When it comes to confidence it’s all about context. For a long while now I’ve claimed to be totally cool with all my wobbly bits, as I stomped up hills or paddled canoes or dashed to the hardware shop in a tracksuit encrusted with paint and yesterday’s Weetbix. But back in November I had a real test of those convictions: a photo shoot for ELLE magazine!
I was so excited when they asked me to write about how I came to a place of bodily peace, lurve and understanding. But when it came to the accompanying photo shoot, you might say I had an old-fashioned Fat Girl Freakout. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’d written 1500… so wasn’t a picture and a half enough?
"I’m not Elleworthy," is what I whimpered to everyone who said I was being ridiculous. I thought they’d have to amend the slogan on the spine: The World’s Biggest Selling Fashion Magazine: Now Contains Morons!
I’d had my photo taken before under less daunting circumstances: just me in my own clothes with freelance stylists and photographers. This time it was in London in a posh studio with Real Magazine People, and they were supplying the clothes! I couldn’t sleep for a week beforehand. Despite giving them my measurements I feared they’d not find anything to fit me. I had visions of seams bursting; of buttons flying off and blinding nubile assistants.
I woke at 6AM on the day of the shoot to wash my hair. I dried it at 7AM. At 8AM I became convinced it looked greasy.
Shauna: Does my hair look greasy? I think it looks greasy.
Rhiannon: It doesn’t look greasy.
S: But I think it does, I used too much of your hair stuff. It’s more powerful than my hair stuff.
R: Is it?
S: Why didn’t I use my own? Why did I risk New Hair Stuff today of all days?
R: It doesn’t look greasy!
S: I think I better wash it again. Do you think I should wash it again?
R: . . .
S: I don’t know. I can’t decide.
R: Well you better hurry up and decide. You only have two hours.
S: Oh my god what do I doooo?
Not only does my nervousness cause loss of appetite, there’s also severe indecision and paranoia. In the end I listened to the voice of reason that is my sister and did not re-wash my locks.
We met the lovely Sam and Anna from my publisher outside the studio and together we entered the temple o’ glamour. It was all high ceilings and huge windows and yawning white spaces. We sat on a plush couch and were offered refreshments, but I declined because my teeth were chattering so wildly that I feared I might bite a hunk out of a teacup.
The Elle People trickled in, and they were very nice and chatty. I began to relax. Then the hair and makeup artist got to work. She did a great job at disguising all those sleepless nights! Then she bouffed up my hair and pulled fancy moves with the straighteners. All I could do was gawk in amazement. Make up artist? Make up magician more like! Woohoo!
Next I met Bonnie the Stylist and she was gorgeous. She took me off to a dressing room with a rack of clothes and a neat row of swanky looking shoes all waiting to be caressed by my size eight hoof. She explained we’d be doing a series of portraits with a soft, elegant look. I nearly snorted because I saw myself as more suited to a rustic farm girl look.
She pulled a shirt off the rack and it looked impossibly dainty and pretty. Thankfully it fitted. The trousers did not. I couldn’t get them past my knees and I mumbled, Sorry! Sorry! I’m sorry.
I was so irritated that I’d said that out loud. What happened to the Happy Just Being Me stuff? I felt crushed and pathetic, but Bonnie was like a reassuring old Aunt trapped in the body of an elegant, tiny young woman. She told me not to worry about sizes and labels, and besides, she had plenty more trousers to try on. Soon I was clothed and climbing into a pair of high heels.
Dudes. Nobody warned me about high heels. I mean really high ones. I started to walk back into the studio expecting my legs to just, you know… walk? But instead I staggered like I’d been thrown out of a moving car. How do people wear those things all day? I was mortified by that entrance and the fact that I was clearly the elephant in the room… yet all this fuss was due to My Amazing Weight Loss?
It was one of those moments when I could stand outside myself and listen to the wild screaming match between my Old Thinking and New Thinking. Who will be the victor today? I hope you can understand how everything I’d learned over the past seven years could temporarily desert me. It was the context – a room full of glossy magazine people, cameras, bright lights, high-heeled clomping. I’d never felt like such a big fat fish out of water. My mind raced as I took my place on the wee set, Who have I been kidding? I should lose another ten kilos. Maybe twenty. Why did I eat so many bloody bagels in New York?
But then thankfully the New Thinking took over. The moment the photographer smiled and lifted the camera to her eye, I felt a massive rush of adrenaline and glee. I’m in London! In a studio! With fancy hair! And crazy shoes! Gettin’ me photie taken! For ELLE! This isn’t awful, it’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.
I remembered my favourite Flight of the Conchords episode with Jemaine’s heartfelt speech about racism: "I’m a person. You’re a person. That person over there is a person. And every person… deserves to be treated like a person." All the people in the room were persons, and they were treating me like a person. So I should remember to treat myself like a person, and not a lardy freak!
The camera was hooked up to a computer so the photos instantly popped up onscreen. That could have been daunting, especially when people were clustered around it with serious expressions, pointing to blown-up eyebrows, teeth and jawlines. But somehow once we were in the swing of things I could look at the images with a pleasant objectivity. It was fun doing all the poses too. At first I couldn’t stop laughing, so there were dozens of giant gummy grin shots. Then the photographer said, Look sad! So I looked out the window and saw an old lady shuffling towards a mailbox. I pictured a Royal Mail van burning around the corner and mowing her down. I think I even summoned a wee tear. Then she said, Pretend your secret crush has just walked into the room. Oooh. Cue demure blush. At one point I had to toss my hair around, like I’d just stepped out of the salon. Fun and games!
We had a lunch break. There was table full of freshly-cooked gourmet treats but I picked at a tiny wedge of quiche. Not because I’d gone all Starving Model but I didn’t want to get anything stuck in my fangs! I thought about models and how its no wonder they snort things and live on cigarettes and have tortured love lives. I can’t imagine anything worse than your career being based entirely on the way you look. How do they not explode from the constant scrutiny?
There was a basket of miniature bars of Green and Blacks chocolate. In all the flavours! OH I trembled with joy, or it may have been high heel instability. I grabbed one, clopped back to the dressing room and nestled it beside my Spare Bra. I had to bring two along – one black, one flesh coloured.
The rest of the shoot passed without incident, except for when my arms got STUCK inside a shirt! It was outfit change no. 5 methinks. The top was carefully placed over my head and outstretched arms, but when they pulled downward they couldn’t get very far. I felt like a right goose, trapped in designer cotton with my arms glued to my ears, but at least I laughed instead of apologising!
Afterwards, I changed into my civvies and was just about to head out when I remember my choccie. They were packing up the clothes in the dressing room. The stylist’s glamourous assistant smiled and scooped up the goods from the table.
"Here’s your bra and your chocolate!" she said.
She had the chocolate bar in one hand and my giant, ultra supportive bra in the other. She could have worn one cup as a hat, I swear. It was hilarious.
. . .
So the story is in this month’s issue of Elle, but it’s only this month’s issue for another half hour as the new issue comes out on the 30th. How’s that for timely blogging? Anyway, I’ve done a dodgy scan if you fancy a peek. Gareth and I keep cackling over one frame in particular because it’s like the opening credits of Kath & Kim: