27 September 2013

What I see when I look in the mirror - for the What I See Project

Sometimes I wonder whether people with visible differences and disabilities are not expected to be happy with our appearance. That we should feel ashamed. We should want to and try to change how we look. We should seek a cure, or at least something to cover up that unsightly... Why should we want to go to a hairdresser and get a fabulous haircut or buy some great clothes when we've got this affliction? How can we possibly be happy when we're so far removed from any magazine cover, let alone the model on page 87 of that magazine? Others tell us they could not handle looking like us.

So what would you say if I said I was happy with myself when I look in the mirror? Even when people question whether I should be or suggest I should find a cosmetic cure? Because I am. I can look myself in the eye the same way I look the world in the eye. Being comfortable with and confident about my appearance surprises people. It shouldn't.

I believe it's ok to be proud of our appearance if we have a visible difference or disability, or if we don't. We should celebrate our beauty by taking pride in ourselves. We should feel good about the way we look - as much as I hate this othering phrase - just like everyone else.


I've never had a problem with my weight or body image. I have never been on a diet and am body confident. I almost feel that I should feel guilty for writing that.

It's no secret I love my food. There's evidence about what I eat on my social media - it's for the world to see. I eat what makes me feel happy and healthy. Sometimes I eat too much.

Lately I've been looking at my body and not loving it as much as I should. I could do with toning my tummy. My arms looked huge in a recent photo. I should probably lose a few kilos. I've been comparing too much. I watch those Bonds ads - where the trim and taut girls are dancing - and think back to when I looked like that. I'm almost 32 and I have noticed that my super lucky, super fast metabolism has started to slow down a lot compared to when I was 22.

I've been dreaming of exercising, and actually want to do it. I've been pretty sore over the last month and that's probably what stopped me. That and fear. Fear of being sore, losing precious time and a lack of enjoyment. I need to drink a cup of concrete and do the exercise properly. (I have gone for a short run, lots of walks, done some arm/thigh squats and a few situps/pushups on my floor, but I need more than that.)

I went past a sportswear shop yesterday and bought some new clothes for exercising in. They are heavily discounted, brightly coloured brand names - leggings and tank tops and an awesome hi-vis lightweight jacket - five items for $120!

And I wore those clothes last night. To the gym. I did 45 minutes of exercise. I clumsily navigated the elliptical trainer (I imagine astronauts feel the same way when they walk above the earth) and held on for dear life runwalking six kilometres an hour on the treadmill. I burnt calories and felt the burn in my calves. I moved three kilometres in total. It's a start.

It felt great. Then it felt sore (in my skin). Then great again. And I realised that I should love my body for what it can do - walk and climb and lift. And renew. It's amazing that every day I start anew with a different layer of skin. Different skin to what I had yesterday. That's amazing!

So, what I see when I look in the mirror is more complex than just appearance. It's about my skin working really hard - so hard I can see it changing - and also my face - being a silent participant in changing expectations about it might be like to look different. Sometimes I set out to be an appearance activist, other times I just find myself being one by going about my daily life.



I was asked to participate in the What I See Project, answering the question "what do I see when you look in the mirror?". I filmed it weeks ago now - well Tash filmed me, and I did 3467 takes, because it all sounded better in my head. Here's what I had to say.


The What I See Project is a global online platform that recognises and amplifies women’s voices. The What I See Project was established to celebrate the inspiring women from everyday life whose stories would otherwise go unacknowledged. It was launched in February 2013, and has already seen over 500 contributions from more than 350 women across eleven different countries. This community continues to grow everyday.

The project aims to provide a safe environment where women can share their struggles, achievements and inner thoughts, and express themselves freely through a website that appreciates them for who they really are. Throughout a year, The What I See Project aims to reach out to as many women as possible, from as diverse a range of locations and walks of life as possible.

From 26 August - 1 October, The What I See Project will showcase over 100 unique female voices as part of an awareness campaign. A diverse group of writers, editors, bloggers and communicators from fashion, science, business, politics, art, sport, feminism and motherhood have participated to tell their inspiring stories. There are also a number of prominent female ambassadors representing the campaign. The campaign highlights real female role models, the everyday heroines whom other women can relate to and admire, and amplify voices that would otherwise go unheard.

Ten short documentaries have been released, each one exploring the thoughts and feelings of a woman who has become an outstanding success in their particular profession. A film of these ambassadors will then be premiered on 1 October at The Science Museum in London (I was invited but sadly could not attend).

I was honoured to be asked to be involved in the What I See project - I came across it on Twitter about six months ago and loved the diversity of women and listening to the ways they saw themselves. There is such wisdom, knowledge and self awareness in all of their stories. A friend of mine happened to be in a video too! Small world!

You can get involved with the What I See Project in the following ways:

Submit your story


Twitter (Hashtag for campaign #whatiseecampaign)




Linked In



  1. A-fucking-men, Carly! I am so proud of the woman you are, the confident, happy, beautiful woman. Beauty is so much more than skin deep. I have always always believed that.

    I would make just one edit to this post. Here: "I believe it's ok to be proud of our appearance if we have a visible difference or disability. We should celebrate our beauty by taking pride in ourselves."

    I would remove "if we have a visible difference or disability" because everyone needs that message. We all need to celebrate our beauty, take pride in ourselves, and be proud of our appearance. Everyone needs your message, Carly.

    I'm so proud to call you my friend xxxx

  2. Love this Carly- I think it is imperative and very healthy for everyone, especially those of us who have visible genetic disorders such as Ichthyosis to be not just confident, but happy with how we look. It has taken me years to get to a point where I am comfortable in my own skin. Like anyone else I have days where I feel I could do with a change in appearance or lose weight which I think is totally normal for everyone. But now at 21, one thing many of my friends tell me is that they notice about me is that I carry myself with confidence! It is encouraging and amazing to hear someone else with Ichthyosis express their confidence in themselves I think by showing that despite our obvious physical differences from everyone else that we are confident would inspire other people to have a higher sense of self esteem and open the door for people to stop looking upon us with pity. And once that door opens, society may see us for traits other than our skin.

  3. What you said about your weight is exactly how I've been feeling over these last few weeks! I love my food but unfortunately my metabolism seems to be slowing down so it's time to do some exercise! I feel good about myself until I see an ad with a gorgeous model with a toned flat tummy.

  4. "I've never had a problem with my weight or body image. I have never been on a diet and am body confident. I almost feel that I should feel guilty for writing that."

    Please don't feel guilty for saying that! I am so inspired and impressed...there are so many women out there who are never happy with their bodies or their weight or their looks. We always find fault with something or the other. It took me years to love my body and accept it for what it is. Currently on my case load I have four girls with an eating disorder and/or body dysmorphic disorder and it scares me...these girls look in the mirror and see things about themselves that no one else does. I think we all need to take a leaf out of your book and take pride in the way we look.

    Thanks for this post and for directing me to the project...

  5. Another amazing post...i am glad you feel good about your body. I always tell hubby "there is just more to love" haha but I am the same, I have always eaten whatever I liked and my metabolism only slowed down in my late 20's. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise. I love to hate it but know it is important for my mind & body. A wonderful cause you have created awareness for. X

  6. Love the video Carly. I think it's not easy for everyone to gain the confidence level you have worked hard to achieve. It is however an important reminder of the state of mind you can get to once you persevere. Hopefully the more people who watch, listen and learn about Ichythyosis the less people will discriminate and fear.

  7. Carly, you are an absolute inspiration.

  8. Really loved watching your video and watching your self-esteem shine through. It is so great to read about someone without body issues. I grew up with plenty of them and now that I am in my mid-40s I realise what a waste of time it all was... can't go back... but a lesson as I move forward into a new chapter.

  9. I love how strong you are in your confidence Carly. I do think we are all taught to be dissatisfied with our appearance, how else would they sell us things to 'improve ourselves'. I find it hard to admit but I've struggled with body image issues on and off for a long time because it's very self indulgent, but it's encouraging to hear confidence from you and other women as that helps me rethink how I feel about myself.

  10. I love your confidence, your passion and your love for life Carly. Everyone can learn from you. Everyone.

  11. ""I've never had a problem with my weight or body image. I have never been on a diet and am body confident. I almost feel that I should feel guilty for writing that."
    I think its almost like others want us to feel guilty for having confidence in ourselves. I am very overweight and despite that ( I know facts) when I look in the mirror I don't see it. I actually find it draining to be amongst those that are always denying themselves something in the quest that the change to their appearance (what ever it is they perceive is the area) will bring them happiness. The only change I see that will do that is to accept themselves as good people despite appearances and laugh. Life is meant to be lived coyfully

  12. Wow, powerful Carly. I am so glad you are out there, sharing this message with the world. x

  13. You beautiful girl are going to make such a wonderful difference in this world.xx


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