Real Life: The women who found body-confidence – and can help you find it too
Loving the skin you’re in is easier said than done. But - through their passions for performance, fitness and fashion - these three women have not only found their own body confidence, they’re helping others find it too. Alice Ryan talks to them
Autumn OhMy Dayz
“It doesn't matter how you feel about yourself, you can't argue with an audience that claps and cheers in support.” A Cambridgeshire comedy and neo-burlesque performer, Autumn OhMy Dayz - aka Sandy - is known for hosting both Ely Pride and the OhMy! Cabaret Club. This February sees her launch local burlesque courses
Firstly: please introduce our readers to Autumn OhMy Dayz. Is she Sandy's alter-ego? Or are you one and the same?
Autumn is a burlesque performer, cabaret host and producer, who is confident, sexy and silly. She started out an alter ego however over time I have come to realise that she is me but with less inhibitions and more sparkle.
What drew you to burlesque performance in the first place and how did you start?
I had been a fan of the art form from my late teens and would regularly go to shows and burlesque themed nights, but never considered it something I could do. Then I saw an advert for a local class that promised to increase body confidence, make new friends and learn burlesque. The rest is history.
We know your confidence - in yourself and your body - was low at the time. . . How did burlesque change things for you?
Yes,I was in my late 30s with three children and had just lost my sense of self. So when I started going to burlesque classes, I was forced to reflect on how I thought of myself, my persona and my body. It was the first performance that really did it. It doesn't matter how you feel about yourself, you can't argue with an audience that claps and cheers in support. It's a real confidence boost.
When did you realise that this was more than a hobby that made you feel good; that it was a new career path? Last year was, we know, a difficult one. . . but those experiences inspired you to take your burlesque performing to the next level, didn't they?
Yes I wanted to start performing more regularly and so I started applying for just a few shows here and there. But in the summer of last year I was sexually assaulted, which led to a mental health breakdown. When I started to recover I had a feeling of wanting to make the most of life. I decided I was going to say yes to any opportunity offered to me. I started performing much more often, I produced my own show, performed in Burlesque Idol, joined the committee for Ely Pride and started hosting.
Tell us about Pride! How did you come to host and how was the experience?
I joined the Ely Pride committee last year. So when our usual host was unable to make it, I was asked to step in. It was a wonderful experience, after being so involved in the event planning. Standing on the stage and seeing so many people enjoying themselves was a real moment of pride that will stay with me forever.
Why should all our readers be booking tickets to your cabaret show? Tempt them!
We have so much fun with the audience. We have something for everyone, whether you like burlesque, drag, circus, sideshow, singing, comedy. The next show will be in Yorkshire but OhMy! Cabaret Club will be back in Cambridge in the not-too-distant future so keep your eyes peeled!
And why should they consider booking a class with you?
Because we have fun! Nothing brings me more joy than watching other people find their inner confidence, act a bit silly and let their guard down. It's a safe space to try new things and give yourself permission to feel sexy, silly and free. I will be running a new burlesque course starting February in Ely. This will be open to anyone 18+.
We live in a world where airbrushing and AI create evermore unrealistic images of what a woman's body 'should' be. What do you say to that?
Different body shapes are celebrated more than ever and whilst yes, there is still a lot of airbrushing and the introduction of AI creates a new level of deception, as long as people of all shapes and sizes are represented in pop culture things will continue to improve. With social media being such a large part of everyone's lives now, there is more opportunity for people to show themselves, warts’n’all, as well as the higher polished versions of themselves that we may have seen before.
What's the reward of performing for you?
Being able to step out onto a stage, even on a bad day, and know that you have a room full of people on your side. They are there to celebrate you and accept you. There is nowhere I feel more beautiful than half-naked on a stage.
Train With Gemma
“Fitness is about being physically and mentally able to do the fun things in life. You can do that whether you are skinny or not.” On a mission to make the fitness industry a more inclusive place, Cambridgeshire personal trainer Gemma Rix knows firsthand how transformative exercise can be
Firstly: introduce Train With Gemma. What makes it stand out from the fitness crowd?
I believe in inclusivity in the fitness industry - people of all shapes and sizes should feel comfortable about working out. It’s not just about losing weight and looking good. My sessions focus on feeling good and getting strong!
We know you've found fitness transformative personally, not only for bodily health, but also for mental health. Can you explain how it's helped?
I have a history of mental illness. Fitness has helped me learn that I can do hard things, even when I’m going through the toughest of times. It gives me calm and focus and allows me to feel like a strong and powerful woman.
When and why did you decide fitness was more than a hobby for you, it was a new career?
I’ve become more and more frustrated about the general representation of women in fitness within social media. I realised that if I wanted this to change then I needed to be part of making it happen. Naturally the next step was training to become a personal trainer. And I’ve not looked back since!
Historically, there's a perception that 'fit' equals 'skinny', isn't there? What do you say to that?
Fitness is for all bodies. No matter what size or shape. Fitness is about being physically and mentally able to do the fun things in life. You can do that whether you are skinny or not. I’ve seen people in bigger bodies compete ultramarathons, lift insanely heavy weights and who are super flexible. Why shouldn’t we all feel comfortable doing this?!
What's the goal of working out, from your perspective? Are we finally moving past the idea it's all about losing weight/waist inches?
For me, working out is about so much more than this. It’s about feeling confident, moving better, feeling strong and powerful and having fun! This is something that I share with my clients - fitness should make you feel great.
What kind of response have you had to Train With Gemma?
My clients have been really positive about their experience so far. I’ve got women who started really nervous, PE-haters who’ve never stepped foot in a gym before, who are now loving their sessions, trying new things and feeling so much more confident. It hasn’t all been positive though. . . Every now and again I get a message on social media mocking what I’m doing. But this drives me even more. Why can’t women like me have an impact in the fitness industry?
We know you work with both individuals and families who are, for many reasons, nervous about joining a class or going to the gym. Do you find that women, in particular, have fears about fitness?
I think women are often impacted by ‘diet culture’ where there is a pressure to be slim in order to be seen as attractive. The way that fitness is often represented perpetuates this. Women feel like they need to be slim and fit in order to ‘fit in’ in a gym or class environment. There’s also a nervousness around being physically capable. Women who carry children, worrying about lifting weights - they absolutely can do it!
What kind of changes have you seen while working with those clients?
I’ve got women who now feel confident to go into a gym and lift heavy weights, who can now run up the stairs easily, can get down onto the floor and keep up with active children. It’s had an impact on their children too - young girls wanting to get involved and having a positive experience with fitness.
What's the reward of running the business for you?
The best part is seeing the growth in confidence for those that I work with. The smiles and the self-belief. As well as knowing that I can be a role model for someone else like me. I can’t fix the industry, but if I can make it more inclusive for just one more person, then I’m happy.
Gemma offers mobile personal training and also coaches and trains at Neil Marsh Health and Fitness in Willingham. For more visit trainwithgemma.com and follow @train_with_gemma on Instagram.
Images taken at Neil Marsh Health and Fitness Willingham
Sophie Personal Stylist
“We all deserve to look and feel our best no matter our shape, size or age.” Fashion helped Suffolk personal stylist Sophie Taylor embrace her shape and express her personality - and now she’s supporting other women to do the same
Let's start at the beginning: how, when and why did your personal styling brand come to be?
I worked for the NHS for 18 years and always wanted to change my career once my children got a little more independent. I left work to start college in February 2020 and COVID happened. Of course everything went on hold. During this time I became, like most people, a bit slovenly. After having two children, I had become the last priority and I realised this needed to change.
I invested in a personal stylist online which ignited my previous passion for clothes and style. I immediately signed up for an online course. I had found my calling! I wanted to give other mums and women the opportunity to ‘find their spark’ at an affordable price. We all deserve to look and feel our best no matter our shape, size or age.
We know your mission is to help *all* women, of every age, stage, size and shape, both look and feel their best. Where does that ethos come from?
Being a teenager in the 90s, I found all media focused on lean, tall, model-type body shapes. This was never me! I had boobs for starters, and was vertically challenged. Then I became a mum and my body changed again.
The best thing I did was to learn my body shape and understand what works for my size and shape. It was a real game-changer, not just for dressing but also my mindset. I realised that beauty comes in many forms and something I dislike someone else would wish they had!
We all have stages of change in our lives - leaving school, going to uni, starting a new career, creating a family, divorce, menopause, illness, the list goes on. I don’t want to dress as I did when I was 18, and I shouldn't. Lives evolve, as does our style.
When you're meeting with a new client, where do you start? What services do you offer?
Generally we always start with a Style Analysis, which includes learning about your body shape and the best ways to accentuate it (instead of hiding it) with clothes that suit your own personal style. We also learn about your best colours with a 12 Season analysis.
A Wardrobe Edit is also a very popular service and one I believe has the biggest impact. This isn't just about having a clear-out. I guide my clients through each item, giving my expert advice on how to style them with other existing items or potential new additions, creating a wardrobe they love and use.
I also offer a Style Journey, which consists of both of these services plus an in-person or online shop - the full package, if you like!
You must have been part of some wonderful transformations! Can you tell us about any?
All of my clients have had such amazing results, it's hard to pick just one. I love seeing how quickly some embrace the change and start to experiment with different looks, pushing their comfort zones.
I visited a client about a year ago to start her Style Journey. She owned about 14 pairs of skinny jeans in the same colour. No-one needs that many skinny jeans! She is now down to two, and hardly wears them as she much prefers all her other clothes now.
We've been taught for generations that beauty comes from being thin. Is that changing now, do you think?
We’ve definitely improved, but there is still a long way to go. Social media has been great for this, but it also has negatives too; we see a lot of perfection and then strive to have it. For me, I try to focus on memories rather than possessions, but that's not always easy.
I feel strongly that women need to be kinder to each other too. I so often see women commenting on other women's looks and weight. It can only change if we change.
The next generation is the driving force and that is why it is so important for me to set a positive example to my two teenage daughters. They are the ones that will hopefully continue to spread body positivity.
If there's a woman out there reading this - and there surely will be - who doesn't feel confident in her clothes and skin, what would you say to her?
Nobody is going to remember you for your size. They’ll talk about your kindness, work ethic, memories you shared, style, humour and in my case, my laugh! No one says ‘But remember she was always a size 10’!
For weekly outfit inspiration and styling tips, follow @sophiepersonalstylist on Instagram and find Sophie Personal Stylist on Facebook. To find out more about Sophie’s in-person services across Suffolk and Norfolk and virtual services further afield, visit sophiepersonalstylist.co.uk
Images: Emma Cullen Photography
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