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    The Photoshoot That Pushed Me Outside My Comfort Zone

    A few weeks back a group of girls stripped down to their underwear and took part in a photo-shoot that would challenge the fashion industry and show the beauty of different body shapes, sizes and skintones. I was one of those girls.

    Directed and crafted by body positive campaigner and ex America’s Next Top Model contestant, Khrystyana, it was a shoot that united a group of women with honest bodies that revealed different stories and life experiences.

    I’ll be honest in that, I felt a tad nervous as I drove down to the studio in East London. I was well aware of the planned direction of the shoot, however, given I hadn’t experienced such a revealing photoshoot in the past and I had no idea who the girls were that were taking part, naturally, I had my reservations.

    I was quickly put at ease when I arrived and noticed a few familiar faces that I had worked with in the past, but what I was instantly struck by within a matter of minutes, was how positive the energy was. There were women wandering around, with a real sense of appreciation and openness in relation to their bodies, irrespective of what they looked like. I knew pretty quickly it was a sign that what we were about to create was going to be something empowering. 

    The shoot itself lasted for around two hours. We had a selection of individual shots, before creating the main images which included intertwining arms and hands which showcased our skin tones and a tight knit shot that would see us laying in position with our bodies slightly overlapping and almost cocoon like, for a peaceful shot that made us appear as though we were sleeping…

    Since the photos were released on Instagram, they have made their way around with magazines, body positive influencers and campaigners sharing the work of Khrystyana and the creative photographer, Irene Cano.

    With any media related campaign I get involved with, I always try to take away something positive or just opens my eyes to another way of thinking. With this shoot, I realised that body confidence isn’t about our body shape, skin colour or the size of our hips, its about our mindset, our beliefs and our ability to appreciate who we are without getting wrapped up in what the fashion industry tries to convince us is ‘body perfect’.

    In recent years, I’ve loved embracing challenging moments – pushing myself to do things that I probably wouldn’t have 5 years ago. From sharing my story live on radio without the comfort of a retake, to speaking out in schools, to hosting conferences, for me, these are things that I value and that allow me to prove to myself that with support, encouragement and faith, you can do those things that fill you with fear, because afterall “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and taking part in this photoshoot, was testament to the fact, once again, I pushed myself outside mine….

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    Lifestyle

    BlogConLDN – My First Bloggers Networking Event!

    Earlier this month I experienced my first Bloggers event. Given I was going alone (one of my commitments to myself was to solo network more!), I didn’t go in lightly and decided to head for BlogConLdn, an annual event that connects bloggers, influencers and creatives for informal networking in a fun, yet insightful environment. This is the second event of its kind by Scarlett London, and having experienced this one, I kinda wish I could turn back time and experience the first event that took place in 2017!

    I’ll be honest. When I parked up at the CEME Conference Centre in Rainham, Essex and quickly noticed girls in pairs and others in groups excitedly predicting what the day might look like, part of me wanted to drive straight back out the carpark! I suddenly felt like this was an event that needed to be enjoyed with friends or other bloggers and so my initial idea of going solo, suddenly felt like a big mistake. Nevertheless, I soon shook of any feelings of nervousness and headed in, afterall, the idea was to network, meet people and most importantly move my blog forward with help from some of the workshops arranged for the day.

    The spacious conference space that was filtered with natural light allowed for comfortable mingling. I casually wandered around soon after I arrived, checking out the planned workshops agenda and deciding on which talks would aid me in my pursuit to build my blog. After treating myself to a glass of champagne, I made my way upstairs and decided to attend the ‘Improving your blog photography with Lightroom’ workshop with blogger, April Todd, followed by ‘Taking your Instagram To The Next Level’ with Jordan, from Hello Miss Jordan. Lasting for 45 minutes, both offered insightful tips on photography and how to get the most out of your blog photos.

    After both sessions, I headed back downstairs to visit some of the exhibitor stands,

    which included some of brand favourites – Macadamia Natural Oil, Jewellery Box, Johnny Loves Rosie and Scan Disk. I instantly fell in love with Jewellery Box , an online retailer who specialise in a wide range of versatile, 9ct gold and sterling silver pieces and found the ethos of recently launched TOTM very interesting. Created in 2016, TOTM is a brand passionate about raising awareness of periods and eradicating the idea that ‘the time of the month’ is a taboo subject for girls and women. Ethically friendly, I learnt about their range of period products that are 100% certified organic cotton, eco friendly and cruelty free.

    On the main stage, four bloggers and influential YouTuber’s shared with us ‘How To Find Your Blogs USP’, something I’m sure we’ve all given extensive thought after deciding we want to write a blog or create a YouTube channel.It was interesting to hear their views on how to increase your following, maintain consistancy, grow your market and how to find your all important USP. I definitely learned some good takeaways from the session.

    The last workshop I joined was ‘Collaborating with Brands: Blogging, Blagging and Blagging Your Dream Projects’ as presented by Kirsty Leanne from Clickstay. This was a great session as there was an opportunity for a bit of ‘on the spot writing’, which, although feels a little daunting, is a great way to get you writing in the spare of the moment. One thing I have always found tricky is how to pitch to a brand – how do I start an email? How best to sign off at the end? What does the brand wan to hear? and so the exercise whereby we had to write a pitch email was a great learning curve, as it finally allowed me to establish exactly what to include in a pitch email. Clickstay also gave me some great holiday type blog post ideas, which I can’t wait to start writing!

    BlogConLdn was definitely worth the solo visit (even just for the goodie bad alone!), although now that I’ve experienced it, I reckon next year I’ll be getting my blogger friends to tag along! Despite all that I learned and the informative workshops, I missed out on photo opportunities because there are only so many times you can ask others to take a quick photo! Nevertheless, I’m glad I didn’t turn back when I arrived because the valuable tips I’ve taken away, would be ones I may never have known….

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    Advice For Parents

    4 Ways To Help Your Child Understand Vitiligo

    At what age do you explain to your child that they have Vitiligo? Or do you wait for them to come home from school one day after one of the kids has perhaps asked questions about their skin?

    I don’t ever really remember my parents telling me what Vitiligo was. I vividly remember the endless train journeys to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London and the play area in the waiting room that kept all the kids quiet until their names were called over the tannoy, but I don’t actually remember when I realised what I was going for or ever asking why I was going! Mum says I questioned my skin when I was around 6 years old. I’d come home from school and apparently one of the kids in my class had asked me what it was, to which I replied ‘I don’t know’…. because I genuinely had no idea. It was then she told me I had a skin condition called Vitiligo and that there was nothing wrong with me. That was the end of it. It was never a hot topic or spoken about again unless someone had brought it to my Mum’s attention….

    As a parent, trying to get your head around Vitiligo or any condition for that matter, can be tough, especially when they are newly diagnosed. So with that in mind, how must it feel for a child to understand the reasons for their slightly unusual skin tone that makes them different from the other kids in the class? Here are the ways, from my own personal experience growing up, how you can help you child understand Vitiligo…

    Explain to them what it is in simple terms

    I know this must sound like I’m stating the obvious, but it can often be difficult trying to explain a condition to a child in simple terms if its not so simple. The key is, try not to over complicate things to quickly! Young children don’t need to understand the technicalities behind Vitiligo, so talking about it being an autoimmune disease and that the loss of pigment is due to the lack of melanin in the skin, isn’t necessary. A child friendly explanation could simply be ‘You have a condition called Vitiligo which means white patches appear on the skin’. All the other stuff can come later in life when they are old enough to understand. When my nephew, who is 8 has asked me what was wrong with my skin, I responded by saying ‘Auntie Nat has a skin condition. It just a little different to yours’, which he accepted and has never felt to ask me again since.

    Show them stories with characters that have indifferences, including Vitiligo

    Back when I was growing up, there were barely any black or mixed race characters in the children’s books I read, so there certainly wasn’t a Naomi or Natasha with Vitiligo! Looking back, I honestly believe this would have helped ‘normalise’ my skin and help me to see it in a positive light.

    Now with books such as Skin Deep: A Childs Story and Snow White and The Seven Patches in which the lead character has Vitiligo, we are able to teach our children through story telling and show them that there are characters in every day life that represent them.

    Remain positive

    I know as a parent you will want to remain positive, but I also understand it can be difficult as you wonder how they are getting on in school or even panicking because you’re not sure how much your child’s Vitiligo will spread. Out of all those people your child comes into contact with, you’re likely the one that will comfort them through difficult times and reassure them if they do face any challenges. My parents always dressed me in shorts and t-shirts during the summer because they refused to have me think that I had something to hide. They always remained positive and hopeful during hospital visits, and didn’t let me think that Vitiligo would stop me from doing the things I loved, such as swimming.

    Banish the Bullshit

    Regardless of your skin colour, religious beliefs, gender or size there is always going to be that kid in the class that spouts negativity! Try and prepare your children for the obvious questions that may arise such as ‘What is it called’? ‘Can you catch it’? (I wish I could banish this question!) and ‘Were you born with it’?. Not only will this allow them to understand their condition, but it will also allow you to dispel any myths that are often associated with Vitiligo, such as it being contagious and stress being a key factor of its cause.

    Since being a trustee at The Vitiligo Society, I often here from parents who have discovered patches on their child’s skin and are often unsure how to deal with their child’s changing skin. I cant stress enough how important it is for you to remain positive, even though their might be occasions when you want to shut the door and shed a tear because you’re not sure what it means in the long term. Try not to worry to much. In all the years I’ve had Vitiligo, I know that having a skin condition in the present time is probably the best time to be different because all around us unique conditions are being celebrated and body confidence has never been so powerful across social media in particular. Remain confident and hopeful for them because if they know you love and support them, chances are they’ll know everyone else will too…

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    Lifestyle

    BARING ALL WITH LOVE DISFIGURE

    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….

     

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    Lifestyle

    Celebrating World Book Day

    Even as an adult, I find the energy around World Book Day exciting! Every year, on the 1st March, children set off to school dressed as characters from their favourite storybooks and spend the day celebrating stories and the importance of reading.

    As a young girl, I used to love reading. I was a big Judy Blume fan who brought us teen classics such as ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ and ‘Iggie’s House’ and begged Mum to buy me the latest edition of Sweet Valley High when it was released, as I couldn’t get enough of Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, the most popular high school twins during the early 90’s!

    When I look back to most of the stories I read growing up, it’s only now, I realise just books that represented those with in-differences were sadly non-existent. I mean…could you ever imagine Belle from Beauty and the Beast having eczema or Vitiligo or a Disney character having some form of disability. That probably sounds incredibly far fetched, but why should it, after all these are people that represent those living a life in todays society.

    Things have moved on since my younger years thankfully, and we are seeing more books slowly emerging with characters that represent those like us, teaching us that we too are worthy of being characters in the fictional world. So of course, it only feels right, given what World Book Day is all about, that I give a round up of the books where characters with Vitiligo are taking the lead…

    Snow White & The Seven Patches by Jewel Kats

    This lovely story is a modern day version of the classic fairytale. With typical themes such as evil versus good, a poisonous apple and the magic mirror, the only big difference here is Snow White was born with beautiful, white patches. A book with great illustrations, a familiar storyline with an interesting twist…

    Saniyah Goes To The Zoo by Scott P Dawson and Saniyah Dawson

    There are so many things children with Vitiligo can face – bullying, staring and feelings of isolation and this is a story that tackles such themes. Saniyah goes to the zoo is about those very things children often face when they have an indifference. A great story that will teach your child how to handle and overcome such situations positively when they might feel like others are against them. One for teaching some of life’s simple lessons…

    Vitiligo Doesn’t Scare Me by Kim Kirkland

    The title of this book is so warming! Vitiligo Doesn’t Scare Me follows the journey of a little boy called Chris who discovers he has the condition after a visit to his GP. Naturally he becomes concerned and finds he is faced with a number of challenges because of his indifference. Throughout the story he faces a number of issues and feelings as he comes into contact with those who notice he has the condition and although he is aware his skin looks different in some places, having Vitiligo doesn’t scare him….

    A No Nonsense Guide to Vitiligo by Yan Valle

    Whilst this isn’t a story book as such, its still a great book that offers insight into Vitiligo. Recently published, The No Nonsense Guide to Vitiligo is what the Dermatology world, and those with Vitiligo are in need of. Up until recently, Vitiligo has often been regarded as a misunderstood condition, with many questions around treatment, management and what to do after diagnosis, remaining a ‘grey’ area. This guide is for those of you who have been looking for a better way to manage Vitiligo. In this smart and accessible book, Yan Valle – author, tireless campaigner and CEO of Vitiligo Research Foundation – cuts through the myths and misinformation that surround Vitiligo to tell you what you really need to know, covering themes such as potential triggers, how to feel confident about treatment options and how to detect the early signs of Vitiligo.

    Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela De Prince

    This is the incredible story of Michaela De Prince (pictured), a successful young dancer who escaped a country riddled with war and set her sights on becoming a leading star in Ballet.

    She was infamously known as girl No 27 in the orphanage in which she lived, a place where she expected to feel safe, but instead became a place of abandonment when it was discovered she had a skin condition that turned her skin white. For that very reason she was known as the ‘Devil Child’. After suffering torment by those who were supposed to care for her, she was adopted by an American family who nurtured her love of dancing and which later lead to her becoming one of Ballets most successful stars…engaging, unforgettable and well worth the read…

    Photo by Serena Reidy Photography

     

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    Lifestyle

    Why Im Not Committing to New Year Resolutions

    Happy New Year all! Welcome to 2018! I can honestly say, 2017 was a year that I couldn’t have predicted and feel very lucky to have experienced so many amazing things. Appearing on ITV’s The Lorraine Show alongside Dean Edwards was a memorable highlight, as was hosting The Vitiligo Society annual open day in November and being photographed to appear in the glossy coffee table book that was produced to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Changing Faces.

    So with the New Year being our new focus, quite naturally I needed to write a post about New Year Resolutions! I’ll start by saying my attitude towards New Year resolutions have always been pretty relaxed. In fact, if I’m totally honest I’ve only ever really set them because it’s the traditional thing to do when the year comes to a close. Last year I vowed to go to the gym twice a week. I failed miserably because i’ve never been a fan of workouts and exercise classes. I also promised myself earlier nights, so that I could write for an hour the next morning, before the start of my day. I was a little more successful with this one, although as soon as the clocks went back and the mornings were colder and darker, I want straight back to snoozing my alarm in favour of  an extra hour in bed!

    I’ve always said, there shouldn’t be a specific time for changes. Everyday should be an opportunity for positive change and slip ups shouldn’t leave you feeling defeated. This year, I’ve decided not to set firm resolutions. Just some simple, realistic goals that will keep me focused and give me some direction for the year ahead. They’ll be no pressure to enforce certain actions and nor will I be disappointed if for one month I haven’t given them a single thought. Here goes:

    Blogging: Networking

    As a blogger, there is nothing more satisfying than meeting other girls that have the same passions and desires as you! Networking events are a great opportunity to learn from others and feel inspired by ideas you might not have thought of! Bizarrely enough, I don’t do it often. Im guilty of coming up with excuses – to far too travel, will it live up to expectations, do I even have the time to fit in an event amongst everything else going on….In 2018, I have vowed to attend at least one networking event a month that focuses on bringing bloggers together….I’ve even booked my first bloggers conference already! In June I’ll be attending the Scarlett London’s Blogging festival and I cant wait!

    My Passion: Writing

    Writing is my ultimate outlet. It’s one of the few things that relaxes me, helps me to switch off and reminds me what I’m good at! Yet, considering this, I don’t do it enough. This year I vow to write more. More blog posts, more planning and more trips to coffee shops, because its where I love to write the most.

    Perfection: Not worry about new spots

    I just had to commit myself to something that relates to why I write this blog! Quite a few times last year, I found myself standing with my nose touching the mirror as I inspected my face for signs of new patches that quietly tried to appear without me noticing. Now I realise, there is no point in worrying as its something completely out of my control. I tend inspect through habit and because I want to know beforehand if my skin is changing, but thankfully my skin feels more stable than ever, so for now, the only thing I want to use the mirror for, is to apply my makeup or admire whatever it is that I’m wearing!

    Stay Focused on my Wellbeing

    Wellbeing is about loving, caring and being kind to yourself. When I think about the word ‘wellbeing’ I think about expensive retreats in the UK countryside, regular full body massages and a weekly food shop that eliminates crisps and chocolate and instead focuses on avocados, super foods and anything that tastes like a seed. Wellbeing is about doing the things that make you happy and allow you to have timeout, whether that be reading a book, getting a full 8 hours sleep or meditating before bedtime.

    For the first time in 10 years, I’ve read my first full book and it feels like a major accomplishment. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but I’m always so wrapped up in other activities, that I never allow myself time to engross myself in a good story. Now, instead of scrolling through pointless Instagram feeds on my commute into work, I use the time to read which is so much more satisfying than looking at photos of a fitness guru who most likely lives on the opposite side of the world! This year I vow to maximise my ability to self care. Yes, i’ll continue with my frequent spa visits and weekend breaks, but i’ll also be incorporating those small things that are just as important for the soul…like reading.

    So there you have it, my simple, non-pressurised ‘resolutions’ for 2018. In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing how much I incorporate them into the next 12 months. For now, I wont worry to much, and instead will wish you all a very happy and healthy 2018…..

    Photo: Kaye Ford @ Fordtography

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    Lifestyle

    Schools Visit With Changing Faces

    Last week, two fantastic primary schools welcomed me as a speaker representing the charity, Changing Faces. Coinciding with Anti Bullying Week (13th – 17th November), I was asked to speak during their weekly school assemblies about my experiences as someone living with a visible skin difference.

    Given my own school days are long behind me, being back at school gave me an overwhelming nostalgic feeling. Walking down the corridor, glancing over the school walls plastered with children’s drawings made me instantly smile. As did the hopscotch on the floor as I walked across the playground and the polished floor that looked as though it had shined over the weekend, ready for another school week. There was even the distinctive school smell…..a heady blend of musty schoolbooks, mixed with the wooden smell of the bookcases that lined the corridors. It was so nice to be back…..

    The night before, I had been repetitively reminding myself that there was no need to be nervous, after all, two days prior I’d presented at The Vitiligo Society Annual Open Day (separate post!) and in a way, presenting to a group of cute school kids in years, 3, 4 and 5, shouldn’t have been two daunting. I was fine as I waited in reception for the head teacher….still fine when I was greeted by the PE teacher in the assembly hall where I was due to present. But, as I guessed, my nerves started to fail me as the kids started to trickle in, class by class, filling the room like it was a conference that had reached full house!

    By 10am all the kids were sitting quietly, cross-legged, on the floor looking a little intrigued by my presence. After the Deputy Head introduced me, I was handed the mic to start. The children were incredibly enthusiastic within minutes. Before I gave them an overview of who I was, I briefly explained who Changing Faces were and their role as a charity who supports people with indifferences. Before I began with my own story as someone with Vitiligo, I asked how many of them had heard of the condition. I was very surprised when more than half raised their hands. Good start!

    As I spoke about my journey and how having a skin condition affected me when I was around there age, they were keen to ask questions and share how it might feel to be different. Keen to interact, I asked their views on how it feels to have a visible mark, to which they gave impressive answers such as; it can make you feel unique and beautiful, makes you feel different and on the flip side how it can make you feel sad when people stare and ask intrusive questions.

    After presenting, I gave the children an opportunity to ask questions….and of course my slight fear was that they’d be silence! But it was great to see their hands shoot up! I was asked questions such as ‘Did I have treatment’? ‘Was I born with Vitiligo’?, and ‘Is is the same as a birthmark?’…..all of which were very common questions.

    Later that week, I made my way to a second school for a mid afternoon assembly. Fresh from lunch, I presented to a slightly smaller group of year 6 children which was a completely different experience. I gave exactly the same presentation however, this time I was conscious that one of the kids actually had Vitiligo. When I asked if they’d heard of the condition less hands went up, which I was surprised by especially as they were older. They listened intently and shared their views about what it was like to be different, but their responses were interestingly different. They highlighted that you would likely feel isolated, sad, embarrassed, uncomfortable and cautious of potential bullying and staring. All of which are very true, but they didn’t suggest that you may feel unique, beautiful with an embracement for being different, like the previous school.

    After presenting in two very different schools, I reflected on how the children in each of the schools responded. I personally felt as though children in higher primary school years are more conscious of there peers….less likely to put their hands up to share their ideas in fear of giving the wrong answer or possibly a negative reaction from others. Whilst in the younger years, their enthusiasm, interest and ability to share their own personal experiences, was refreshing. They were open to answering questions and quietly discussing some of the other themes that arose throughout.

    For me, aside from it being an ordinary working week, it was a fantastic and personally educating, new experience! Afterall, they are a future generation in the making and I’d like to think diversity and the acceptance of others regardless of appearance, is fully embraced by the time they reach my age….

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