My Mum's a Tiger is all about 'loving the skin you're in' and Natalie is a role model to many when it comes to this mantra, but she hasn't always felt so positive. I chat to her and find out more about her confidence journey...
Q: Children as young as THREE are experiencing body confidence issues, influenced by the language of those around them, as well as the media they consume. What do you remember of body image ideals when you were younger?
A: Sadly I’m not surprised by your findings but knowing it is affecting children as young as 3 is shocking! As a child, I wasn’t conscious of my Vitiligo at all, because I didn’t realise I had it! I was too young to really understand that people were different – I just saw people as people. That was the beauty of being a child. For me, what impacted the view I had of my own body, was reading magazines that didn’t feature girls with skin conditions of any type including acne, which was very common in teens. Not seeing models that I could relate to really impacted the way I saw myself, as I strongly believed that only ‘pretty girls featured in magazines’. I think you intuitively realise that to fit in and be seen as beautiful, there is particular way you should look – you should be a particular weight, height, have a particular hair colour, type of skin….it’s fed to you throughout advertising and you pick up on it when you realise you are different to your school friends. I learnt from my early teens that the way I looked wasn’t desirable. I taught myself that from what I saw around me…
Q: We're launching the Re-Write the Story project now, in the run up to summer, to fight back against the 'beach body' narrative. How did the summer months affect your self-confidence growing up?
A: As a child my parents were adamant that I wouldn’t let my skin be something that would affect me. They dressed me in shorts and t-shirts during the summer and I went swimming in a swimsuit. All the kids could see my bright white patches but didn’t really say anything. Sadly, this feeling of being able to show my skin didn’t last. When I entered my teenage years, suddenly I wasn’t comfortable showing my skin and that’s when I started to cover up and be very self-conscious and embarrassed by how my skin looked.
Summer was incredibly difficult – I refused to wear anything that showed my skin, which meant I’d often have to suffer in the heat because I’d only wear trousers, long sleeved tops and anything that would disguise what my skin looked like. In my 20’s I relied heavily on fake tan as it was the only way I was able to feel a little normal, even though I was still very paranoid about people seeing past the fake tan! I very rarely went on the beach and when I did, I covered up. Aside from having to wear factor 50 sun cream (because our skin is sensitive to the sun), I’d wear a swimsuit, a sarong and something to cover my arms. I didn’t feel 'beach ready' at all because I knew that I stood out from everyone else...
Q: We want to highlight how important inclusive representation is in children's media. What difference do you think it might have made to your body confidence if you'd felt represented as a child?
A: I think not seeing books with characters with Vitiligo or seeing actors/actresses on TV with a skin condition definitely contributed to shaping my negative. We are bombarded with images in so many ways, including books and TV and if we can’t
see ourselves being represented we are naturally going to question why. Is it because we don’t look good enough? It is because we aren’t worthy of being featured in such a public way? For such a long time I thought I was the only one in the world with Vitiligo because I simply didn’t see anyone else that looked like me. If I had seen characters with Vitiligo I think this would have given me a small sense of normality – that people like me were a firm part of society irrespective of what we look like. It would have been such a positive foundation to start with along with teachings from my parents and those around me, on why it’s important that I loved my skin.
Seeing books now with characters with Vitiligo fills me with such joy and hope that things are changing and moving in such a positive direction. Showing young kids that they can be part of stories too allows them to think creatively, self accept and normalise what they look like, and most importantly it raises awareness and teaches others about the condition. The more we do this the less we are questioned because it is becoming normalised. We have a way to go but we are definitely moving in the right direction.
Q: What advice do you have for parents of children who feel different to those around them?
The best piece of advice I can give is to start the process in making your child feel
confident, at home. Encourage them to feel confident by reminding them that they are beautiful just the way that they are. If they have a visible 'difference' or skin condition, explain it to them in a childlike way so that they can answer any questions at school with confidence.
Allow them to dress how they want and encourage them not to hide who they are. Parents are naturally going to be worried about how their child might be treated at school but it’s important you try and avoid passing that worry on. Instead talk to family, friends or join a support group to discuss any concerns or anxieties. If you worry, the children worry. Children can overcome the discomfort of looking different and are much more resilient these days, you just need to help them along the way by reminding them that they’re perfect exactly as they are.
Q: As well as re-writing the story, we're encouraging people to re-claim the summer! What do you love about the season?
I love summer! I love that it really boosts my mood and motivates me to want to be outside. I love that I can now enjoy summer without any reservations about my skin. I love that I can finally shop for cute shorts, colourful t-shirts and wear what I feel good in regardless of whether it covers my skin. I feel so thankful that I can now enjoy everyone’s favourite season!
Q: We love the quote 'Your body is the least interesting thing about
you'. What's the MOST interesting thing about you?
I love to make people laugh! There is nothing that satisfies me more than seeing someone smile or cracking a joke that has someone burst into laughter! I like to think I have a great sense of humour and so always try to use it to my advantage.