Let me start by saying I will categorically, absolutely, never in a month of Sundays, ever stop eating Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. But I think I might need to limit my intake.
Because I’ve gained some weight and I think I can track it back to a tipping point which occurred in December 2019. It was a few days after Christmas and I was just a few days shy of a January 2nd deadline for my second book, Out of Office.
It’s not a spoiler to say that I met the deadline because you probably already know that the book hit the shelves in October 2020 and became an Amazon bestseller. But how we got to this point? Well, friends, it was a bumpy road paved with processed sugar.
How we got here
I was typing furiously for days, with little time to go to the toilet never mind eat a proper meal. I had overestimated how much work was left to do on the manuscript (oops) and while my friends and family enjoyed pub drinks and visits to the Christmas market, I was holed up in my husband’s childhood bedroom scrambling to finish the first draft.
I’m not entirely sure how I came to own three Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. I know one was mine, for certain. The other two may have belonged to my husband, they could have been a gift from God. How they came to be doesn’t matter because, well, they didn’t survive very long. I scoffed all three of them in less than 24 hours.
I was in survival mode, eating my emotions to fuel my next great masterpiece. Out of Office is a book about freelance life, isn’t it? Well, cards on the table. The freelance life comes with highs and lows and this was most definitely a low point, akin to the Alan Partridge sketch where he drives to Dundee in his bare feet and eats four bars of Toblerone.
Here we are, almost a year later and we’re approaching Terry’s favourite season. The time when Chocolate Orange items appear in homes all across the land. Hidden in cupboards, stuffed into stockings and handed out as the ultimate, fail-safe, ‘I didn’t know what to get you’ edible gift.
Why I want to look ‘myself’ in photographs
As I said, I will never give up on the mighty Chocolate Orange. But I do acknowledge that they’re not necessarily the best form of stress relief and this year has been a tad stressful don’t you think? Being stuck at home 24/7 means that for me, eating has become one of the easiest ways to make the days more exciting.
But in all honesty, I’ve been putting on weight ever since I went freelance. My previous career in catering meant that I was on my feet all day, now I get to do my dream job but it means I’m sitting down, a lot, while I do it.
So when Victoria Beddoes offered to gift me a brand photography shoot, my toes curled. I hadn’t had my picture taken professionally for years. I pretend to be happy in my skin and I very much aim for body acceptance, the truth is I don’t feel comfortable at my current size of a UK 18-20.
But in the spirit of body acceptance, I knew I wanted to go ahead with the shoot. Because I felt that updating my brand images to reflect what I look like now is an important gesture. It shows to other women out there that they can be successful without starving themselves. That they too can eat an embarrassing volume of chocolate and still get shit done while looking badass.
So how did I do it?
How did I show up to a brand photography session and fake confidence when I was feeling less than beautiful?
Firstly, I picked the right photographer. OK SHE PICKED ME. But when I scrolled through Victoria’s Instagram feed I saw that she had already photographed my friend Ruth and knew that she was going to be the perfect fit for me. All of her photographs are candid, laid-back and more importantly, make all of her subjects look like nice humans.
I didn’t meet Victoria until the day of our shoot, but we had a phone call the week before to map out what locations we wanted to hit and the general vibe we wanted to create. So you should definitely take time to find a photographer who has already shot pictures that you like, and make sure to set up a call before you commit to a booking.
Secondly, I took great care over my outfit. I read every article I could find about what clothes work well in a photoshoot and I’m glad I did because my instinct was initially to wear the brightest, snazziest dress in my wardrobe. But what I found is that basics are a pretty good option for a shoot.
A nice white t-shirt, stonewash jeans and a fitted blazer aren’t gonna turn heads at Paris fashion week but hell, they’re classic! And showing up to a shoot in a timeless outfit will make you feel comfortable, which I really think is the most important thing when it comes to confidence. I went for simple skinny jeans, a black t-shirt and a green trench coat.
Think about the colours that work for your skin tone. My branding is pink and yellow but if I’m honest, neither of them really do much for my colouring. But dark green? And navy blue? They’re softer than black but still muted that I didn’t feel like I was wearing too much colour. Pick simple jewellery. I went for a plain chain and twisted studs. Something to make you look ‘put together’ but that doesn’t detract from your face, the surroundings or will look dated over time.
If you can, wear some texture. This will show up nicely on camera and add a bit of depth. My t-shirt was slightly ribbed and that added a bit of weight to the top which made it look slightly more formal, but in a good way. I brought a loose-knit sweatshirt and changed into that for variety. When you compare the jumper look to the ones in my trench coat, they look like a completely different day/shoot when really it took less than a minute to make the switch.
Dare to look at the unedited pics
After the first few shots, Victoria let me see the images. This was SUCH a good move on her part because I could see from the pictures that she really knew what she was doing (I never doubted it for a second) and I didn’t look like the total monster I had imagined in my head.
Ask to see the test shots, it will more than likely put your mind at ease which will instantly boost your confidence and make you feel a bit more relaxed on camera. This in itself will mean you’ll strike better poses and create even better images in the long run. Oh, and ask your photographer to direct your poses! Victoria was great at saying things like “now hand on hip, and hand to the hair, and big smile!”
Wear your ‘normal’ make up but intensify it. For example, I wore my night time foundation which is heavier coverage than my normal BB cream. I used a lot more blusher than usual (but in a natural, peachy shade) and softly blended some brown pencil eyeliner for extra definition around the eyes.
I also added bronzer (which is totally out of character for me) but as a pale-skinned gal, I didn’t want to risk looking too washed out in the pictures. I’m certainly no make up artist but I look like ME in the final images and that, my friend, is exactly what I was going for.
For me, it’s been on a lifelong journey to navigate the murky world of being a woman. Society expects us to be so many things. Be delicate. Be feminine. Be small. Be quiet. It’s all so bloody exhausting that I think sometimes we have to admit that it’s best to just exhale, let the muffin top flop out and be ourselves.
Looking back at these images now I don’t see the shame I once felt about my body, shame about my double chins or shame about my penchant for fruit-shaped chocolate.
I just see me, being myself and having a damn good time.