When I was younger, I didn't see any 'sexy' or 'powerful' women in the media who were curvy — and if I did see any fuller-figured women, they were always the 'funny' ones.
Females can be strong, sexy, smart and inspiring at any size, but that wasn't what was promoted in the early noughties — and not seeing anyone who I felt represented my body shape as a little girl definitely affected my views on body image and self-worth.
I was born in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, where I didn't quite fit in with the small town mentality. I've always had a curvy figure, and I remember going into town on a Saturday and not being able to find the clothes my friends were buying in my size. At that time, I was already going through a stage of feeling misunderstood, especially in my hometown, but this also came at a time when I was going through a teenage rebellion. I felt that if there wasn't clothing available for me, I'd just have to make sure I found something better.
In fact, it was the time spent shopping with my grandmother, Sybil, that I owe my style and confidence to. She believed in self-expression and had been making clothes for her children since they were born. She knew where to buy fabric, was very skilled in dressmaking and knew where to find a bargain. My mum and her siblings looked like children from a Biba advert in the '60s when they were younger, I couldn't believe their clothes were handmade.
We used to go charity shopping (at that time, it wasn't seen as a cool thing to do) and hunt for the best sequinned, embellished, most extravagant pieces for next to nothing. She knew where all the bargain rails were in town, and when they'd be getting replenished. By the age of 15, I had an '80s wardrobe full of oversized textured jumpers, Pat Butcher earrings and bold, colour pop heels. Back then, I used my clothing as armour.
Just because you're bigger than the average, it doesn't mean that you can't want to be fashionable.
At 17, I moved to London and by 19 I was buying and selling vintage clothing in Brick Lane. At this point in my life, I almost exclusively wore head-to-toe vintage pieces that I picked up through my job and re-worked, thanks to the skills I had learnt from my grandmother.
Fast-forward five years, and dancing to Diana Ross in an East London pub was about to change my whole life. I was approached by fashion photographer Miles Aldridge to pose in a photoshoot as actress and model Anna Nicole Smith for Ponystep magazine. I said yes, knowing that this would make my nan proud.
Once the shoot was published, I was signed as a plus-size model and booked for jobs because of my shape and aesthetic. With this came an almost magical confidence. I felt like I wasn't just doing this for the teenage me, but for my little sister and all the girls who grow up feeling like an outsider. I remembered struggling with clothing as a teen and knew that this was an opportunity to promote body positivity in the hope that people would listen.
Just because you're bigger than the average, doesn't mean you have to have a different mindset or that you can't want to be fashionable. I used to make pieces to fit me when I was younger, but now brands are expanding and really listening to the curve community.
If I could give you one piece of advice for shopping your true style, it's to try everything on and don't be afraid to customise your looks. I would start by finding your staple pieces – I often wear a basic black jersey dress and accessorise with huge hoop earrings, faux-fur collars and embellished handbags. But all it takes is for you to find one thing you really love, whether that's a certain print, texture or colour, which could change your whole view on fashion.
I feel most confident when I am in a head-to-toe colour look, but you have to do what's right for you. Once you find that self-love and confidence within, you'll be excited to experiment with fashion.
There's one thing I always say to everyone I meet, either in person or online, and it's this: "There are no two people on this planet who are the same. You need to aspire to be the best version of yourself, not someone else. When you find self-love within yourself, you will bring beauty into your life."
Felicity Hayward is a model and the founder of #SelfLoveBringsBeauty
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