As someone with a skin condition, there was a time when I hated the idea of a beach holiday. The thought of couples strolling along the beach, women with ‘beach ready bodies’ and attracting stares that questioned why my skintone wasn’t typically mixed race, was enough to make me board a plane to New York rather than the Seychelles. It was only later, when I entered my thirties, that my attitude started to change as I realised just how much I was missing out on, because I was too busy worrying about what others thought of me.
Earlier this year, I stepped (actually make that leaped!) outside my comfort zone and took part in a swimwear photoshoot set up by burns survivor Sylvia Mac, the founder of Love Disfigure and passionate campaigner for diversity within the fashion industry. Sponsored by swimwear brand, Swimwear 365, Sylvia chose 20 inspirational models, all with their own unique stories, with the vision of celebrating and bringing recognition to those with visible scars and skin conditions such as Vitiligo and Psoriasis.
When Sylvia initially asked me to take part, I was apprehensive. Would I really be comfortable being photographed in my swimwear? Was I mentally ready to take part in a campaign that could go global and which would be heavily promoted across the media? I was uncertain because a tiny part of me still felt like the 15 year old that mostly wanted to disguise her skin rather than show it. Nevertheless, after giving it some thought and the importance of body positivity and embracing who we are regardless of how we look, I excitedly agreed to take part.
The shoot, which took place at a North London leisure centre, was captured by photographer, Sophie Mayanne who is also the creator of the highly successful, Behind the Scars project. When I arrived, I instantly recognised some of the other models, not because i’d met them before, but because I’d read their courageous stories perviously in the press. In an instant, conversations started and everyone started exchanging stories that echoed strength and survival, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the positivity which quickly put me at ease with showing my body in swimwear.
It didn’t take long for the official photo launch to come round. Taking place at a London venue, I’d not seen any of the photos and so had no clue what I looked like and to be honest, I was now more concerned about my unpredictable curly hair rather than my skin! Ultimately, I didn’t know whether I’d hate how I looked in front of the lens or if I’d be blown away! There were constant streams of people arriving at the auditorium to show support for the campaign, including ex Olympic swimmer, Sharon Davies. Sylvia opened with a moving speech about how she had conquered her own personal battles, after an accident involving boiling hot water which left her with scars on her back and various other parts of her body at the age of 4, followed by a beautifully edited clip of some of the photos captured on the day.
As the reality of each photo revealed itself, my mind drifted back to those stories I’d learned about on the day of the shoot. It was then I realised just how proud I was of myself and all the other models that had taken part. The stories of those that had experienced difficult times, the struggles of acceptance and most importantly, being survivors of the path that had been put before them.
Thankfully, I loved every single photo. They were incredibly natural. The swimwear design and colour complemented my skintone and my bright red lips worked well against my loosely hanging curls.
Since its launch, the campaign has been praised across the media, featuring in The Independent, The Sun, The Daily Mail and Women’s Health Magazine. Some of the models have also featured on This Morning, modelling this years hottest swimwear looks. It really feels like change is coming and its most definitely better late than never….