Rachel Peru became a model at 46. Now 50, she is helping to change the media and fashion worlds’ perceptions of midlife women.

If someone had told me in my twenties that I would become a full time model in midlife I would never have believed them.

During my younger adulthood I lacked confidence and always struggled with my body image, trying every new diet out there, every new exercise class, in the belief that if I was thinner with a smaller bust then I would be happy. To the point where I actually booked to have a breast reduction because I hated the size of them and honestly thought this would make me feel happier. Thankfully I reconsidered. It makes me feel sad that I wasted so much time and energy on these thoughts instead of living life to the full.

Then three years ago I began a new career as a model, aged 46. It wasn’t planned or even something I dreamt of. I’m a UK size 14-16, with grey hair and a 34G bust – not the typical model image at all. It just sort of happened almost by accident at a time when I least expected it. At a time when I had zero confidence and felt a bit lost.

After getting divorced at 39 I’d gone to university and gained a BA in Education Studies and worked as a nursery teacher, which I loved. But my eldest daughter had been struggling with severe anxiety which in the end led to home schooling and me leaving work.

“I’m not the same person I was in my thirties and my self-reinvention has been both exciting and scary at the same time.”

This had really knocked my confidence. Being at home I felt very isolated for what felt like a long period of time. Then one day I was asked by a close friend to model in a local McMillan charity fashion show and although nervous about it I agreed. I decided this was just the thing to help me regain my confidence, not because I thought I looked great – some of the outfits were a bit dubious – but because it took me out of my comfort zone and was exhilarating. I realised I enjoyed modelling and started to feel more comfortable about my body. I’ll be taking part in the fashion show again this May in what will be my 10th year of modelling for them.

After volunteering for McMillan for a few years I decided to send photos off to agencies after some encouragement from others. To my surprise I was offered modelling contracts and am now signed exclusively with Bridge models in London, whose ethos is to ‘bridge the gap’ between standard and plus size in the fashion industry.

“Every job I get booked for fills me with excitement, fear and gratitude.”

I can’t deny that I love my new career. I get to meet loads of different people, to travel and wear fabulous clothes, including swimwear and lingerie. It’s all a bit surreal. Even now I pinch myself when I tell people I’ve been on a swimwear shoot in the Bahamas, working alongside Ashley Graham, a model I hugely admire. I’m not the same person I was in my thirties, and my self-reinvention has been both exciting and scary at the same time. Every job I get booked for fills me with excitement, fear and gratitude.

But the thing I have become most passionate about is being able to represent women in midlife and help challenge the media and fashion industry’s perceptions of our age group. Why are we still so under-represented? When I think back to how much I struggled with confidence, it strikes me that women need to see positive images of themselves at all ages. I am finally happy in my skin and have never felt more confident about my body, but I am aware so many women in midlife come to a body confidence crisis and when you look at how invisible we are in the media, marketing and the fashion industry it’s hardly surprising.

“Women need to see positive images of themselves at all ages.”

Wouldn’t it be nice to go lingerie shopping in a department store and see images of models in their forties and fifties as well as the younger women? I want to be able to relate to the images and imagine how I would look in those clothes, but instead we are bombarded by youth which often leads us down a negative ageing body comparison.

I know so many women who are now so much stronger and fitter in their midlife, taking up new sports and activities… how about sports brands using and highlighting these women in their campaigns and imagery? I think women in their midlife have an inner confidence that exudes beauty and sexuality, and it should be celebrated and admired.

I make a point of using my social media as a platform to show myself with all my flaws, wrinkles and cellulite and I have found my voice. My new-found confidence has liberated me from the scales and whilst I still have the odd morning when I wake up and my jeans feel too tight (and no wonder, being peri-menopausal), I no longer let that dictate my day and it’s moments of irritation for me instead of hours.

“Women in midlife have an inner confidence that exudes beauty and sexuality and it should be celebrated and admired.”

Four years ago I also took the decision to stop colouring my hair after battling with my grey hair since I was a teenager. It’s hard to explain but for the first time I truly felt like me, and this in turn helped my confidence grow even more.

I have found so many interesting and inspiring women in their fifties on social media that are starting new careers, taking up new activities and passions and really embracing this next chapter. It makes me realise we all have so much to offer and we certainly shouldn’t be written off.

I regained my confidence that had got lost along the way, not by the way I look or the number on the scales but by the experiences and challenges I have been through since turning forty. Stepping out of my comfort zone and becoming a bit braver to try new things. Sometimes you just need a push to find your self-belief.

Words: Rachel Peru

Instagram @rachelperu1 www.rachelperumodel.com

In Rachel’s podcast Out Of the Bubble she interviews midlife women, all with different stories to tell, who can inspire others.

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