So what's it really like to be featured in Good Housekeeping magazine? To be interviewed about your personal story, transformed into a more glamourous version of yourself, your photo taken by a professional photographer in a beautiful location? How does it really feel to see yourself and read your story in a magazine?
My previous run-ins with the national press had made me a little nervous about putting myself out there again. Being featured in the Daily Mail for the #mykidsdressedme campaign for Comic Relief - and mistakenly reading the comments - provided one of the most intense moments of shame that I've felt in my mothering life, and it took me some time to recover - but that's a story for another day...
It meant that when I was approached by Good Housekeeping via the National Lottery (who funded our exhibition), I had to pause and think whether I was ready to be in the public domain in that way again.
I knew it could be a wonderful way to share what we're doing at Story of Mum with more mums who might need our support, and Good Housekeeping have a fantastic reputation. But as for the idea of heading up to London for a special day of being made over and having photos taken, yikes that sounded scary...
On the one hand, I loved the idea of a day of pampering, the kind of make-over I'd always hoped to receive from Jackie Magazine as a kid...
On the other, I don't tend to read many glossy magazines because for a long time, they made me feel less rather than more.
I'm very aware that my proud baby-bearing body is not magazine-shaped. And I've let my hair streak with natural grey. It's not magazine-coloured either.
Away from a magazine world, I see my own beauty. But right slap bang in the middle of magazine world, would my confidence hold?
And yet I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience something I'd never done before, and yes it might be awful, but it might not be, and it might even have a really positive outcome.
And although those sort of situations are scary, I pretty much always tend to walk towards them...
And so there I was, sat on a train from Penzance to London, feeling all emotional after saying goodbye to the kids and the husband, and panicking about an email I'd just received. It suggested that I bring along my favourite jeans (I hardly ever wear jeans), one of my "Autumn leather jackets" (??) and changes of white and black underwear. What on earth had I let myself in for...?
Luckily, the lovely lady at Good Housekeeping who I immediately emailed to say I had none of those things said not to worry, they would have plenty of clothes there...
After being collected by my very own car from the station (oh the glamour!!) I was put up in a hotel for the night, where I got to see my mum for dinner, and she loaned me a white bra, which was a nice moment ;)
The next morning, having been unable to eat anything for breakfast (even though it was all completely free and looked very fancy) because I felt so sick with nerves at what lay ahead, I was picked up by another car and whisked to the shoot venue. I chatted noisily to the taxi driver in an attempt to pretend to myself that I was feeling fine and confident.
We arrived at a beautiful converted home and studio at the end of a short cobbled street - the shoot venue. Unfortunately, I was early. Very early. And nobody setting up showed even the slightest bit of interest in my arrival.
So I just had to breathe in some confidence and smile, trying to hold on to recent words from my own mum - that I was beautiful already, no matter what.
I told myself calmly that it wasn't such a different world to the film shoots I know from my old career, I just wasn't used to being on this side of the camera. I got myself some much-needed coffee and worked out where the loo was, in case of emergency (and my usual need to go to the loo every half an hour or so since having kids...). I focused on just staying present in the moment, ignoring all the doubts rushing into my head.
Soon the rest of the team arrived: all smiles. I met the very nice pregnant writer who had interviewed me over the phone a few weeks before. The interview had taken over an hour, but my story would be compressed into just a few paragaphs. I wondered how she would tell it. I met another lovely woman who was also being made-over and we shared our stories.
The kind make-up lady put me at ease as we chatted about our kids, and up I stepped into the studio space. As if preparing for over an hour of hair and make-up was a regular occurence for me...!
My long hair was carefully curled and sprayed into place. I was painted and puffed and prettified into the most amazing creature.
I had extra single eyelashes added individually, make-up on my legs to hide my Cornish sandal tan-lines, and all manner of potions and lotions carefully applied to my face. My nails were buffed and painted. I genuinely had no idea there were even that many different sorts of cosmetics in existence. It was a whole new world.
I was ushered into a side room with a long rail of outfits, and shoes of every shape and size (sadly most of them too narrow for my feet, and no doubt impossible to walk in, but they looked beautiful), all kinds of jewellery, and a smiling wardrobe lady ready to transform me.
I'd packed my favourite Seasalt dress, thinking I might wear it out to dinner with my mum the night before, and luckily I was able to wear that - as everything else on the rail felt like someone else, not me. I wanted to hold on to the normal me, still rooted somewhere within this newly buffed version of myself.
Last but not least, the wardrobe lady presented me with some raspberry heels that I couldn't walk in... But that didn't matter, as I didn't need to walk. I could squeeze my wonky wide feet in, and be photographed against some blinds, so all I had to do was get hoisted into the heels with the help of my able hair and make-up team - and balance precariously. A slightly less glamourous moment...
And then it was time for some of the most bizarre minutes of my life so far...
My gorgeously curled hair was fluffed and re-fluffed, necklaces were swapped and assessed - each new necklace naturally requiring additional hair-fluffing.
And as I stood in various positions next to a chair with three pillows on it, I was observed intensely by five very fashionable people, each with a tiny frown on their foreheads and their hands on their chins (I so wish I had been able to take a photo of that...!).
The photographer instructed me to keep shifting my weight from leg to leg (which was easy, as I needed the loo again by then obviously...) and smile.
It took quite a long time for everyone to decide which pillows needed to go where, whether two pillows were better than three, and whether it would be better if I stood on the right or the left, leaned backwards, or sat (definitely not, the frowns all intensified rather quickly at that point).
And for a moment, I felt like I was a proper model - although sadly one who had never had any lessons about what you should do in front of a camera.
So I just grinned, and guessed, and felt a bit foolish. Mostly I enjoyed how bizarre and funny and brilliant it all was to be having this experience as part of my life.
...while also wondering if the discussion about the pillows was actually code for discussing in which position I looked the most ridiculous.
It may well have been - but luckily I'll never know.
I especially appreciated the compliments I received on my hair - and the surprise at the fact that I hadn't highlighted it, my hair did it all by itself :)
As it turns out, the final photo is lovely.
I don't quite look like me, but I look beautiful.
And the smile is mine.
As for my story?
I've just collected my copy of the magazine and I am still shaking. It's a strangely naked feeling to see your vulnerability in print. I had to go to the park and sit quietly for a while on the way home. And buy myself some chocolate.
The words are beautiful. My story is in there.
And so is Loz's story. Which feels a little uncomfortable, because so much of her story isn't mine to share - it belongs to her husband and her sons - and I want to respect that. The loss of Loz is part of my life, but it is not my story, it is hers, and theirs.
I'm glad though that Loz is remembered and honoured. She was an amazing friend, whose energy and honesty and wisdom were a big part of the inspiration to create Story of Mum.
Plus, I suspect she would have thought it was pretty funny that she too is now featured in Good Housekeeping. She was not a typical Good Housekeeping reader. Neither she nor I were ever what you would call good house-keepers... But we were both always good home-keepers. And a happy home carries much more weight in my world than a tidy house.
As for how the piece reflects my own motherhood struggles, I'm much more comfortable with my own vulnerability than I used to be. So I'm not ashamed of sharing how hard I have found motherhood at times. Loz shared her vulnerability with me, and it helped me immensely to face my own.
I know how powerful it can be when we admit our fears and failings to others. When we admit our struggles to feel like a good mother - our struggles to feel beautiful - our struggles to feel like we are enough.
Sharing those gloss-free stories with each other creates a precious space where we can all be reminded that perfect mothering is impossible - and that trying our best, and failing, and getting up again every day is more than enough.
We are beautiful when we try. When we fail, when we're scared. When we cry, and when we smile. We're beautiful with the make-up, and even more beautiful without it.
Take that risk. Share your story. And know that whatever it is, you are more than enough. You are beautiful just as you are. Here, right now.
The more we take risks, and allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable with each other - whether that's sharing our story of how we got here - admitting to a friend that we are struggling today, and we need some help - or being prepared to stand in front of a magazine camera in borrowed underwear and unfamiliar clothes - the more we get out of this magical gift of life.
Life is precious, and beautiful. And so are you.
Have you read the article in Good Housekeeping this month? We'd love to hear your thoughts, and your stories, in the comments below. Share your story with us.
To celebrate all that you do, and encourage you to take time yourself, we have some special offers for Good Housekeeping readers over at www.storyofmum.com/GHwelcome.
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