On a beach, in March

“I’ll do it”. With those three little words, I jumped headlong out of my comfort zone and faced my insecurities.

Like most women, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with my body ever since puberty. Too skinny when curves were the fashion, but not skinny enough when waifs dominated the agenda. A face with too many features going on; a big nose, crooked smile, an endless list of things to pick apart in an orgy of criticism. 

Self acceptance has never come easily, but the last five years has seen me try and find the positives in the body I have been left with. It may be scarred and battle weary, but it works better than anyone dared hope.

Still, the idea of bikini modelling is enough to strike terror into the heart of most women, no matter how robust their body image is. So, when Devon based sustainable swimwear line, Davy Js put out a call for local women to take part in a beach shoot of their new range in March, I initially filed it in the category of ‘If only I had the confidence’.

I commented rather flippantly on their Facebook post, that I was both too old and too scarred to be of much use.  A strangers comment, however, that an older, imperfect woman was precisely the type of body she wanted to see modelling swimwear, made me reconsider. It was then that I sent the three word message and hit enter.

Two weeks later, I drove to Lyme Regis and faced my fears and dipped my toes into a bitterly cold ocean.

Arriving on the beach, I was faintly horrified to see a professional model already in action, turning and swaying expertly and looking entirely at ease in front of the photographer and his assistant, whilst dog walkers and other passers-by watched with interest.

Feeling utterly terrified at the reality of doing the same thing, I was quickly apprised of the situation by Davy J’s founder and all-round positivity beacon, Helen. There were to be three of us taking part in the shoot today, the beautiful Sasha, the model in action and the gorgeous Gemma, who along with me, was the other non-professional who had answered the call.

My confidence already on shaky ground watching Sasha pose, wasn’t helped by my quick mental arithmetic which put my age as the same as Sasha and Gemma’s combined. There was no way, my forty plus year old body would look anything less than weather beaten next to these twenty year old goddesses.

On the beach, Helen handed me some samples from the new range and under a large Dry Robe, I attempted to change without scandalising the entire pensioner community of Lyme Regis. A few adjustments later and I was ready to disrobe for the first set of photos. In an attempt to capture some group shots of the three of us; Sasha, Gemma and I had to walk together along the shoreline. It was at the exact moment that we took off our Dry Robes, that a field trip of around twenty men in hard hats rounded the corner.

With a full compliment of spectators, I attempted to walk barefooted, act natural whilst trying not to slip on the rocks or limp too badly. I don’t think I achieved anything close to graceful, but at least I didn’t slip on my arse in front of the hard hatted audience.

The next set of shots were individual ones of me by the sea. The photographer Matt, was incredibly kind, but I spent the entire shoot either in nervous laughter or frowning in concentration, then feeling guilty that Helen may not have got any usable shots at all.

When it was Gemma’s turn to be photographed, I could relax a little and start to revel in the ludicrousness of the situation. The men in hard hats, the dog walkers and the engrossed fossil hunter who crouched nearby speculatively tapping rocks whilst I drank peppermint tea from a flask with the cold March wind turning my feet blue and whipping my hair into a tangled mess.

For the second set of photos, I changed into a different bikini and clambered onto a rock by a sand dune. I found this shoot the hardest of the three, but it was at this moment that I realised that actually I wasn’t self concious about my body after all. I was pretty comfortable with my post childbirth stomach, my scars or my forty year old bum being photographed, (at least if it wasn’t directly next to a bum of someone half my age whose body had not yet been affected by gravity), but I was hideously uncomfortable having my face in shot. In addition, I was hugely aware of the responsibility to make the swimwear look good and to Helen who had invested in this shoot.

As soon as my last photo was taken, I got redressed with less care than I had disrobed earlier, figuring that since most of the beach had already seen me in a bikini, they were hardly going to flinch at seeing my bra and pants and ran off to get home in time to pick my youngest up from school, glowing from the cold.

Three weeks later, an email popped into my inbox with a link to a Dropbox of photos from the shoot. Nervously, I scrolled through the hundreds of photos of the three of us and as expected, Sasha and Gemma looked fabulous, but there was also the odd shot of me here and there that were genuinely quite nice.

I don’t think I am cut out to be in front of the camera and I am sure the world of swimwear won’t mourn me hanging up my bikini, but I am glad I took part, if for no other reason than to realise that whilst my scars loom large in my imagination, they are much less visible than I feared.

It is so important to see our normal, imperfect selves reflected in the advertising we see. The less we see of the reality of what life does to a body, the more we fixate on our own flaws, when in fact we are perfectly, imperfect, just like the rest of the world (Sasha and Gemma excepted naturally).

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