You might not think I was a model by taking a first glance at me. I'm relatively small, I have scars (including a rather prominent one on my eyebrow), and I've never been a particularly thin person. And a few years ago, I would have looked at myself in the mirror and thought the exact same thing. So I was just as surprised at myself as everyone else when I did this in June last year:
Yep, that's me on the far right, walking down a catwalk in Liverpool for the first time in my life. And this wasn't any catwalk; it was one of the largest in history, and actually broke the Guinness World Record for most models on a catwalk!
In some respects, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing; in others, it was a natural progression. But if I hadn't made the choice to get up there in front of a crowd of thousands, I would be a very different person today.
Practically since its inception in 2007, I've been a supporter of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation: a charity that aims to stop bullying and social intolerance towards alternative subcultures by education and encouraging pride. When I noticed they were joining a new project called Alternative Fashion Fest for the Very Big Catwalk in Liverpool, I decided to join in to support them, even though modelling wasn't my thing and I never thought it would be. While there, I made some fantastic new friends, including this amazing lady: Jane Bellis.
Jane founded Alternative Fashion Fest to showcase a range of clothes and models that didn't fit the cookie-cutter image of what should be on a catwalk. Her vision included models of all shapes, sizes, and walks of life to create a fashion show with a social conscience.
Taking part in the Very Big Catwalk was one of the highlights of 2015 for me, and really showed me how much my confidence had grown from the bullied girl I once was. It re-enforced my own convictions that everyone has a right to be who they are and showcase it with pride. So, still buzzing from the experience, I got back in touch with AFF, and the rest is history.
The crew of AFF welcomed me with open arms, and we have such a tight-knit bond that it is like a family. With them, I don't have to worry about being shunned or ridiculed for being myself, and everyone is treated with such utmost respect that it truly lifts my heart when we are performing together.
Hopefully what we do can help others realise that there is no such thing as the perfect body - everybody is beautiful, no matter their gender, size, nationality, sexual orientation, mental health, ability or disability. It's not just about the amazing clothes, but also the people who wear them - who have feelings just like everyone else.
One of the most powerful parts of the AFF shows is also my favourite: we all walk out wearing white t-shirts bearing the Sophie Lancaster Foundation logo, then we turn around. Emblazoned across our backs are the derogatory labels which have been thrown at us in the past: FATTY, SLAG, PSYCHO, FREAK, UGLY, QUEER, and so on. We wear them with pride, because we are not our labels. Despite everything we have been through, we are still standing.
I never thought I would be a model. I also never thought I would be a published author, 2nd Dan black belt, or would see the Northern Lights. But I have, and I am only 25 years old.
If you want to do something, you go do it!
If you'd like to find out more about Alternative Fashion Fest and what we do, then check out this short video! And be sure to visit the website for tour dates!