Sunday 28 September 2014

Image Credit: Dove Canada and Sandy Nicholson
If you are following me on Facebook, you might have seen this article in the Edmonton Journal and the photo that I posted about the Dove Beautiful Age campaign I was involved in this summer.

The campaign launched on the 9th of September, and my photo was released today, on my birthday, and I am turning thirty five. As the only representative from Alberta, I got a fair amount of attention when the campaign launched. The comments were interesting - quite a few messages of support and congratulations, but also many negative ones (which, to be honest, are to be expected.) I decided to write a post on my involvement on my blog, even though it's not directly related to food, not because I need to explain my involvement, but because I want to share this with my readers and friends and this was a quite a significant event in my life.

The thing about writing for this website is, a lot of the time I tend to focus on the positive. I never show the anxieties that lie in my every day life, and I certainly don't write about all the difficult parts of life. In many ways, The Tiffin Box has taken a life of it's own, and while I am the voice behind it, I worry a lot about if it's hitting the right notes or not. A while ago, around the time of the redesign of the site, I decided to stop worrying all the time, and take the time to enjoy what I've created here. I love this space. It's my happy place and I hope that when readers come here, they go away feeling great too.

This is one of the reasons that this post is so hard to write. I am actually opening myself up in a way that I never have before, and putting my anxious vulnerabilities out in the open today.

The first question I was asked in a lot of my interviews about the campaign was, why? And how did you get involved?

The short answer? I honestly don't know :) Oh, I know the how - I applied via a casting call on Facebook, then promptly forgot about it until an interview email landed in my inbox, was shocked, squealed, did a skype interview, was selected, almost chickened out, but thanks to amazing support from the other half went and finally did it - but the why? I don't know, and it's a question that's made me think a lot more about myself, and my motivations and intentions than I ever have for a long time.

Why did I do this completely out of character thing? Was it for self validation? Or was it for purely selfish reasons? To prove I was 'beautiful'? To prove I could do something out of my comfort zone and be okay with it? To answer these questions, I have to first think about and redefine everything I know about beauty, age and the media.

Image Credit: Dove Canada and Craig Chung Photography
I grew up in India, and like many other women, growing up, I was constantly told that I was not beautiful (not that I was ugly - but not beautiful - a significant difference) I was constantly compared to my cousins, who, in the opinion of my family, were far more 'fair' and gorgeous, with perfect figures, who were talented, artistic, rich... in theory, perfect women, and models to aspire to. Even though beauty ideals in India were different to the West, the underlying message was the same. You are not beautiful until you look like Aishwarya Rai. I was (am) short, had a stick figure, was dark, scabby kneed, snub nosed with terrible skin (which I still struggle with), the worst haircuts and clothes (what were you thinking, mom?) and even though I did well at school and at extra-curricular activities, I was one of those kids known for 'brash personality', rather than 'beauty'. That doesn't sound so bad now, but it was crippling growing up knowing this. Of knowing that I might be the smartest person around, but if I wasn't beautiful in the conventional sense, I was never going to be good enough.

It didn't really matter how much I accomplished in my life, because I looked in the mirror and I hated the 'ugly' person looking back at me. I would never believe my husband when he told me I was beautiful. I didn't understand that language. I rarely, if ever, had pictures taken of me. I carefully curated every image of me out there, until I was happy that I didn't hate it. I was always wondering if it would be different had I been prettier.

I didn't realise I had it all, until I almost lost it all.

I was diagnosed with a serious illness when my daughter was six months old. I was in a hospital in isolation (quite the medical curiosity in my little seaside village in England) and I had time to think about things I never thought of. When I moved to Canada, almost five years ago, I vowed to appreciate everything that I had and that I was going to live my life on my terms, plus do one thing a year that scared the bejeezus out of me.

And I was lucky enough to be able to keep that promise. I am lucky because there are a lot of terrible things happening in the world around me. It humbles me to know that I can take part in a campaign for real beauty, and have it reported in the news alongside wars and famines and epidemics. But then I realise that it's about human interest too, and I am a person with a story to share. Yes, it's self indulgent, and maybe even vain, but it's a story I've struggled to articulate, to talk about for that very reason - because I was afraid that I would be judged for worrying about a silly thing like beauty and self confidence when there are a million bad things happening right now.  And yes, I am probably being judged right now - but my story still exists, and it's one that a lot of women all over the world will identify with - that crippling sense of insecurity, and feeling of not being good enough, beautiful enough.

Image Credit: Dove Canada and Craig Chung Photography
So, I hated the person looking back at me in the mirror? Well, it was time to do something about that. Something that scared the living daylights out of me. Something that I never thought I would even think about doing in a lifetime. I revealed my age to the world. And I took part in a campaign that would plaster my pictures all over billboards in Canada. Just like that.

Learning to accept myself, as I am, flaws and all, was so much harder than it should have been. I have a wonderful life, a family that adores me (and who I adore in return), fabulous friends, strangers from all over the world who read my meanderings on this website, a wonderful, fulfilling job, and a great city to live in (yes, even with those accursed winters). But, I had to learn to like myself first, in order to appreciate everything else.

As I mentioned in my CBC interview (who, by the way did not go easy on me :)) it's not about whether you're beautiful, it's about having the confidence to know that, like every other woman in the world, it's about having those insecurities, but also having the courage to face them down and do something that terrifies you. To know that you are beautiful in every sense of the word - in every colour, shape, size, from anywhere in the world - that you are one among millions, and every one of us is beautiful. What is classic beauty anyway? I always wanted to look like Aishwarya Rai, but how come nobody told me that if I looked like Ash, who would look like me?

The Dove campaign gave that to me. Yes, it's for a multinational beauty company. And yes, every woman is 'real'. Yes, there are a lot of women in the world who would be so much better suited to this campaign than I was... and I have the privilege of knowing some of them, and being inspired by them. I wasn't there because I wanted to debate the philosophical and social contexts of the Dove campaigns, though I could well do that. I was there because I needed to, finally, at age thirty five, let go of that scared, insecure little girl with the bandy legs, bad skin and a serious age complex.

The world doesn't exist in black and white. It exists in shades of grey, and in the often messy emotions of the people who make it up. It exists in myself, in my daughter. Confidence in myself gives me the right, without reservations, to tell my daughter that she is beautiful and smart and that she can define success in any way she wants. I am not a corporate stooge (an accusation that was leveled at me after I took part in the campaign) but I am someone who is finally able to take my deepest fear, that of not being good enough, beautiful enough, take that vulnerability and use it to transform that way I feel about myself.

And I thank Dove for giving me the opportunity to do that.

I also just wanted to share a few articles that ran on local media about the campaign. I'd love it if you could take a look and tell me what you think about the kerfuffle :)

The CBC interview with John Archer.
Thanks to CTV Edmonton, for featuring me in their piece on the Dove Beautiful Age campaign. 
The Edmonton Journal article, written by the lovely Brandi Morin.
I also chatted to Global News and 630 CHED (an Arsenal fan on Oilers radio, now I've made it in Edmonton, eh?!!)
And I was on BT Edmonton, talking about what it means to be beautiful! 

Please feel free to comment any way you like on this post. I am not planning to moderate any comments, because I welcome all of them, not just positive ones, and I hope that I get to answer them honestly. After all, the whole point of this website is to make sure everybody's voices are heard.


  1. awesome job michelle!
    i love that you took a chance and did something that scared you; now the world knows as i do, that you are as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside!
    happiest of birthdays to you
    WHAT on earth will you do this coming year?
    cheers and hugs
    su :)

  2. Really Inspiring Michelle.Congratulations and keep up your good work.All the Best and Happy Birthday.Have a great day today and always.Let all your dreams come true.

  3. Many many congratulations and kudos! You inspire me:) haters gonna hate:))

  4. This is an amazing post. It is so hard to grow up with negative comments and then figure out how to see yourself NOT through that lens. Kudos to you for stepping outside your comfort zone to confront those feelings.

  5. Truth: I have body issues. I'm self conscious of my stomach. The wine I drink and pasta I eat refuses to give me a perfectly flat and toned belly. I think my nose is too straight - if it were just a tinch more button-like, I might be more attractive. My hair is too short, mousy and unruly. Plus I have giant tatas which means they won't stand up the way an adorable B cup does. Ever. And generally, I've never thought of myself as beautiful. Pretty? Maybe on a good day. Cute? sure. Hot? Only when I'm in latex ;)

    ....I can't believe I told you all that. In your comment section. Jebus.

    Honestly, most of the time I'm enjoying life enough and the company I'm with not to care too much. But that doesn't make those feelings or insecurities go away; I just try to ignore them. For those of us who have some kind of body image issue, this post is perfection.

    I'll be honest, I have my issues with Dove - a multinational beauty company, their "real women" adage, it tackles women's notions of beauty instead of the culture that positions them as enemies against themselves... But our self-perceived body image, our insecurities and flaws, our true talents (physical or skill), etc... it's all so interconnected. And what we call flaws, while very real in our own minds, is just such bullshit.

    Your post truly resonated with me. Thank you so much for taking the time - and honesty - to write this.

  6. Great post and good for you! I love this sentence the best, "I always wanted to look like Aishwarya Rai, but how come nobody told me that if I looked like Ash, who would look like me?"
    Just be you because you are awesome.

  7. Way to go Michelle! What a wonderful post that brought a tear to my eye. I'm so glad you found the courage to do this and yes you are very beautiful both inside and out! Have a wonderful day celebrating your Birthday!! (I turned 35 in July and it's all good!) x

  8. Michelle, thank you for writing this! I am full of conflicted thoughts about Dove and their marketing campaigns and the socioeconomic context of it all, and like you, I've always thought of myself as 'the smart one' or 'the sarcastic one' but never 'the pretty one'. I still hate being photographed (I should do something about that.).

    Good for you, for pushing those insecurities aside and taking this opportunity to not only accept yourself but *celebrate* yourself! You are worth celebrating.

    We can change things for the better with feminist critiques of beauty marketing campaigns - or, we can make change by confronting the little things that hold us back, and embodying the change for our daughters. Don't let the critics get you down. We all have different paths and different ways of making the world a better place.


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