Through my eyes, my two daughters are of course beautiful. I will always see their beauty. But how will they appreciate their own beauty as they grow up? What will they be thinking about when they look at themselves in the mirror? I’ve started to think about this more for a number of reasons. Three-year old Big Munch starts school next year. She will enter school life and be exposed to all of the body-image issues it brings with being around so many other girls and boys. She will start building her own identity. She will become more aware of her personality as well as her looks.
I love her innocence as she sometimes believes she looks like Elsa from Frozen. I hope she’s OK when she realises they look totally different. I worry that she is starting to define beauty in Elsa terms. I need to chill out as she’s only playing with her doll. Thank goodness there are other Disney princesses who resemble Big Munch.
As a three-year old she’s into choosing her own clothes. I let her wear her conjured up outfits (within reason). Giving her this style freedom early on is important. After all, what I wear is very important to me. My clothes give me confidence. In the Summer of 2015, I knew something was up when I wasn’t dressing like me. I soon realised I was suffering from the baby blues.
So did I love how I looked when I was a kid? Junior school was a fun and innocent era for me. For some reason, me and my pal H got away with wearing bright coloured trousers to school as long as we wore the school sweater. I gained my first ounce of cool credibility when I won the dance-off competition as the school disco. I never remember looking at my Cindy and Barbie dolls thinking “wish I looked like you…”. I don’t think it was about looks back then.
Secondary school was a different matter. Growing up I stood out in our town; my family were Mauritian. I shot up in height and looked very skinny with these gangly legs. I was picked on because of my ethnicity plus I was super skinny. That’s two sets of names to be called. People assume that skinny people must love how they look. This isn’t the case. We all self-criticise our bodies whatever shape we are. I hated my skinniness as it reminded me of the bullying. Luckily, I never despised my Mauritian roots as I appreciated the beauty of my mum, aunties and cousins around me.
During my early teens, me and my Mum tried lots of different things to help me put on weight. Nothing worked; my beanpole shape was my shape. Racist remarks dented my confidence. You can imagine how proud me and my school mates felt when I featured in a make up shoot for the teen mag Just Seventeen. The girls in the dominant so-called cool gang could not believe it. I was one of the first girls of South-Asian girls to have appeared in the magazine.
So it took many years before I started to really love how I looked. Fast forward to the age of fourteen. That’s when I found this mysterious confidence to wear clothes I liked. I broke away from my Bros fan uniform. I started to dress “my way”. I loved my random bright-coloured charity shops finds. I started to buy my clothes from Camden Market when our Dad took us on day trips to London Town. I soon became a sneaker geek and tracked down my trainers favourite on Oxford Street.
My school friends, who to this day are like my extended family, used to say “YOU can get away with wearing that…” I quite never knew what to make of that comment. Was it a compliment as I could carry off random purchases or was it because I already looked different meant that different clothes suited me?
I luckily inherited hand-me-downs from my very cool cousin who lived with us (she’s like my big Sis). I benefited from her move to London as I then borrowed her fashionable finds from the Kings Road and Covent Garden. I started to build my own style identity. I liked how I looked although there were a few things I’d love to change like my Will Smith sticking out ears. My cousin taught me to love how I look.
I then entered the working world of modelling when I was eighteen years old. My different look was celebrated in London. My gangly legs worked in my favour. I think my ears even gave me an edge when working for the trendier magazines like I-D. High street brands featured me probably because of my ethnicity and my overall look. However, my image was open to daily criticism and that was part of the job. As I worked hard in the fashion industry I had to love how I looked. I had to feed myself that confidence.
There were a few of us South-Asian models on the scene so the fashion media was starting to acknowledge our beauty. I worked in Milan. Next stop was New York. But I faced a huge setback as the New York agency asked me to lose weight. I was shocked as I was already a size 8. I decided to head back home. That’s when I decided it was time to slowly leave modelling and focus on my MA studies. I realised I liked how I looked and didn’t want to change it.
Obviously, I never stayed slim like my modelling days. My weight changed drastically when I entered the corporate world; probably down to my excitement of having a work restaurant with the best lunch time desserts. I finally started to put on weight after meeting my first real love (now my husband). Happiness changed the way I looked and I loved it. I wanted curves. Mr.H met me when I was modelling and to this day he says I was too skinny back then. Two babies later, I have a jelly belly. Something I’d love to change but realistically it will take a lot of hard work. It does help me to celebrate being a mummy though.
I wonder about all of the influences which will encourage and discourage my daughters to love how they look. Luckily in the media there are now more role-models of South-Asian and mixed-ethnicity descent. Something I didn’t grow up with. Their friends or peer group will be a big influence. Will they be angry that they’ve inherited their dark hair and likely to be hairy arms from me? What exactly will they love about how they look?
There have been lots of things cropping up this week that have inspired this post. I’m backing up the Be Real Body Image Pledge which is supported by Dove #PledgeToBeReal. Today at a workshop, I talked with other women about our own style. We chatted about how we look, what bits of our bodies we like showing off with clothes and what we’re unsure about. I hope to influence my daughters’ self-confidence so they love every inch of their image and encourage them to find their own style. But, will my daughters love how they look?
How can you help? Anyone can help Dove to support the Be Real Body Image Pledge by sharing your body image stories and blog posts tagging #PledgeToBeReal and @DoveUK on social media.
Dove’s Self-Esteem Project has shared lots of ideas on how we can boost the confidence of the younger girls in our lives. Check out their website for more info. More info can be found at www.dove.co.uk
Don’t forget to check out the @BeReal_Campaign on Twitter. and over at BeRealCampaign.co.uk
Over to you…What did you like about how you looked when growing up? Was there anything you wanted to change? Is there anything you’d like to change now about how you look? What’s your confidence trick to make you feel better about how you look? Hope you get to leave a comment below….x Sunita
I created this post as a competition entry in support of Dove and the Be Real Body Image Pledge.