Hi there, I am Tess
All my life I have been 'big' – I always knew my legs and shape were different, but was told I was just fat, lazy and greedy.
I started visiting my doctor with concerns about my size and shape when I was just 8 years old. I kept going back to the doctors but was always greeted with the same thing. No one took my pain or shape seriously and told me it was all down to me. That makes you feel defeated and hopeless and with little choice in larger clothes (and yet my body growing all the time despite dieting) I turned to accessories to make myself feel good and be more individual.
"To me, leaving the house looking good, makes me feel I can face the world with pride."
My size is irrelevant when I feel well groomed – no one can call me scruffy, even if they call me fat.
When you do not conform to the 'norm', when your legs / hips are over large and actually, you are in pain all of the time, it can be a very lonely place. Whilst friends were shopping for clothes in the trendy shops of the day, all I could do was look at jewellery, handbags and scarves. In time, I became known especially for my love of jewellery, make up and handbags (as my recent house move will testify, I have many large boxes full!)
When I was 49 I was diagnosed with a rare, painful fat disease, Lipoedema, so finally I knew my size was not my fault. In Lipoedema, the hips, buttocks and leg, are out of proportion with the rest of the body. The amount of Lipoedema a woman has and the way it is distributed on her legs and hips, varies between women, some may just have small pockets of fat above the ankles for example, while in others there’s an obvious discrepancy in size between their upper and lower body. Lipoedema can also develop in the upper arms. For me Lipoedema affects my arms, torso, hips and bum, it feels like I have lumps of polystyrene under my skin. It can be very painful and I know that without intervention surgery my condition will only get worse.
Nowadays, there is more choice in Plus Size or Curvy clothes, though not necessarily for my rather unique Lipoedema shape. Also though I know my shape is not my fault, 30 years of being told you are greedy, lazy etc., when you are actually none of those things, takes its toll and this is something I am still working on coming to terms with.
The year I became 50, I decided to do something I feared - I was tired of being called names, regarded as something I am not. I thought I would start to face some things that scare me, like doing things in public, being visible.... I then decided to carry on doing it beyond my 50th year.
This resulted in me becoming an amateur plus size model in 2014 and breaking a World Record in the process. That year I joined other Plus Size models on London Bridge where we set a new world record for the most plus size models in one place on a Photoshoot.
"Last year I competed in Miss Voluptuous UK at the ripe old age of 55!"
The latter was a really huge thing – not only was I facing my fears of displaying my legs and arms, which are particularly affected by lipoedema, to everyone, but I had to walk across the stage several times, get timing right, look like I wasn't actually scared witless, in chronic pain and smile!
My mobility has become severely impaired by my disease, and the pain of walking or even standing for a few minutes, is immense. I was spurred on by my desire to prove all bodies are beautiful and the fact that I was raising money for Lipoedema UK. The pageant I chose focuses on inclusion and every competitor must have a cause which they champion, spread awareness of and raise money for.
The other difficulty was finding outfits that would fit me and meet the pageant rules too – I had several to find, including interview, fun fashion, hand-making an eco outfit and an evening gown. The accessories for these outfits were really key – they finished the outfits off, made them memorable, which is so important for you to stand out against your competitors in the Pageant.
Colour, size, sparkle were all elements to consider when choosing jewellery and accessories for evening gown and fun fashion. These pieces needed to be statement pieces that complimented our outfits.
The ability to match the rest of the jewellery to several outfits to avoid too many changes was also important, as we only had 3 or 4 minutes between each change. So classy, not over large statement pieces were the way to go for this part. Having something that isn't in every store is also essential – the more individual you are, yet whilst conforming to pageant rules, helps you stand out to the judges.
Once in my evening gown, I felt amazing, due to my gorgeous earrings. Large drop earrings in a creamy beige with oodles of sparkle finished off my long gown to perfection. I decided not to wear a necklace, and to let the earrings do the talking.
"When I walked across the stage I felt like a million dollars."
My husband told me that he heard the judges say that I had the walk down to perfection – and when you cannot walk, you have a limp and a strange gait, that was to me, amazing. I believe my earrings were the final piece in the puzzle and were what gave me the confidence (and strength to beat the pain) to glide across the stage as required.
No I didn't win. My husband believes I came 7th out of 16, which I thought was pretty good for someone competing in their first (and probably only) pageant, being disabled and aged 55! I also raised £990 for my charity. Plus I did it all without using my stick on stage once. I don't know who was more surprised – me or the judges and competitors, as they had seen what a struggle it was for me during the weekend.
I love how accessories can change an outfit – to be more individual, to turn from daytime to night time wear, to sparkle for a special occasion or to keep you warm whilst being stylish. I love how accessories make me feel about myself. I love the feel of soft scarves and shiny or suede handbags.
"I love the way my accessories make me smile at my reflection in the mirror before I leave the house."
I love when someone says...'Ooooh I love that... where did you get it from?' Kinda makes my day :-)
Huge thank you to Tess for sharing her story and her love of accessories with us. Tess is still battling her condition but also making the most of life in her role as the "Laughter Goddess". So if you fancy a bit of Laughter Yoga Therapy or want to connect with Tess you can reach her at: The laughter Locker.
Thanks for reading