahead and had my ovaries removed as well. That was a tough time, as it sent me straight into early menopause. But I knew it gave me the best chance of seeing my children for as many years as possible. I was absolutely terrified to think of my own mortality. I look back now and don’t regret any of the decisions I made. I spent many nights crying and feeling very afraid. When I got diagnosed my goal was to be alive to see my son Archie start kindergarten. He is now in Year Four. I have absolutely no regrets. I grew up with an inspirational father who had horrific skin cancer (he had more than 3000 tumours removed) and he was very facially disfigured. But he was extremely optimistic and would always say to me: ‘I’m not embarrassed about how I look Belinda, I’ll win people over with my brains! And if I can’t, well, they’re not my people’.
Having that kind of role model has been a blessing – one that I never thought I would have to channel as much as I have. Thank you, Dad.”
“I look back on my teens and twenties and finally understand why I was so critical of myself. I was teased at school for being flat-chested and I was self-conscious because I was so tall. What I can see now is that the person next to you has their own issues – nobody escapes them. You’re not alone. But it’s hard to escape that bubble you’re in at school. At the time, you don’t realise there’s a magnificent world out there to explore – school is just the beginning of the journey.
My mother really encouraged me to travel and she always taught me that beauty is far more than a pretty face – it’s generosity, kindness, love and laughter. How beautiful are people who can make you laugh? I love people who have a great sense of humour. When I left school, I put on a backpack and went travelling for a year. In the years that followed, in between doing a degree and working, I travelled at every opportunity I got. As a young woman, travel really helped me to foster self-love. It still does. I hope to encourage this wanderlust in my girls.”
“When I was younger, people admired my face and my hair – which was long and red – but not my body. I always felt overweight and checked the scales every day. All these years later, I now feel happy with my weight. We all look back and wish we were kinder to ourselves when we were younger.”
“Ever since I was little, I had this idea in my head about what my body was supposed to look like. It took me so long to accept that I was beautiful, stretch marks, pudge and all. I love my little pudge now! I know how hard I have worked for my body. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome earlier this year, which helped to explain why I’ve struggled with my weight all my life. I also understand now that just because my body isn’t society’s perfect ideal, it’s perfect for me and I do what I can to protect it and keep it healthy.”