Picture: Mya Fawcett @silverymoonphotography

Finding confidence after 40 as a model

Rachel Peru divorced and started over...before experiencing other set-backs. Then she volunteered for a charity fashion show

If you had asked me in my 20s or 30s if I could imagine myself modelling in my 40s, the answer would have been a firm “No.” As for modelling lingerie at 50 — I would have laughed out loud at the mere idea.

I left school after gaining A levels without any big career plans; teachers encouraged me to go to Drama school, but my lack of self-belief held me back. I found myself working in retail where I remained for the next decade, it paid the bills and I worked with some great colleagues, but it certainly didn’t fulfil any passions.

I was brought up, like most children of the ’70s, by parents who believed you found a job and kept that career for life, so any other thoughts or fancies weren’t encouraged or even considered a possibility.

Is that all there is?

I remember feeling unfulfilled and a bit lost on my 30th birthday, even though I was happily married, had two children and was pregnant with my third at the time. I kept thinking: Is this it? Is this going to be the sum of my life? I found it unsettling — but with 3 children under 4 to run around after, I bumbled my way through life without any personal development plans until I reached 39. Then something changed inside, a new sense of urgency within me that I couldn’t ignore.

Divorced at 40

I found myself getting divorced at 40; I’d been with my first husband since I was 16. To say that the following few years were a rollercoaster of emotions is an understatement. Total grief for the life I’d left behind, was mixed with pure excitement to find out who I really was and what that real me might be capable of doing and being. I chose a new word for this next decade: “Brave”, which led me to saying yes to many new things that I would have typically said no to. I completed two tandem sky dives for charity, aged 40 and 44. I worked in orphanages in Uganda and India as a volunteer and then as a parttime early years nursery assistant. I enjoyed that so much I  finally decided to go to university and loved the whole experience. I proudly gained a 2.1 in Education Studies at 42 and thought that I had the next chapter in teaching all sorted.

I had a plan and was back on track. Or so I thought.

Dealing with my child’s mental health issue

Unfortunately, my eldest daughter suffered with acute anxiety and agoraphobia which led to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) involvement. I found myself back at home full time and home schooling. Learning to deal with mental health issues in a family is stressful. Nothing can prepare you for it and it quickly becomes very isolating.

I needed to find a creative outlet to keep myself steady during this difficult time, so I decided to start my own vintage clothing business. I’ve always loved vintage fashion, so it wasn’t hard to set up and I loved the freedom to sell at vintage fairs every weekend, I also learnt how to create a website and sell online.  It was never going to earn me a huge amount of money, but it was crucial to building my confidence.

Rachel Peru’s first experience of modelling

During this time one of my closest friends volunteered us to model for a local Macmillan Cancer Support fashion show, something I’d never done before. Those moments when I stood behind the stage waiting to walk down the catwalk were so nervewracking and that was after a good dose of gin and tonic dutch courage. A negative loop was running in my head: What if I fall in my heels? What will people think I look like? What if I make a fool of myself?

I’m happy to say I managed to remain upright and loved the experience, I found it so liberating, when it was over I just wanted to do it again. I honestly believe this should be part of the school curriculum as it gives you such a boost of confidence.

Feeling like I loved my body

I walked down that runway feeling like I owned it. I felt proud of my curvy body and grey hair and realised that I was good enough, just as I was in that moment. I’d spent years struggling to like my body; it stopped me from joining in with so many things, from trying new sports to always dreading clothes shopping. There’s a distinct lack of me in any photographs from when my children were younger. At 30, I’d even booked an appointment to have a breast reduction because I thought that would make me feel happier. I thought that if I could join the backless dress brigade, I would fit in. I’m glad I changed my mind at the last minute as for me it wasn’t the physical aspect I needed to change but my mindset.

Even then, I never thought about modelling professionally. It just wasn’t on my radar. After all, I was a curvy size 14-16, 5’7’’, 44-year-old woman with grey hair — not your stereotypical model material.

Married…and going grey

But life was good: I’d found love again, and married Mark in 2014. I’d also taken the decision to stop colouring my hair. I started going grey as a teenager and have dyed it every colour of the rainbow over the years, which was fun for a while. But one morning when I was 45 I woke up and decided I wanted to stop disguising my hair and just embrace it. It helped that I had a very short pixie cut at the time along with a supportive hairdresser, but it felt like the right time for me and I think for the first time in my life I felt truly comfortable in my own skin.

Shortly after this, it was suggested by a few people that I should try modelling, so at 46 I thought why not?  At this point my eldest daughter was in a much better place and I had nothing to lose. I sent off very basic images to model agencies across the country and got signed by a London agency very quickly. It was at that point that I knew I had to take it more seriously and have absolutely loved every moment of this new career. I’m now represented by Bridge Models in London.

Coping with imposter syndrome

My imposter syndrome was very real and there have been lots of times when I could have given up and allowed that negative voice to stop me. But I’m glad to say that that word — brave — carried me forward. Within the first year, I modelled swimwear alongside the iconic curve model Ashley Graham and American singer Lizzo; I came back from the Bahamas that week a different person.

I’ve finally found my passion and purpose.

It had ignited a flame that I no longer ignore, I’ve finally found my passion and purpose. My favourite bookings are swimwear and lingerie campaigns because the feedback I receive from other women over 40, who still don’t feel visible or represented in advertising, is always such a boost to any lack of confidence I may have. Yes, change and personal growth can be really hard, scary and messy and it’s very much like a rollercoaster ride, which is why I wanted to share some of the downs of my journey too because that’s the reality.

I’ve been part of some amazing inclusive brand campaigns that are finally starting to show up for older women including Figleaves, Swimsuits for All, Heist, Chantelle Paris, JDWilliams. I can’t tell you how proud I was when Dita von Teese shared my latest Playful Promises “Ageless Fashion” campaign post to her 2.6 million followers. The response from other women blew me away!

My podcast: All about reinvention

I mentioned that at 18 I nearly went to drama school, I loved acting, but my lack of self-belief and confidence held me back but I’ve finally re-discovered that person — and I’ve finally found my voice. I came across so many women on social media that were reinventing themselves, starting new hobbies and being brave after 40 that it led me to starting my Out of the Bubble podcast. Sharing stories of everyday women who all have inspiring stories to share and so often don’t get the opportunity to be heard. I used to want to be a backing singer when I was younger but now, I’d want to be the lead singer. I’m 51 soon and this decades’ word is “ambition”, so I hope this journey shows you it’s never too late to try something new.

Saying yes to more things in life has led me down a very different road – one that I could never have imagined. Try it!

Rachel Peru
Instagram @Rachelperu1
www.rachelper.co.uk

joy

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