10 things to consider before getting plastic surgery

Recent Ditch the Label revealed that 1 in 2 of us want to change how we look, with people as young as 13 now considering things like plastic surgery, botox and liposuction in order to feel good about themselves.

Given the ever-rising rate of young people seeking to alter their appearance with invasive cosmetic surgery, we have compiled 10 things to seriously take into consideration before making that decision.

1. Surgeons cannot fix how you feel on the inside.
In order to manage expectations of how you will feel post-procedure, it is important to be realistic about the outcome of you undergoing cosmetic surgery; remember that surgeons deal solely with the physical aspects of your appearance – unfortunately there is no quick fix for low self-esteem or more serious issues such as body dysmorphia.

If you lack confidence, have low self-esteem or think you might be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, it is very unlikely that undergoing cosmetic surgery and changing your physical appearance will improve how you feel on the inside.

Low self-esteem can have harmful effects on your mental health, your decisions about your appearance and ultimately your future. We advise taking some time to work on the way you see yourself – maybe even see a therapist to work through any unresolved issues you might have about your appearance before turning to something as permanent as surgery. You can access a support guide on how to combat low self-esteem here.

Realise that no two people look the same. Some people have prominent birthmarks, some people have freckles, some have black hair, some are tall, broad, skinny – the list is endless! That’s okay. Try not to base your idea of beauty on other people – set your own standards. Acknowledge the things you like about yourself and focus in on them. Even if you struggle with this process at first, as you become more comfortable in your own skin, this list will grow and your self-esteem will improve.

“1 in 2 of us want to change how we look, with people as young as 13 now considering things like plastic surgery, botox and liposuction in order to feel good about themselves”

2. Seek advice from your local GP.
It is vital you seek advice from a medical professional such as your local GP before you book a consultation with a surgeon. If you have decided that you definitely want to undergo cosmetic surgery despite the risks involved, ask your GP to give you a personal recommendation. Make sure you book your consultation with a reputable and well-known clinic. Be extremely thorough, do your homework and check out the potential surgeon here. They are a reputable regulatory body for the medical industry, who perform annual checks on all clinics and every individual who practises.

3. Don’t buy into bargain surgery.
It is easy to be swayed by enticingly cheap prices, especially if you feel like you want the procedure done yesterday. But if the price sounds too good to be true, then it most probably is. The cost of falling for ‘bargain surgery’ could be much more than just financial; it will be your body that permanently pays the price.
Be aware that surgeons work to commission and so it is likely that other treatments and procedures will be suggested to you along the way. Avoid making any spontaneous decisions and don’t feel pressured to commit to anything you don’t want. If you do feel pressured at any point, we would advise looking for another clinic and surgeon, where you feel comfortable and able to express your opinions and concerns.

4. Get at least 2 consultations.
It is crucial not to rush a decision of this magnitude. Remember that by undergoing cosmetic surgery you will be irrevocably altering your appearance.

A very important part of the process is going for consultations. Try two different clinics at the very least and make sure you take a family member, guardian, or trusted friend with you to ask questions in case you forget any key ones. It can be overwhelming hearing a lot of information in a very short space of time, so make sure you take notes as well.
We advise looking on the General Medical Council website. They have a wealth of information and you can look up surgeons to make sure that all of their qualifications are up-to-date. These are checked every five years by the GMC.

5. If in doubt, don’t.
If you are having even a shred of doubt about your chosen surgeon the worst thing you can do is ignore those feelings. As a rule of thumb when in doubt, don’t. Be patient with the process and wait until you find the right surgeon to perform the procedure. Research, research, research. You only have one body and it is deserving of a trustworthy and reputable surgeon.

“Try not to base your idea of beauty on other people – set your own standards”

6. Know the risks.
As the cosmetic industry still remains largely unregulated even the most sensible individual can fall prey to unexpected issues and problems with their chosen procedure. Do you know the risks associated with the procedure you are considering? If not, we highly recommend you find them out.

7. Realise that the results won’t be immediate.
Your body will need time to heal after the procedure. This is not a process that can be rushed, so be patient with yourself and listen to the experts on how you can aid your body through the recovery before you start judging the immediate results.

8. What are you hoping to gain?
Be honest with yourself – only you know what you are hoping to gain from altering your appearance. Talk it all through with someone you trust and whose opinion you respect. Take the time to really understand what you want from the procedure and why. Analyse whether undergoing cosmetic surgery is really the answer/solution and the best possible decision you can make for yourself and your life going forward.

9. Know exactly what the procedure entails.
Medical jargon can be intimidating and is often hard to understand so don’t be embarrassed to ask what exactly is being done to you. Make sure you are also 100% aware of the risks involved – there are no stupid questions; it is your body that is being altered and your money that is being spent. Don’t be afraid to speak up and remember you are in control of the situation.

“Analyse whether undergoing cosmetic surgery is really the answer/solution and the best possible decision you can make for yourself and your life going forward”

10. Have no shame.
If you have decided that undergoing cosmetic surgery is absolutely the thing you want to do, even after you have taken into consideration all of the risks and above points, then feel no shame in going ahead with it. If you feel that people are judging you/will judge you because of this choice, remember that your happiness takes precedent over their opinion. Nobody should tell you whether or not to have surgery – what you do with your body is your choice.

However, choosing to have a cosmetic procedure is a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Make sure you fully understand your options, what’s motivating you to get the surgery and what the risks are. Many people have positive experiences of plastic surgery; they say it’s helped build their confidence or given them the freedom to express themselves. Cosmetic procedures may be a reassuring solution for people who’ve experienced physical disfigurement through illness, for example, or for people who are experiencing a lot of discomfort (like women who choose to get a breast reduction to eliminate the back pain that having particularly large breasts may cause them).

Nevertheless, society and the media puts a huge amount of pressure on people to look a certain way which can leave us feeling like we are lacking. Perhaps it’s this that’s the real problem – not the way you look. Don’t let society or anyone else dictate what you look like. Everyone is different, so concentrate on embracing your individuality and loving yourself.

Ultimately this is your body and you have the right to do what is best for you – just be sure that you are fully informed and in safe hands.

Appearance, bullying, changing faces

10 things not to say to someone who has an unusual appearance

1. What’s wrong with your nose (or whatever)?
If a person wants to speak to you about their face, hair, skin, hands or any other aspect of their body, they will. If they haven’t mentioned it, the chances are that they don’t want to talk about it. This could be because it makes them feel embarrassed, anxious, sad, depressed…or maybe they just have other things to talk about. You may well be curious but be sensitive and wait for them to mention it first, if at all.

2. Is it a contagious disease?
Not only is the answer to this almost always “no”, this is a question which will only make a person feel more self-conscious and alienated. For example, a congenital condition such as Treacher Collins Syndrome is hereditary but is in no way contagious.

3. Do you look like that because you live an unhealthy lifestyle?
No. Never “blame” a person for the way that they look. Aside from the (most important) fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with looking different, having a visible difference such as a cleft palate or eczema is something that is out of a person’s control.

4. Have you tried changing your diet? Or taking steroids? Or having an operation?
However well-intentioned your advice is, the person just does not need it. They probably have a doctor for that. Your job is to react to them in the same way as you would to anyone else; with kindness and respect.

5. I’m sure it will get better soon.
You’re not sure. So don’t say it. An empty platitude for someone with a chronic health condition which causes them to have an unusual appearance, such as cerebral palsy, is distinctly frustrating, irritating and unhelpful. Also, for some people, there is actually nothing to “get better”. An unusually shaped ear or a birthmark on the cheek is a visible difference but does not necessarily impact on a person’s health.

6. I know how you feel-I have an awful spot on my chin.
Trying to comfort someone by telling them that you know how they feel can actually isolate them further. The comparison shows that you don’t actually understand and are underestimating what they are going through. Also, calling your spot “awful” will make the other person wonder what on earth you are thinking about their own unusual physical feature.

7. You’re so brave and inspirational.
Having a unique appearance does not make a person brave and inspirational. They may well be a brave and inspirational person but they would be whether they looked different or not. A visible difference does not put a person in a different category to everyone else.

8. Oh you look different? I didn’t notice.
You mean well but the other person will know you are being dishonest. If someone has an unusual appearance, they are aware that other people can see it. If you say you didn’t notice that they look different, it can make a person feel patronised and unsupported.

9. At least it’s just the way you look, it could be much worse.
Please don’t try and measure another person’s feelings. Looking different can be difficult at times. It is not “just” appearance. Unfortunately, in today’s society, people are judged and treated differently on the basis of how they look. A survey by Changing Faces found that 9 out of 10 people unwittingly judge people who have disfigurements to be less attractive, less likely to succeed and less easy to work with. In many cases, living with an unusual appearance can have a significant psychological impact on a person and their family too. And anyway, being told “it could be much worse” is not exactly the most uplifting thing to hear.

10. I’m sorry. Yes, living with a visible difference can be a challenge but it is not a life sentence.
The person does not need your condolence or pity. Instead, just as you would do with any other friend, make sure they know that you are there for them if they ever want to talk.
So, what are you going to do when you next meet someone who looks different to you and probably to most of your friends too? Hopefully you’ll treat them like you would anyone else.

https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/

 

 

We talked selfies and racial stereotyping with photographer Florence Ngala

DtL: What inspired your selfie series?
Florence: When I started taking pictures, I didn’t know it would turn into a series— I took them out of boredom and curiosity about what else my camera could do. The more I learned about its capabilities, how to find good lighting and control it, as well as the other technical aspects of taking and editing an image, I then became more creative because I had more control. This evolved into me just shooting more and freely producing content. So I was initially inspired by the learning process, then after a while ideas kind of came to me based on what I saw, what I did, and I just tried my best to bring those ideas to life.

DtL: Why do you think this generation turns to the ‘selfie’ to express themselves? And what effects do you think that is having on self-esteem and body image?
Florence: Well for starters, there was a time just two hundred years ago when the photograph was this very valuable possession because it was not accessible to everyone. It’s still important now, but not in the same way. People paid photographers just to have portraits taken of their family or themselves to preserve something, to record history. Now you don’t need to pay someone to take a picture of you, you can do it yourself, you don’t even need a camera, people take pictures on their phones, laptops, etc.

“I think selfie culture has empowered many more people, especially women”

 

So to answer your question, I think that this generation turns to selfies for the same reason humans have always created images. Back then the technology wasn’t there yet, but people have always been interested in being able to represent themselves. Cavemen did it, the Egyptians did it, the Greeks did it, and now people have literally created careers solely based off of creating pictures of themselves. We’ve gone from Neil Armstrong taking pictures on the moon, to Kim Kardashian being able to publish and sell a book of images of her face. The common denominator is the fact that we all want to control our own narrative. In terms of self-esteem and body image, I think selfie culture has empowered many more people, especially women. Sharing a picture opens this window for comments, likes, and lots of positive reactions. When talking about the effects, it has definitely encouraged this generation to be more self-confident, and in some unfortunate cases kind of vain.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/otto.jpg”]

 

DtL: What do you think of ‘selfie’ culture?
Florence: I mean, it’s here to stay for sure. It’s fascinating to see how it has evolved. We have the Go-Pro, the selfie stick, I just recently saw a video about engagement ring boxes with cameras in them. What started off as front camera on a phone has without a doubt completely revolutionised the way people document their lives and share them.

DtL: Have you personally ever experienced prejudice because of attitudes towards your ethnicity? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience?
Florence: Growing up, as the child of immigrants, I noticed the divide that existed between Black students and African students. I noticed that there was an impression of inferiority that some kids in my class tried to project onto me which seemed to be based on stereotypes which existed about African people. At that age (like 9/10), I never really thought to identify more with one than the other until classmates made it seem as though there was a difference between me and them. I retaliated by hitting them back with any mean comment I could think of.

“I noticed the divide that existed between Black students and African students”

 

I also used to figure skate for years and was blessed enough to really excel in that sport. I surpassed in skill girls who had been part of my program longer than I had, or who were older than me. I worked really hard to make sure I didn’t come off as being better than these girls and was almost scared sometimes to showcase my skill because I thought people would dislike me. At a point I experienced passive bullying and fake friendships from individuals who were in my group. I could tell these people were my teammates but not my friends. What made matters worse was that since I became a strong figure skater, I was moved up to a harder group where everyone was also older than me for a while, my real friends and I were separated. I dealt with this by ignoring that gut feeling I had that these girls didn’t like me, and overcompensated by trying to be really nice. I kind of wish I wasn’t though, but I was young and just didn’t want to not have friends, especially people I saw multiple times a week.

DtL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences in the industry?
Florence: This is a great question, I honestly have never felt that my gender would hinder my success. I feel as though this question will spark a different answer for women depending on the career path they’re in. I can understand how individuals in one field may feel that gender inequality is more so the case than those in other fields. Going into a creative industry, I’ve always just felt that no matter what, creativity trumps everything, it doesn’t matter who you are. A good idea is a good idea.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/IMG_2454.jpg”]

 

DtL: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying right now?
Florence: Well, I believe that in life, it is such a comforting feeling to realise what you’re good at, and to be undeniably passionate about it. To be consumed and invested in your talent and to just develop this work ethic where you’re motivated by you loving what you do and not being distracted by anything else. During my 2016 spring semester at school we had to create anti-bullying posters in my design class and the approach I took for one of my designs was promoting this idea of working hard at what you want to do, and being the best at it. So I created posters with the ages of people who’ve broken world records and reached amazing feats at very young ages. The point of this was to showcase that once someone harnesses their talent, there’s truly no stopping them, and that there is no age where this starts or ends. Kids as young as 10 and 11 have broken world records, and so have people as old as 80 and 90.

So, if you’re being bullied now, cliché as it sounds, distract yourself, that means try every sport, hobby, extracurricular, anything, and in time you’ll latch on to what you love, become good and just kick a**. Who will stop you if you are focused on your craft? In retrospect, this is what I did as a young figure skater when it came to dealing with the girls who I felt uncomfortable around. I loved figure skating so much that no matter what, getting on that ice was always when I felt strongest and safest. Over time, the more I did that, the easier it was to not pay attention to the shade I thought was being thrown my way, or comments I thought were being made about me. Find what you love to do, and keep doing it.

“It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming to think about how messed up some parts of the world are for people”

 

DtL: What is it like to be a woman in 2016 and what needs to change?
Florence: Well this response could go on for a while, but for now I’ll just point out the things that really break my heart and resonate with me. For starters, honour killings—I was reading about this on CNN recently and find it so disgusting and repulsive that a brother, uncle, or father can execute his female family member, in some cases publicly, because she has “disgraced” their family— and then not have to deal with serious repercussions for it. The reasons for these killings are usually also very subjective and foolish, just further emphasising that some parts of the world are still so patriarchal.

Female genital mutilation also needs to change, kidnapping of young women and girls, human trafficking, rape culture, I mean there’s so much. So, so much and sometimes I just think about the fact that some people live harder lives simply because they were born a certain gender, in a certain place. It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming to think about how messed up some parts of the world are for people. Even here in America things still suck. That’s why I respect activists and humanitarians so much, I hope to one day feel moved and passionate enough to devote my life to changing the lives of others. I also am sure that one day soon I can create art that addresses these issues and not only brings awareness but also change.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Florence: Art can change someone’s life, someone’s mood, someone’s beliefs. Think about when a movie made you cry, or a song made you happy. I, myself, will never forget the first time I was moved to tears by a photograph and how amazing of an experience that was for me. I believe everyone is capable of making art, and there are so many mediums. I hope that people do not feel limited by school, careers, or what they think they should do in life to make money or be successful, but remember to always try to tap into that creativity, you never know how it may affect someone.

http://www.flongala.com/

 

Self-described ‘muscle woman’ Pauline Nordin reveals the five things she is tired of hearing

1. Aren’t you worried about bulking up?

Yeah totally. I mean that’s why I spend 24/7 in the gym working out, because I am absolutely terrified of my muscles getting bigger. Literally quivering with fear as I lift these insanely heavy weights, which will no doubt, strengthen and build my muscles. No! Of course the answer is no. I wouldn’t do what I do for a living if I was.

2. Isn’t building muscle a masculine thing to do?

Yawn. As a woman living in 2016, I should be able to do the thing I love without judgement. It’s time to ditch these archaic gender stereotypes, they are so ridiculous. I mean think about it, why on earth is strengthening muscle seen as a masculine thing to do? Both women and men have the same muscles, and both have the ability to build and strengthen those muscles. It really is that simple. Unless you think it is wrong for a woman to be strong – in which case #seeya !

3. You must be using steroids.

No hunni. Getting this body took a lot of time, dedication, focus and energy; please don’t flippantly discredit that. And I hate to break it to you, but there’s no magical can of spinach I can down that instantly bulks me up either (that was a Popeye reference for those of you too young to remember). For women to develop any kind of muscularity we need to put in a lot more effort than men to achieve the same results. You might also assume I achieved my ‘toned’ look by doing high rep circuits in a leopard-print leotard, using fluorescent pink dumbbells whilst listening to ‘Physical’ by Olivia Newton-John, but nothing could be further from the truth. I have worked out “like a man” lifting heavy weights, in sweaty gyms for years.

4. You look like a man.

Do I…? Really? (See picture below). I don’t think I do and it’s kinda harsh of you to say that. Being a feminist, it concerns me that women in particular are categorising other women depending on their body shape. Why do you think skinny women, obese women or muscular women are not feminine or ‘womanly’, and why is it so important to you that women look “feminine” in the way that society has deemed appropriate. If all women were to accept these norms of ‘femininity’, it would be to purely please others; of course it’s okay to have a ‘type’ or a certain body as your favoured physique, but think twice about calling women who don’t fit into these ideals ‘unwomanly’ – that is a very dangerous message to send to young girls.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/unnamed-8.jpg” alt=”female body builder”]

5. Your muscle scares me/ must scare other people off.

Wow, you’re easily scared! And I haven’t even shown you my fangs, broomstick, horns or pitchfork yet? #kidding #notkidding

Written by Pauline Nordin

Una Foye, Research Officer for the Mental Health Foundation on the link between bullying and eating disorders

I’ll never forget the day in secondary school when someone told me my legs were ‘too skinny’ and looked like ‘something that would hang out of a birds nest’. It’s not uncommon to hear things like this as a teenager (and sometimes as an adult too). How we look, our weight, or clothes and image can be a target for comments – in fact, recent Ditch the Label research found that appearance was cited as the number one aggressor of bullying. Whether it’s just ‘banter’, teasing or a more aggressive form of bullying, who we are physically is frequently something that is used against us.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising to learn that bullying is highly linked to eating disorders. In 2012 B-eat (the leading eating disorder charity in the UK) found that 86% of people felt bullying had contributed to their eating disorder and 75% felt that the bullying they experienced still affects them. It’s important to point out that not everyone who has been bullied gets an eating disorder, and visa-versa, but this strong link between the two suggests that there’s something there.

We’ve all heard the phrase “stick and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” but that that simply isn’t true. The comments about how we look and who we are hurt us – not because they say you look too fat/ skinny/ tall/ short/ whatever it is; they hurt us because they imply we are are less important, are a bad person or are worthless. And that affects our self-esteem. Self-esteem isn’t about loving yourself, or thinking you are amazing, it’s about how you see your own worth. For eating disorders, low self-esteem is believed to be one of the major underlying factors.

While anyone would (naturally) get upset or feel hurt by such negative comments, someone with low self-esteem might take them more seriously. Because self-esteem is about how you see and value yourself, being told you are ‘wrong’ in any way by another person can reflect and confirm your own self-doubts. This is how it’s been described by many people to me; whether they have anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder. It is often when someone else starts to point out your flaws that these self-loathing thoughts begin to grow, and this can impact your mental wellbeing and lead to things such as an eating disorder.

Think of it like a garden (bear with me on this one). Hurtful comments, bullying, negativity from others and all of those things that people say to you are the seeds to an eating disorder. Some people are like concrete and are resilient to the comments – you throw the seeds there but they don’t grow. Some people are like freshly watered soil and absorb – you throw the seeds and they are quickly sown. The same seeds create different outcomes. The bullying might not “cause” an eating disorder, but it provides the seeds for it, if there is fertile ground for those seeds to sow those negative thoughts.

When I was told how skinny my legs were, I didn’t get angry at the girl for saying it, I didn’t think about why she was saying it, I simply agreed that my legs were horrible and ensured for the next ten years of my life I covered them up. And that’s something I’ve heard over and over again from people with all types of eating disorders; ‘the people that bullied me aren’t wrong, they’ve just reminded me what a worthless person I am’. An eating disorder isn’t about extreme dieting as a result of someone saying you are fat, it’s about hearing those words and letting negative thoughts spiral towards self-hatred.

“What makes eating disorders difficult to overcome without professional help is the insidious way they progressively damage an already impaired self. They ultimately become a person’s identity rather than merely an illness the person experiences.” (Andersen, Cohn & Holbrook, 2000, p.185).

If there is one thing that I’ve learnt from my experiences, it is that we are often our own worst bullies. And you don’t have to have an eating disorder for that to be true. Just think about how you talk to yourself when getting ready in the morning. Have you ever looked at yourself and said “look at the state of you” or changed ten times because no matter what you wear it is never good enough? We talk to ourselves in negative voices every day. Would you ever talk to a friend or stranger in the voice you talk to yourself in? When is the last time you gave yourself a compliment, or allowed someone else to compliment you (rather than arguing they are wrong)?

How we talk to ourselves and how we values ourselves is one the major predictors of our mental wellbeing. I’m not saying we all have to love ourselves, just try and value yourself as a worthwhile human. And remember, that it’s okay to feel a bit rubbish about yourself sometimes – behind every superhero is an alter ego who doesn’t feel good enough. It’s about not letting that take over and become the norm.

Written by Una Foye (@unafoyeResearch Officer at the Mental Health Foundation

Comedian Shannon DeVido on how she usually answers these 10 common questions about being a wheelchair user

1. How do you go to the bathroom?

I didn’t do well in science, but from what I can tell, after I drink a lot of water or eat, after a few hours, my body lets me know it needs to come out…unless I eat Chipotle, then it’s only about 30 mins. Worth it though.

2. How fast does that thing go?

Sadly, not as fast as I want. If I had my way, I’d “pimp my chair” so it’d be able to go on a highway, but my family don’t think it’s very “safe”. Also, I often hear “you’re going to get a speeding ticket!” Nope. Not true. Not even in a school zone.

3. Can you have sex?

I think you need to buy me a nice dinner and be interested in my extensive Harry Potter knowledge before I answer this question for you.

4. Do you sleep in your chair?

This often comes from kids, so I will usually say, “No, because the stuffed animals on my bed would be lonely.” To adults I just eye roll.

5. Does she need something? (Asked to the person I’m with)

Hi! Down here! You can talk to me! I graduated college, Cum Laude. I’m pretty good at ordering chicken fingers.

6. Do you know [insert name here]? He’s also in a wheelchair.

Steve McSteverson? Yeah! He’s usually at the underground wheelchair meetings where we talk about stupid questions.

7. What’s wrong with you?

Plenty! Just ask my therapist! Honestly, I don’t mind when people ask me about my specific disability, but when it’s said in this curt manner it makes me feel like I should think there’s something wrong with me just for being a wheelchair user.

8. Is your boyfriend in a wheelchair too?

No, James McAvoy is not a wheelchair user… unless he’s playing Professor X. Then yes.

9. Can I get a ride?

How much are you paying me? Rates go up during peak hours and big events. #WheelchairUber

10. Do you need help?

Nope. I’m good. Thank you for asking. I promise I’ll ask if I need it.

**Disclaimer: I’m not actually dating James McAvoy. Sorry, rumour factory and apologies to his incredibly attractive wife.**

Written by Shannon DeVido

www.shannondevido.com

We spoke to Connie Chiu – the world’s first albinistic fashion model

DtL:  Hi Connie! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your story so far? 

Connie: I was born in Hong Kong, and come from a big family; I have three sisters and one brother. We moved to Sweden and grew up in a society where solidarity and equality was encouraged and taught in school. There I studied arts and radio journalism and never planned to become a model. My big sister studied fashion design and asked me to model for her college show – I enjoyed it and got good feedback from friends and family, so I wanted to see how far I could take it. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but there were people I admired in the industry and wanted to work with. I posted a black and white photo of myself with my name and phone number on the back to the French designer Jean Paul Gaultier. A few months later I was invited to Paris and did my second catwalk – for Jean Paul Gaultier! My career took off from there really; photoshoots for magazines such as Dazed and Confused, advertising, TV commercials…

DtL: What would you say has been your recipe for success?

Connie: Being myself. Don’t get me wrong, it takes time and work to get to know yourself and grow into the person you are happy and comfortable with. I think you work best with people if you are quite secure as a person, you can be open to new ideas and experiences on your own terms.

And good timing. When I first started modelling, there was no other model with my look, or albinism. I was quite surprised when a makeup artist called me a ‘pioneer’, on reflection, I suppose it was true. My priority and focus was to do good work, creating beautiful images.

DtL: How do you feel the media represents people with Albinism? What needs to change?

Connie: I don’t mind fairytale and science fiction inspired images, as long as there is variety and balance overall in the images and movie characters representing or represented by people with albinism. I can tell you from my own experience that these things matter and do influence people’s view on those with albinism. Many years ago there was a Chinese horror film featuring a character called ‘White Hair Devil Woman’; some Chinese people who thought I didn’t understand the language called me by this name. Last year, in a Chinese restaurant in Central London, a young Chinese waiter said to me that my hair was beautiful. ‘Like Frozen’, he added. ‘Thank you,’ I replied with a smile, ‘But no magic’.

 

unnamed-8

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying or negativity based on attitudes towards your appearance? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.

Connie: I think some people make assumptions about me based on my condition and my appearance. I was not bullied in school, but every now and then, people try to provoke or upset me. Once I was in Hong Kong, travelling on the underground by myself and after a while I felt that someone was staring at me. The population in Hong Kong is mainly Chinese and not mixed, like for example, London is. So I do understand that some people in Hong Kong are curious and can’t help but look. But this was different. I turned around and glanced at a couple of women who were staring at me; their faces were twisted with anger and hate. The tension was tangible; they were standing a few feet from me. There were plenty of people in the carriage, and that probably stopped them from verbally or physically attacking me. How did I deal with that situation? Well, it became quite clear to me that their intent was to make me feel hated; it wasn’t enough that they hated me. So, I decided not to be bothered by them. I was calm and relaxed as if I hadn’t noticed them. They were strangers and I had not done anything to upset them. Their feelings and attitudes had nothing to do with me, but with their own issues. A few stops later, the two women were getting ready to get off the train. It was fascinating to see the change in their demeanour; they turned very timid, apologetic and almost scared of the other passengers as they carefully stepped off the train.

DtL: What challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?

Connie: My condition comes with some physical challenges, such as light-sensitive eyesight, and skin that is sensitive to sunlight. I have learnt to live with it. The same could be said about dealing with people’s attitudes, for example, there is a difference between staring and staring. Most people are just curious and are in general nice and positive. Others want to insult and make you feel inferior. Those people are in general, unhappy, frustrated, scared, and probably in great need of support and understanding.

DtL: Do you find modelling empowering?

Connie: It can be. I always ask and discuss ideas before accepting a modelling job.

In many ways it is more empowering to be an independent jazz vocalist. As a model, you portray and become part of someone else’s idea. But as a jazz vocalist, I choose the songs, the style and the image I want the audience to see.

DtL: Our research not only revealed that 47% of young people want to change the way they look, but appearance was also cited as the number one aggressor of bullying. What advice would you give to readers who may be struggling to embrace their appearance?

Connie: Would people who are happy and secure in their own skin bully other people? No. People that bully are always scared and often jealous. I would like to say to everyone, including those that bully others, don’t always believe what people say about you. Be strong, be kind and find your own way in life.

DtL: If you could go back in time what would you tell your younger self?

Connie: Keep going. You’re on the right track. Remember to be kind and treasure people who help you and love you for who and all that you are.

 

unnamed-9

DtL: At Ditch, we believe it is our differences that make us unique, and find they are often our strengths! What is the best thing about having albinism?

Connie: Not letting albinism define me. Not letting any one label define me. This may be surprising, but I think having albinism enables me to understand how complex identity can be. I appreciate all the things I am; not in any particular order, being Chinese, being a woman, growing up in Sweden and having a Swedish nationality, having albinism, loving jazz, being a chocoholic… I don’t want just one aspect of me to define and limit what I am, and what I want to do. I like my white hair, pale skin and violet eyes. But I also like my Chinese features. You see…complex.

DtL: What does the future hold for you?

Connie: I am in discussions with a photographer; we are planning to collaborate on a project – lots of close ups of face and body in beautiful landscapes. It will be on location, probably a beautiful beach somewhere. I love doing photoshoots on location.

I have just done an interview with a French magazine that will be published in a couple of months and I am also preparing for a gig next month singing songs from my debut EP, My Huckleberry Songs. I already have two music videos on YouTube and will release a new video soon.

So all in all, more modelling and more music. You can find my music on my YouTube channel.

http://conniechiu.com/

12-year-old YouTuber Nikki Lilly on positivity, bullying and life with AVM

DtL: Hi Nikki! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Nikki: I was diagnosed with a condition called AVM (a rare condition that’s characterised by an abnormal connection between arteries and veins) when I was six years old. It isolated me for a while, as I felt like a misfit and lacked in confidence but I realised I couldn’t let my myself live that way anymore. So, I took up new hobbies such as art, baking, makeup artistry and singing.

DtL: What inspired you to set up your own YouTube channel?

Nikki: I think being at home a lot more often got me feeling quite bored, and so my dad gave me the idea of starting a channel. It’s a great place to combine all of my hobbies.

DtL: What is it like to be so young with such a successful YouTube channel?

Nikki: It feels overwhelming and amazing at the same time! Four years ago I never in a million years thought I would get this far sharing my happiness and positivity with my viewers aka best friends.

DtL: Who taught you to do your makeup?

Nikki: I taught myself to apply makeup – I idolise the makeup artists on YouTube who have taught me more advanced makeup tips and tricks.

DtL: What are your most prominent challenges living with AVM, and how do you overcome them?

Nikki: To be honest, from a young age I have faced quite a lot of challenges, but the hardest and most isolating have been my life-threatening nose bleeds that can start any time, any place and just ruin my whole day. Just having AVM brings such intense, nauseating pain to my forehead and right eye/face. But, I always try and see the positives every day and try my best to take my mind off of my challenges by doing things such as yoga, baking and painting.

DtL: What advice would you give to others living with AVM? 

Nikki: Just know, although our condition is rare, there is someone facing the same challenges, and feeling the same feelings as you out there; it will get better – just try to remain positive and be the best version of yourself you can be, letting your beauty shine out of the inside.

DtL: Have you ever experienced bullying/trolling/cyberbullying? If so how did you deal with the experience?

Nikki: Yes I have been bullied – not physically, but verbally in person as well as online. The cons of having a YouTube channel is the hate and negativity projected towards any human being who isn’t deemed ‘perfect’. I get called ugly, chubby and some people tell me to stop making videos and to fix my face! But the funny thing is, these things used to get to me but now I just feel sorry for these haters because they have nothing better to do than to try and make others feel worthless. Really they are the ones with the actual insecurities.

DtL: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying/trolling/cyberbullying?

Nikki: The people attacking you are actually really insecure and are not happy in their own life – they pick you apart to make themselves feel better, but they will soon realise that this behaviour won’t change the way they feel inside. You are beautiful inside and out, and the most powerful beauty you have is your inner beauty, so let it shine!

DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?

Nikki: My proudest moments so far include winning a Diana Award for fundraising for a charity that my parents and I set up when I was seven to raise money and awareness for people living with AVM, and hopefully one day find a cure! Also, winning a WellChild Award in 2013 for being the most inspirational child in Britain – it was given to me by Prince Harry! And last but not least, getting through every day and trying my very best no matter what big bumps I might encounter along the way.

DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Nikki: Lastly take each day as it comes and don’t let negative people drag you down, do more of what makes you happy so you can be the best, kindest and most positive version of yourself!

 

Check out Nikki Lilly on her YouTube channel!

Plus size style & lifestyle blogger Stephanie Yeboah on how she turned self-hate into self-love

The 25th of July 2012 is a day I’ll never forget.

I was alone, doubled-over in a hospital in Barcelona, violently trying to throw up the remnants of some diet pills that I’d bought online in the hopes that I’d lose a substantial amount of weight. I was 23-years-old and obsessed with staying thin; what was important to me at the time, was that my tummy was flat and I could buy clothes from the main ranges of high street stores. Yet, even though I was the smallest I had ever been, I was suffering from severe depression, low self-esteem and had virtually no self-confidence.

Growing up I’d always been chubby, and up until the age of 10 I was pretty okay with that; I was confident and happy in myself and never gave my size a second thought. It wasn’t until I started secondary school aged 11, that my perception of myself started to change, and the bullying began.

Over the years I would have to endure both verbal and physical abuse from a group of boys at my school. I was beaten up, spat on, chemically burned, sexually harassed and assaulted – all of which resulted in many broken bones, bruises and more significantly, a complete loss of confidence and self-belief. I was told every day at school that I was ‘worthless’ and that no one would ever want to be in a relationship with me, because I was fat and dark skinned. They told me I deserved to be raped, because ‘no one else would take me’ and that I should end my own life because I was a waste of space.

da4b9232-9a9a-4136-90cd-17bbf9e626be
Stephanie now

It was at this point that I first tried to commit suicide. Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful.

School left me resentful of who I was; in my eyes I was fat and grotesque and I honestly thought that no one would ever want, or love me. I thought my size was punishment for something bad I had done in a previous life. I envied girls my age who were smaller than me and having those first-time teenage experiences that I thought I would never have because of my weight. The self-hatred was unbearable. When I looked at my reflection in the mirror, I saw an ugly, dark-skinned girl who was going nowhere in life. I saw the person that the people that bullied me, had me believe I was.

This not only had impact on my mental wellbeing, but it also affected my ability to communicate with people; I became quiet, withdrawn and socially awkward in the company of others.

I decided enough was enough; I was sick of being held prisoner in such a body, so I tried to lose weight any way I could by dieting, starving myself, throwing up food I had eaten, taking diet pills and binging on laxatives. I lost four stone, and while I physically looked ‘socially acceptable’, inside I felt disgusting.

The experience in Barcelona was the final straw. I realised that being slim wasn’t everything and that I was damaging my body just like the people that bullied me had done once upon a time. In a sense, I was letting them win. I vowed, that from that day forward I would try my best to be strong, to mend my self-esteem and rebuild my confidence. Of course, it wasn’t easy, and I had help along the way; I saw a therapist and talked about how I was feeling and I was also prescribed anti-depressants to help me through, but eventually, I reached a place where I could finally say I was in love with my body.

I still have days – just like everyone else on this planet – where I am not 100% confident in myself but if you had told me four years ago that I would be comfortable posing in nothing more than a bikini I would have laughed at you. I never, ever thought it possible that I could come to terms with my body, let alone love it and have someone else love it. But I have, and I do and someone else does too!

Yes, I’m fat. Yes, I may not have what society regards as the ‘ideal’ physique but in my eyes, I am good enough.

I am me.

Written by Stephanie Yeboah 

www.nerdabouttown.com

Meet the GRL PWR Gang, a collective of girls set for world domination.

We interviewed Artist/Designer Elizabeth Ilsley, Photographer/Director Millicent Hailes and Marketing Consultant Jessica Riches; just three members of GRL PWR Gang, a collective of influential women who have joined forces to promote female empowerment and support other women working in creative industries. 

Founded by Kirsti Hadley and Kylie Griffiths, the GRL PWR Gang works together to provide opportunities for like-minded women to come together for girl-chat, media networking, creative support, team projects and sharing of ideas.

Their objective is to encourage and inspire other young women to access the creative industries as a potential career path, and plan to pass on their collective knowledge to the next generation of young girls via digital engagement and live events. They will soon host talks and mentor young girls on body image, beauty, feminism, social media and how to access that dream job!

21728226-1657-4d50-8d60-46c769a6210d

DTL: Our research revealed that 35% of teenage girls believe that their gender will have a negative effect on their career. What are your thoughts on this, based on your experiences?

  • Jessica: It’s true. But if you’re prepared for that, you can be aware of it. Call it out when you see it, know your rights, educate yourself and join any organisations or unions available to you for extra support.
  • Millicent: It’s really sad. There have been shoots in the past where I have been mistaken for the assistant, and my male assistant is assumed to be the photographer, just because he’s an older guy. This has happened before we’ve even set up or spoken to anyone, so it really is based purely on gender, and who is perceived to be the most ‘capable’ or ‘powerful’. It frustrates me, but ignorance isn’t going to keep me from furthering my career.

DTL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you dealt with it?

  • Elizabeth: Unfortunately, like a lot of people, I experienced bullying throughout primary and secondary school. I had ginger hair and have a prominent mole next to my mouth, so kids used to tease me constantly about my appearance. I was in such turmoil during that time; I tried to cut my mole off with a razor when I was in Year 8, after a group of boys wouldn’t stop calling me ‘moley’! But my god, I am so glad I never had it removed – having a noticeable mole on my face makes me unique, and it has become one of my favourite features now!
0acd7148-5c7c-4790-8a24-39cae1b55438
Elizabeth Ilsley
  • Millicent: One of the many times I was suspended at school, was for not intervening in a situation when I was aware that a girl was being bullied. Maybe the teachers thought that, because I was outspoken and confident, I should have stepped in and helped the girl. My mum always tells that story to my little brother and sister who are just starting secondary school – the tale of when their older sister was a coward. I still feel really awful about it now.
  • Jessica: All you have to do is go online to see the disgusting abuse directed at people – particularly women, LGBT+ people and ethnic minorities. I work with a number of bloggers, journalists and celebrities on their personal profiles online, and it makes them want to give up their platform. All you can do is tell them to focus on the people who are positively impacted by their words; they far outweigh the cowardly, unhappy few.

DTL: What advice would you give to someone who may be experiencing bullying right now?

  • Millicent: Tell somebody right away – a problem shared is a problem halved. Don’t isolate yourself, situations seem worse when you feel alone, there are people out there who are going through the same thing as you. More than you think.
  • Jessica: You are not alone. If you can’t get a support network in real life it will definitely exist online – Ditch the Label is a great example of this. You can visit their website and access support at the click of a button if you need to.

DTL: If you could go back in time, what one thing would you tell your younger self?

  • Elizabeth: You are not ugly. You are as funny and important as everyone else at school. There is no one else like you and life will get really, really fun as soon as you turn 18. Also, stop worrying about the colour of your hair and the socks that you wear.
  • Millicent: Embrace who you are. Wear weird clothes, watch weird movies. You’re great and don’t give a s*&% if someone says otherwise.
b014e2e3-4013-49a8-8886-f9b0c3269b47
Millicent Hailes

DTL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?

  • Jessica: Being taken seriously as a young woman in business is hard. So many people have said to me ‘you’ve done so much for a girl so young’. They’d never say anything like that if I was a man.

DTL: What is it like to be a woman in 2016 and what needs to change?

  • Jessica: I have a very specific experience of being a woman in 2016, as a straight, white, cis-gendered woman with a degree and a middle-class background. I deal with sexist comments disguised as compliments, and have probably lost out on some income as a result of this – but I’m one of the lucky ones. There are lots of mainstream movements to make life better for women in 2016, but the majority of movements still need to broaden, listen to, and represent the needs of all women, not just those like me.
  • Millicent: Even in 2016 it’s important to remember how far we’ve come together, and how far we still have to go for gender equality and women’s rights.
  • Elizabeth: I want to keep this positive so, to be a woman in 2016 is…fun! Not in every aspect, of course, but in the main, it is incredibly fun! We are free to express ourselves, and there are opportunities out there for us – you just gotta find them.
79679007-3721-48ad-891d-200753df99a2
Jessica Riches

DTL: Is there anything you would like to add?

  • Millicent: I’m always available to speak to anybody that needs my help or advice. I might not be as good as Ditch The Label, but I’m still here!
  • Elizabeth: Enjoy being a woman – it’s a blessing, but don’t hate on men. Men are a blessing too!

Learn more about GRL PWR Gang here: Girls Girls Girls

aa8a6824-2595-4867-a59f-f8a2471e30d9

Read our full Gender Report here: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/gender-report-2016/

Whether you are being bullied, or you are aware of someone who is, Ditch the Label is here to help: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/get-help/