My personal experience with Free Being Me

I discovered Free Being Me after returning home from filming a television series in Canada about self-acceptance regarding appearance. I was determined to find an Irish-based organisation that followed a similar message to the Canadian project, where I could share the knowledge I had gained from people around the world and learn more from people in my own country. I was researching online when I came across the Free Being Me project, and thought “what a revolution” and “inspirational project that was right up my street!”  I was so happy to hear about these Irish girls and women spreading this message online; even if I could not be a part of it, I was so happy with the knowledge that it was there, benefiting others. My one and only sad feeling upon discovering Free Being Me came from wishing that I had been taught the values of this project at a younger age

A little about my own background:

I come from an industry that many may say contradicts Free Being Me. That being the fashion and modelling industry. I hope by listening to my own personal experience, people will understand that I needed to be taught the Free Being Me values just as much as the young girls in the Irish Girl Guides meetings. I started modelling at age 18, after Leaving Cert, as a hobby alongside my degree in University of Galway. My dreams were there, the opportunities were there, but unfortunately the dark side of the industry to shatter a young woman’s confidence was there too. What you need to understand about being in my shoes was that, to the outside world, they were a glamourous pair of sparkling stilettos – they look pretty but only the person wearing them feels how painful they can be.

Over the past nine years of working in the modelling industry, I have had some amazing experiences. I have represented Ireland four times in four international beauty pageants, including the Miss International Contest – (one of the top three pageants in the world along with Miss Universe and Miss World). I have flown to Cancun and Canada to film an international TV series. I was flown to Barcelona for a week just to train with a pageant coach who produced many Miss Universe winners. I have walked international fashion weeks, been in number one hit music videos, worked on RTE shows and met celebrities such as Elle Macpherson. And this all looks lovely on Instagram and Facebook.  What people do not see on social media is the amount of times I cried over the not-so-fun moments. I never posted about the many times I cried from not getting an audition, or from being told the many “flaws” in my appearance that stopped me from being a model.

Yes, I have amazing memories, I have made amazing friends (I am a bridesmaid for Miss Malaysia next year) and have been successful in something I wanted to achieve through hard work. However, I have also many bad memories. My oldest memory is from a “Modelling and Grooming” one-day course I begged my reluctant mother to let me attend as a 13-year-old. In the course we learned about walking, having the right attitude and skincare and dieting expertise from “professionals”. I vividly remember the diet talk as it was my first negative experience of the industry. The lady explained to me and a full room of model hopefuls that that sick feeling when you haven’t eaten all day is “your fat burning” and that we could “choose to feed that feeling, or allow it to burn fat”. I was appalled, as a 13-year-old girl who had never worried about her weight in her life. And that was only the start of the negative experiences.

It was difficult going from being told I was skinny my whole life and asked, “do I ever eat?” to being the biggest girl in the room. I remember the first time I found a blog of anonymous comments on a photo of me in a bikini naming out the numerous reasons I should “know my limits” and not have entered. I have been told I have needed liposuction, a nose job, wear fake tan to hide my pale skin, load on the makeup and just generally to lose weight more times that I can count. What is most upsetting to me looking back is that by any normal standard outside the modelling industry, I have never been underweight. I have been clinically underweight, naturally and by being sick, and thinking back it was only times I wasn’t made feel embarrassed about my body in pageantry. I am healthy, I exercise, I eat healthy food most of the time with the odd baked treat. I may change in dress size from time to time but I am a woman, this is natural, common, and something we need to teach the younger generation not to be ashamed of. I believe Free Being Me is an amazing way of teaching these ideals.

My Revelation:

In 2014 a contestant I competed against in Miss Galaxy International 2012 asked me to be a part of the pilot filming “The Fashion Hero”. This TV show is aimed at helping people who have been rejected by the unrealistic standards of the fashion industry. People who have been rejected due to weight, height, skin conditions and other factors that did not deem the individual “perfect” took part in the project. I flew to Cancun, Mexico, to film the pilot and in that one week decided that this was 100% what I wanted to be a part of in the industry. The years of uneasiness and upset with the industry finally made sense. I had to go to that place to get to this one, and this one felt like home. Therefore, I was delighted to be asked to fly to Canada in 2016 to film the first series over a month with the wonderful host Brooke Hogan – The Hulk’s daughter.

However, there were still some issues I needed to address which filming the show series helped me with. I came in with the “curvy, healthy and proud attitude” thinking I was in full “flaw” acceptance for the filming. What I never realised I had an issue with was my reliance on fake tan and make up. I really did not want to be filmed without it. I was so ashamed of my natural skin that when the cameras were put in the bedroom, I removed my eye makeup for bed and re-done my foundation just in case my natural face was seen on TV.  When it got to the part of the show where we were asked to remove our make-up on camera with a face wipe I was terrified. Then followed more bare-faced filming and my first photoshoot without make up. The challenges gradually strengthened my inner confidence by teaching me not to focus on my outer appearance, as many of us, not only models have been taught growing up.  I won a place on a designer’s team after these challenges that thought me that there was nothing wrong with a bare face and no tan. The experience and acceptance and love from those on set brought my confidence from about minus 50 to 100. The filming was the best experience of my life.

I am now Free Being Me

Since returning home, I have stopped wearing make-up almost every day, unless I have a shoot or event that asks me to wear makeup. I have changed from posting overly-filtered, heavily made up selfies to natural “naked-face” snaps.  I am a free being me girl and I love it!  Therefore, I love being part of the project and meeting all the speakers and Irish Girl Guides in person. When looking at the girls speak, I see intelligence, strength and determination to change our world and show that these young women have so much more to offer other than outer appearance. I love meeting the women and having conversations – about anything but makeup! I love how they love to camp and wear runners, and just generally rough it (I had to camp on the show before the no makeup photoshoot so being at the IGGNITE campsite brought back amazing memories). I love the focus on arts and crafts and meeting people from different countries and learning about different cultures. These are the values the world should be celebrating and I was so happy to be included!

This was my first, and certainly not my last, no makeup selfie. I am Katherine Gannon, and I am Free Being Me!!