I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen photographs, read people’s stories, looked in awe at the transformations, but absolutely nothing in this world could have prepared me for the sense of calm you feel when you arrive. Walking through the door of the Red Shoe Studio and being greeted by 1/4 of the dream team, Mandy, I felt any worries or concerns I’d had on the seven hour journey from Kent the day before literally melt away. This little barn would be my home for the next two days and I couldn’t have felt more ‘at home’ if I tried. Within ten minutes my shoes were off and by the door, I’d made myself comfortable on the studio sofa, cups of tea were in hands and we were all chatting as though we’d known eachother a life time. Another ten minutes in and Sarah, Sam & Nicole had arrived. There was belly laughing, outfit comparison and yet more tea. This calendar shoot was feeling more and more like a girls sleep over by the second.
I was fourth in the line up on day one, after Mandy (MIL), Tasha (SIL) & Rita (Grandma) so I was lucky enough to get to watch their make up and shoots. I watched as Mandy & Nicole worked their magic on their hair & make up, transforming their familiar faces into those resembling superstars.
I watched as Sarah complimented them and their outfit choices, immediately putting them at ease with her genuine interest in what made them who they were. I watched as she brought out confidence in the most camera shy girl I know. I watched as she made Grandma feel like a super model in her 79th year.
And then it was my turn in the hotseat. Nicole was in charge of my hair and make up and the first thing she did was check out my outfit for the first shoot so that she could match my make up look to it. I’d been out with my friend the week before on the hunt for something to wear and I’d picked out a pink candy stripe shirt from Victoria’s Secret and a pretty white underwear set from George at Asda. We decided on pink lips to match and relaxed wavy hair. I was in the hands of an expert and I felt like a celebrity being made up for a walk down the red carpet.
When Nicole had worked her magic, it was time to get changed and make my way onto ‘set’. Despite standing in my pants, wobbly bits fully exposed in front of a captive audience (Scroll down and you’ll see what I mean!) I actually felt so confident.
I’ve never been a super skinny girl. As a teenager I was just terribly self conscious, never comfortable in my own skin and saw myself as bigger than I actually was. I’d do anything to get out of PE at school because in my eyes, everyone else looked just fine in those blue polo shirts and polyester tracksuit bottoms but I just felt frumpy and the size of a house. Looking back now, I realise how wrong I was. I was a size 10 from the age of 11 until I was 20 and as my Mum always said, I was perfectly in proportion, but nothing in the world could get rid of that wish that I too could fit into a size 6 pair of skinny jeans like the other girls.
Over the last two years I have gained a dress size and a stone in weight and I long to get back into my size 10 favourites. But being a Red Shoe Girl isn’t about changing yourself to fit your or anyone elses ideal shape or size, it’s about taking your insecurities and vulnerabilities and using them. It’s about feeling beautiful just the way you are. And the way Sarah makes you feel like it’s a perfectly natural thing to be stood by a giant window with your bum out is a talent noone else could possess I am sure.
Posing was the thing I was nervous about, I’d had visions of full on BNTM intensity in the lead up to the Red Shoe shoot, had worried that I hadn’t had enough practice in front of the mirror at home, that I’d feel awkward and self conscious about my legs and chubby cheeks but all of that was so unnecessary. Sarah talked me through everything before we began and helped me find the right poses that would be flattering on camera. I took so many tips away from the shoot about how to take a flattering photo but the one we all still sing out at gatherings is “chin forward & down”.
Before I knew it my shoot was over and Sarah was confident that she’d got the photo she needed. I got back in my jeans and t-shirt and we were all siting around having some lunch when Jude arrived. After admiring her totally gorgeous bump we got talking about the calendar and how we were one girl down. With that, Super Sarah came to the rescue and talked the gorgeous ‘Make up Mandy’ into being one of our Calendar Girls! For years Mandy had been making up women and transforming them into Red Shoe Girls, but now it was her time to take her spot in front of the camera and boy did she rock it!
Mandy is the one of us there that day that the campaign resonated with the most. I won’t go into too much detail, Mandy is going to share her story over on the Know Your Normal website in a couple of weeks but Mandy is a breast cancer survivor. She’s been there, through finding the lump, through diagnosis, the mastectomy, the treatment, the worry and has come out the other side fighting fit proving that there is life after cancer. She is what Know Your Normal is all about. She knew her normal, reported the change, and saved her life.
Jude and her baby bump were the last shoot of the day and again I watched in awe as the ‘dream team’ as I like to call them, worked to style and take beautiful photos. Jude was a natural, in fact I am certain she was a model in a previous life!
I left the studio that day absolutely buzzing for tomorrow. I couldn’t wait to see the next five girls feel it. Feel the confidence, the empowerment that they never had before. To feel and be a part of the atmosphere that left a lump in my throat and at time took my breath away. And most of all, I couldn’t wait to get made up and do it all over again!
Stay tuned for the next installment. I promise there will be even more gushing, beautiful photos and a whole lot of love for the people who made this dream of mine come true.
Thank you so much to Sam from Samantha Kay photography for capturing these totally beautiful behind the scenes images of the day. She bloody rocks.