The (Alternative) Model

On the first proper wintry weekend in mid-November, I found myself in an east London studio, being photographed with a lovely bunch of kind & funny people.  We’re all volunteering to be models in a unique Fashion Show which will take place in Spring 2023.

Alt Text: A selfie pose of a White woman with long, straightened, brown/blond hair with a hint of pink.  She is wearing round, pink/brown glasses, large silver hoop earrings, a silver necklace & a black t-shirt.  Behind her is a large, leafy, green plant, photographic equipment & a Black woman sitting with her back to the camera.  She has her hair in a bun & she wears a black t-shirt with the words “The Show” printed across the back in white capital letters.

Many of you who have known me a long time have seen that I’ve always strived to get the most out of life & to embrace new experiences.  This has become more intense since I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. 

So, my next adventure is going to be… becoming a model!  Yep!  Next April I’ll be on the catwalk at the Science Museum, South Kensington, London, UK, taking part in Breast Cancer Now’s ‘The Show’, a fundraising fashion show that they host every year with volunteer models who all share one thing in commonour lived experienced of Breast Cancer.

I volunteered to be part of the show to raise awareness that disabled people get Breast Cancer too.  When I was accepted by the show, the Events Team told me that this is the first time that they’ve had a wheelchair-using model who has an impairment not caused by Breast Cancer.      

I’m so nervous about modelling & the ‘runway’, but I’m determined to come out of my comfort zone.  There’s all the physical stuff to work out with the Events Team, such as turning space for a wheelchair-using model, the timing of the clothes changes to when you go out again on the catwalk, creating a private, accessible changing area backstage, etc.  But there’s also a lot of emotional baggage to deal with.  That’s not just down to being disabled.  What I share with a lot of the other models is that my body changed in an instant.  All of us want to get our confidence back & feel beautiful again.

As with all application forms, the questions were standard – perfectly understandable as to why, but I’m not really standard, lol!  Even before I gave my access & COVID-19 safety requirements, there was so much more detail to give about my clothes & shoes preferences.  For example, when it came to describing my size, I found that very difficult.  I don’t really have a ‘size’, as such.  I tend to choose clothes by their style instead, something which I’ve worked out over many years.  I don’t fit into any conventional shapes, certainly nothing figure-hugging with my spine of three bends at 120+ degree!  I’ve got some skin allergies (which are a bit worse now because of the side effects of treatment), so there’s all sorts of textures, textiles & make-up brands that make me come out in hives.  I can’t wear zips, hooks or shoe-shop footwear either. 

After I’d got this all down on paper, I could then move onto what designs & particular clothes shops that I liked.  That’s helpful for the stylist as many of the clothes are donated by brands.  But I asked if I could wear some of my own clothes, as I thought it might be easier for the stylist.  Plus, I wear some wild stuff sometimes, especially when raving or ‘festivaling’ (remember the two shiny capes that I bought in lockdown?!!!)  I nearly always need to have trousers, skirts & dresses shortened.  I was thinking that it might be hard for the stylist to find ‘off the peg’ outfits for me that wouldn’t need extensive alteration.  For years my footwear has been made by the hospital (thankfully it’s a world away from the ‘clod-hoppers’ that I had to wear as a kid!)

I’m really, really fussy about what I wear & I’m vain.  Looking ‘top dollar’ has always been important to me.  I made quite wild & non-conventional fashion choices from a young age.  This was encouraged by my mum who spent a lot of time & interest in dressing both me & my younger sister.  She used to make her own clothes & my grandmother made her own clothes too, including sequinned gowns because she was a dancer.

And why is it important to me that I look good?  Because I’ve always been stared at.  Instead of being embarrassed, I’ve used clothes, jewellery & make-up to accentuate what people might be staring at.  So I wear wacky patterned trousers & leggings, statement jewellery that has slogans, such as my Brexit protest slogan necklace that says ‘European’, & lots of UV make-up & face glitter when I’m out dancing.  I’m almost 52 but there’s no chance of me toning down my style!

In preparation for the modelling experience, I also had a video call with Catherine Gunn from the Events Team.  She was very supportive, generous & kind.  We talked through everything; she put my mind at rest about many aspects of the photo shoot & the show.  I opened up about how nervous I was about taking part; how I felt uncomfortable about changing in communal places & having people dress me who I don’t know – I really didn’t want that to happen.  I’m wary of being dressed by someone that I don’t know because of the amount of attention that needs to be given to my personal care requirements.  Although I’ll have a dresser, I’m going to have my own support with me, which will calm my nerves on the day.  With my access requirements met, it means that I can just focus on the modelling part.  And I’ll have a private changing area to myself, near an accessible toilet & with a bed as I find it easier to get changed on one.  We talked about how tired I might get, so I chose the latest photo shoot session time & travelled to the session by taxi, taking the overground rail from Haggerston to get home.  For the night of the show, I explained that it was easier for me to sleep in my own bed rather than staying in a hotel – in fact, I live in the same borough as the show’s venue, so it’s easier for me to get a taxi there & back.  We discussed whether I’d have to miss the show’s meal the night before, & only do one of out of the two shows.  However, I’ve just heard that I can have annual leave from work around the time of the show, so I’ve confirmed that I’ll be attending the meal & I’ll be taking part in the afternoon & the evening shows.  I don’t want to miss out!

The day of the photo shoot was a Saturday in mid-November & it was the first cold, foggy day of the season.  I got all masked up ready & I sat in the cab with my legs shaking away!  At times when I get nervous, I feel grateful that I sit in a wheelchair to stop me from collapsing to the floor.

The ground floor of the studio, Street Studios in Haggerston, east London, UK, was wheelchair accessible, including a designated toilet.  I’ve put the details of it at the end of the blog if it’s helpful to anyone.  There were loads of people milling around but I was greeted very warmly by everybody (with a cup of tea which always helps) & my nerves started to melt away.  Everybody was so excited & it was infectious.  I had a good chat with as many people as I could, but Stephane (my boyfriend) was able to spend more time with everyone than me.  He just chatted away, it’s always so sweet to see.  There was lots of lovely food, especially biscuits made with the Breast Cancer Now and The Show logos, so nice!

One of the first people that I met was the choreographer, Deborah Britz. She was very encouraging & she’d choreographed wheelchair users before, which really helped me.  We all had a modelling lesson from her & a couple of turns at practising a mock runway, which was really fun.  She made it really inclusive too which I really appreciated.  The practise enabled me to show off what my manual wheelchair can do.  I actually love my chair; I’ve had this particular one for nearly five years – it’s super-light & speedy with a glittery purple frame which catches the light.  Although it’s nerve-wracking to pose in front of a whole lot of people that you’ve just met & you’re physically different from them in every way, gliding through the practise in that chair made the experience much easier.  I do a lot of yoga too, so that helped me to visualise sitting up straighter & breathing through each pose that I was asked to do.

The next experience to tackle was the photo-shoot.  That was a whole lot of fun, especially when the photographer, Sarah Page, brought the wind machine out – yes, A WIND MACHINE, LOL!  As usual, my glasses were on wonky because I’ve got one ear that sticks out more than the other (a source of much merriment in my family!) & I was trying not to show my bad teeth, but she managed to get a whole lot of nice shots.  She also showed me the shots as we went along to check if I was happy & comfortable, which was really kind.  We had shots in a small group as well, but my group shot was a little bit more spread out to be COVID-safe.  Everyone is the group was really supportive about that (thanks ladies 😉!)  Stephane also took some unofficial shots of us laughing & mucking around which are really funny.

Then it was onto the Videographer, Steve Torpey, to capture some movement which I found quite tricky, but still amusing.  He asked if I had a signature move & all I could think about was that I give ‘the bird’ quite a lot which obviously I didn’t do this time, lol!  I just said that I didn’t have one.  I swung about a bit in my chair & smiled inanely.  I’m honestly not sure how the video will come out, but I know Steve did his very best with my messing about!

The part that I was most nervous about was meeting the stylist, Rebekah Roy.  As agreed with Catherine, I brought a few examples of clothes & my new bespoke trainers made by the hospital to show her.  Rebekah was really supportive; she said she felt confident about planning what I was going to wear, she could see that I wasn’t afraid of bold colours & patterns – not only from the range of clothes that I’d bought, but also because my glasses were pink, & my I’d dyed my hair pink.  I was quite chuffed by that! 

And then as quickly as it began, it was all over.  Stephane & I emerged into the cold darkness but we both had a warm glow whilst taking the overground rail at Haggerston to Shepherd’s Bush which makes up most of our journey home.  I was exhausted the next day, but boy, was it worth it!

Thank you to the Breast Cancer Now team – Ellie Barnes – Senior Special Events Manager, Catherine Gunn – Senior Special Events Officer, Mark Sydserff – Senior Multimedia Manager, Sarah Page – Multimedia Producer, Steve Torpey – Multimedia Producer, Harry Frostick – Multimedia Production Assistant & Rebekah Roy – Stylist, Catherine Britz – Choreographer & all ‘The Show’ models for an awesome day.

You can find Street Studios here – https://www.streetstudios.co.uk/

You can find out more about Breast Cancer Now’s ‘The Show’ here – https://breastcancernow.org/get-involved/special-events/show-london

I’d also like to take the opportunity to wish all my blog readers Season’s Greetings.  I hope you have a restful & peaceful holiday, & thanks for all your encouragement this year.

Photo Credit: Stephane Cony.

Alt Text: A photo shoot with a white floor & white walls.  A White woman sitting in a purple wheelchair, with long, straightened, brown/blond/pink hair, wearing round, pink/brown glasses, a black t-shirt, black trousers & black boots, smiles into a camera on a tripod.  Operating the camera is a white woman with long, curly brown hair & a black jumper, crouching down.  In one corner is some photo shoot equipment.

Alt Text: A selfie pose of a White woman & man, wearing masks, sitting in the back of a London Taxi.  The woman has long, straightened, brown/blond/ pink hair & she is wearing a black puffa jacket with a faux fur hood, a black faux fur scarf & a white medical mask.  Her round, pink/brown glasses are perched on the top of her head.  The man is wearing a grey flat cap, a blue mask with white polka dots, an orange scarf & a dark mauve & red wool hooded coat.

Alt Text: A white logo that says ‘The Show By Breast Cancer Now’ in white capital letters on a black background.

Published by The Musings of Spu

I'm an Essex girl who went West to find fame and fortune. 'The Musings of Spu' is the home of all my creative output, whether that be my writing or the 'stuff' I've made.

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