Real Girl

Real Girl makes women’s experience visible. 

It’s a collaborative process... An awakening for my subjects and myself; a process of discovery, empowerment and liberation for both of us.

Extraordinary in their ordinariness, each woman’s story, no matter how big or small, is unique. 

Together we discover our vulnerabilities and strengths… And the spirit of our thoughts and feelings are powered into a single image.

Tamika, Los Angeles USA

My mom died when I was nine. I was always picked on and people have always told me that I’m weird. I used to think it was a bad thing but now I just embrace it. I identify as being quirky. Whether or not I fit into a crowd, I know I’m a loving and nurturing person; things my mom instilled that in me when I was young. 

I’ve always had a sense of loss in my life. I’ve struggled a lot with depression because of loneliness. I feel like no matter what I do people aren’t going to be there for me the way I want them to be. It’s heartbreaking. I’m a person who hates to be isolated but that’s how I feel a lot of the time. 

I have my guard up a lot, but as soon as some music plays I let it take me away. I let my body move and do what it wants. I often dance around my room by myself. That’s when I’m the most relaxed and feel the most like my truest self. 

My mom was generous and open and free. I’m on my way to becoming just like her. I’m no longer ashamed of who I am or disappointed in myself. I know the small things don’t matter as long as I’m okay with myself. And I am! I’m a beautiful person. 

My mom would be happy that I’m finally living my life for Tamika and no one else.

Annabel H. Auckland, NZ.

The theme of being listened to is hugely important in my life. So often I’m up against power but I feel strength in my own story. My big dream is to feel listened to. For my words to have a positive effect on those who are listening. 

I definitely feel a little bit of a ‘fuck you’ to all the men in sneakers in boardrooms who didn’t listen to me. I’m going to forge my own path and it’s going to be better. My grandmother said I was born with a fighting spirit. 

I grew up in one of the most remote farms in New Zealand so loneliness and isolation are very familiar to me. I had been through a lifetime of challenges before I was even a proper adult. That farm is fraught with emotions. I see it as a strength and a shadow. My efforts to make sense of the world manifested itself into my creative expression.

My history is the backbone of my poetry. I’ve been writing it my whole life. I come from a long lineage of women who never got their full light in the world because of the era they lived in. I know I have to do more for these women because they didn’t get to.

There is a transcendent experience that comes from being understood, being listened to and feeling less alone. I just need to feel like me.

I would rather be less successful and feel less alone than be really successful and not have this amazing pocket of friends that I’ve been lucky to collect.

Marley. Los Angeles, USA

I’m a practising death doula. I help people to feel peaceful when they die.

The main thing for me is to not let myself get overflowed by emotionally supporting other people. It happens to a lot of women. It’s happened to me. This kind of stems from my mother, a Thai and Chinese woman who moved to America in her thirties and didn’t speak English at all. She was thrown into just being a nanny and has actually been a nanny my whole life. So, my mother is the kind of person who just serves everybody all the time …What can I do? How can I help? 

I noticed that wasn’t really working for me, like my equilibrium was really kind of knocked off. 

I like to nurture myself.  All my rituals - floral design and yoga - really keep me restored. 

Growing up in America as a mixed race person, was really really challenging for me. I don’t just think it. I know it.
I always just felt a little bit uglier and it just was like this thing that I couldn’t really put my finger on then. I just knew that, in school, if there was a guy who had a crush on like four girls I would be the last of the four. 

I’ve felt deep depression and grief and despair and despondency and stagnation and I’ve learned to just allow for periods of deep dwelling in it. It is undigested grief. I’m not afraid of the deep dark murky stuff anymore, because it’s almost like a gift to get to go there, because it’s just building up my compassion and capability. For me it’s a great thing to cultivate. I didn’t start feeling it was okay to be proud of what I am until literally like four years ago. And not even talking proud in the sense of pride but just to truly love what I came from.

Ella. Auckland, NZ.

I feel more vulnerable now than I have ever felt in my life. I love my child so much that I’m absolutely terrified that something will happen to her. It leaves me feeling incredibly scared, but also so alive because it means I’m constantly aware of life and how delicate it is. I’m vulnerable but also incredibly happy. 

Maia inspires me to do all the things that bring me immediate joy. It’s really nice to be around that all the time. It makes me feel really free. 

It reminds me of this feeling I’ve had only a few times in my life; a deep glowing feeling in my chest, really heavy but not like a weight, just really dense. It was brought on by thoughts but it was a totally visceral experience. It felt like a place. I felt like I’d really found myself and found something within myself that was really strong and centred. I felt really powerful.

I think of beauty as a captivating thing to see or experience; one of the most wonderful experiences I can have. Looking a certain way, fitting into a standard of beauty is just not a priority for me. 
I do myself justice by expressing my full self and my individuality.

Dani. Kawerau, NZ.

What gets me going in the morning is a large cup of soy coffee, and about five to six cigarettes in the space of half an hour. In spite of this, I have great skin, thanks to genetics.

I’m the middle child of five, so I tend to push the boundaries on everything in life, which is a good quality to have. I’ve always had to try and voice my own opinion and stand out from the rest of my siblings. 

People see me as ‘free-spirited Dani’, but I still have struggles. Sometimes I wake up and I just feel like shit, and I don’t like the way that I look, I don’t like my imperfections on my body, but I can’t fix that, I have to embrace it, so I do, it’s as simple as that. I have those moments everyday, but I get over it real quick. I put it down to growing up in Kawerau.
The other kids used to bully me at school because I didn’t look like the other Maoris, which kind of made me like, “Eh? I’m Maori, my tribe is Te Whānau-ā-Apanui. East coast!” But it was just hard to sort of persuade them, they’d just say,  “you’re not Maori because you’re not poor” Or,  “you’re not Maori because you’re not black” and just dada dada da, but you know, I’ve got freckles - that’s my Irish side - I’ve got big lips - I don’t know where they came from… I feel connected to my ancestors and I feel connected to my family history, how my people got here. I mean, I understand that I’m not fully blooded Maori, but I understand enough. 

I help mum, dad and my brother out on the farm, picking up horse shit. One day I’m modelling, the next I’m picking up horse shit, it’s a pretty simple life. I love that it’s so extreme. All the other models that I know are either at school or they’re 100% into modelling and they would never pick up horse shit. I don’t mind picking up horse shit, I get to think about my values, what I’m up to that day, take in the smell.

Phoebe Walsh. Auckland, NZ.

I am very comfortable in my own skin but that didn’t happen overnight. It was definitely a battle. 
I want everyone to see me how I see myself.  

I’m a very fun-loving person and that’s what people tend to notice about me right away but some think I’m ditzy or clueless. 

I want people to know that I’m intelligent and I have a voice but I’m not always confident and self-assured. 
My biggest fear is that I’m not going to use my time on this earth effectively and reach my full potential. I have these overwhelming moments when I get anxious about time. Time is not infinite or guaranteed, and when I feel like I’m not utilizing time in the most effective way I think, ‘Shit! I’m gonna blink and it’ll all be over. I’ll be on my deathbed and it’ll be too late!’ 

I’m okay with vulnerability, but not all the time. I just don’t want anyone to mess with me so I put up a hard front. But that’s not sustainable. 

I want to be able to open up and show people there’s more to me than the ditzy blonde. I also want them to know off the bat that I’m not the one to fuck around with.

Amy Rose. Auckland, NZ

When I look in a mirror, I guess… I see a potato. That’s just how I think of myself, I’m just a potato. You know you eat a potato and it’s delicious but it’s not really appealing to look at.

I am visually impaired and there are hard and upsetting things about that, so I might as well make it into a joke and have fun with it. I don’t have colour vision. I see in shades of grey, black and white. When I was younger I experienced internal panic attacks, about playing tag because I was always the ‘it’ in tag, but I couldn’t see anyone to catch them so it was really scary to me. I was the little girl running around in the sun who’s forever ‘it’ in tag but she can’t catch anyone. This is definitely a metaphor for how I feel in life. 

I really like doing my makeup, and that’s a really superficial thing to say makes you feel good, but it does. I like dramatic things. I think that might be something to do with my eyesight as well, because if I can’t see it what’s the point in having it on my face? I’m doing it for me, not for anyone else. 

I can’t really see people in detail so it makes me less reliant on what people look like, so I’m more in tune with the way people act and behave. I put a lot of weight on who I am and what I do, and that means a lot more, especially in the long run. 

I won best film at the award show at my school for my student film, and that was a big moment that made me feel good. You stop caring about the way you look in those moments, because you made the best film and nothing else matters. I don’t want people to see me as “Amy, the girl with glasses”, I would rather be, “Amy, the girl that’s really talented, oh and she has glasses”.

Netti. Auckland, NZ

When I look in the mirror; I see my thick thighs, big butt, boobs and small waist and think…actually I’m okay. 
Sometimes I think maybe I should go on a diet and then five minutes later I’m like nah. If I’m honest I want to lose weight because not enough clothes are in my size! Never because I think I look ugly. I feel lighter than ever, which is weird because I’m heavier than I’ve ever been!. But I don’t feel like that. 

I also went through a phase worrying about my pimples. I was like I am the pimples now. They should be looking at my tits and my arse but my pimples are in the way! I’ve always been insecure about the colour of my skin. I’ve always felt  it (my skin) was like a dirty brown. I wanted it to be that golden colour everyone desires. In Samoa light skin is considered pretty. We were told to keep out of the sun because that would make us darker. 

I have memories with my family at the beach where I had to be very covered up. Hoodies, board shorts to my knees...that sort of thing. The sun would be boiling and we’d have hoodies on. Now I’m just like fuck that. I had to hide any hint of sexuality and was always reminded that my virginity is special. I could never wear something that shows my tits like I wear now.

Growing up was quite strict and religious. I wasn’t allowed to have sexual needs or feelings at all. Being able to look a guy in the eyes was difficult for me. If I would look at a boy in the eyes my parents would ask if I wanted to marry him? As a daughter of immigrants I feel I have two different worlds. The traditional Samoan world that I grew up in and then the New Zealand western world. I’ve had to balance where I stand. 

Now I’m free of all those insecurities. I just embrace how I look. I embrace my skin so hard now because I feel so bad for the old me who didn’t enjoy her life because of something so miniscule. 

Robbie. Auckland, NZ.

I was born with phocomelia, which means the bones in my legs didn’t develop properly before birth. I learned to walk on an artificial leg that became known as. ‘Lucy Leg’ – because what toddler can say ‘pros-the-sis’! My leg was further amputated when I was twelve and all I wanted to be was ‘normal’.

I put all my effort into hiding my prosthetic leg. I didn’t want any boys to know I had it. I didn’t want anyone to know I had it. Then around seventeen I raised my hem and painted Lucy Leg fluro pink. I’m proud to be disabled. I’ve made it my choice and wear it like a badge of honour.

I really found myself after I painted Lucy fluro pink.

When I was younger I would play games with my girlfriends…’What we would change about ourselves’. It was never wanting to have two legs. I just said I don’t want hair anywhere I don’t want it. I don’t mind having only one leg, I just don’t like that it’s so hairy! 

A lot of people see my success and my drive but they don’t see when I have to wax my one leg that’s covered in dark hair. Just because I’m out there in the media it doesn’t mean I’m perfect. I’m very imperfect and I’m okay with that. I know Lucy Leg makes me exceptional and bright and bold and beautiful but I also get pimples. I think I have a bit of a funny relationship with skin. I have very flamboyant skin. I’ve got a lot of tattoos. My skin is my canvas. 

I have my ups and downs and mine have been magnified by my experience of disability. It’s a challenge to improve my mental wellbeing when I’m also dealing with my physical challenges. It’s a rough journey. To be honest I’m ever changing, evolving. Right now I’m raw, honest, driven and open.

Sarah Rose. Auckland, NZ

I think my biggest struggle, especially at the moment is just that idea that I’m not good enough, or that I’ll never be able to reach my potential. That scares me a lot, so that’s kind of a weakness. Social media is a great tool and platform for a lot of people, but if you spend a lot of time just scrolling and looking at what everyone else is doing, it kind of takes away from you and what you’re doing, especially around other people.

The first time I got into modelling there were very strict measurements, sizes, and everything. So for me being not small was really hard for me to deal with and that really made my confidence drop a lot. And it kind of became an obsession with ‘should I eat this, should I not?’ and it took me away from the things that make me happy and it shifted my focus onto the way I looked. Then in the end I actually got dropped from my agency. That was hard.

Towards the end of the year it got to a point where I was diagnosed with depression. 

Everyone goes through things, and no matter how good it looks like you have it, you still go through a lot. So yeah with all that I really did feel like shit, and when I stopped caring about it was a very freeing thing, and I learnt that I am in control and I have power over how I feel and I can surround myself with things that can make me feel good. 

Still everyone has their down days but I’m just very happy in life now and I enjoy life. I really don’t care anymore what other people think or I don’t care about trying to fit into other people’s ideals of what beauty is or how I should act. The way I dress is my creative outlook.

Jayna. LA, USA

I’ve been told by several different people that I’m ‘pretty for a black girl’. And this was in Los Angeles! I used to think that meant I wasn’t pretty enough but now I understand that is just their opinion and that’s totally fine. 

I am half Korean and half black. Even though it was a huge part of my upbringing I was never around people with a similar story. I’ve gone to school with other African American kids but there was no one else who was mixed like me. It was really tough for me because I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I didn’t know if I wanted my hair to be straight like Korean people or curly like black people. I didn’t know if I wanted my skin to be lighter or darker. I was mortified by my nose when I was little. I felt like I wasn’t being fully accepted in either the black or the Korean communities because I didn’t look like them.

Since then I’m so lucky I’ve made some friends from Korea who say I’m no less Korean than they are. They welcomed me into their community with open arms, when I thought they would see me as an abomination. I also have friends who have helped me understand my relationship with being a black woman. And I’m really thankful for my friends who will talk to me about anything that I’m struggling with. They will always speak the truth with me and for it to be raw. Because of that I’m now I’m at this place where I’m really proud of who I am. 

I did receive a lot of negative comments at school about how I looked at I’m okay with criticisms. I mean I’m an artist - I make stuff and I live for critiques and having other people tell me what they think and that goes a little bit beyond my art. I can listen to what other people think about me. I can see their perspective too, outside of mine. But that doesn’t make me question my integrity ever. 

There is nothing wrong with me so if someone has a problem with me I know they’re the ones that need to grow, not me. I think it's really awesome to be in that place. It makes me feel completely free.

Alana. Los Angeles, USA

I feel like a totally different person now. If you met me a year ago you would have met someone who was hiding in plain sight in every possible way. I was fully aware of it.

Looking at me now I’m clearly very comfortable and unapologetically black but my whole life people have told me things like ‘you’d look so great if you did X, Y, Z’ and I say ‘No thank you I’m good.’It makes me feel like they want to wipe out my identity, like my blackness is standing in the way of me being pretty. 

My African genes are strong and they show up in my face and my skin and I think it’s very important to own that otherwise it’s doing a disservice to my foremothers and forefathers who suffered because they were black. So I think now I have a duty to them to say we lived, we survived, now I’m here and I’m going to step fully into who I am as a black person. Without fear. 

Since when I was little my favourite book is Her Stories by Virginia Hamilton. I’d never seen dark-skinned princesses and mermaids with afros before. I love the book in its entirety. I have one tattoo of one of the characters because out of all them she really stood out to me. She is a very proud and headstrong woman who learns not to judge others. I just loved her demeanour and she was so striking to me.

I’ve also always loved and have such a deep connection and love for snakes. They're so powerful. My mom knew that she was pregnant with me after a snake dream.. My dad got me my first snake when I was six years old. 
I never want to get stuck in my old scales. I just want to keep shedding my skin and evolve, like a snake who is constantly in a state of birth, death and rebirth. I want to die and be reborn as many times as possible. 
It’s taken some time for me to emerge but I’m here in every way and I feel so free.

Wong Siu. Hong Kong

In 1948 at the age of 18 I left China to come to Hong Kong. I have been in Soho ever since.It was hard to find a job back then and I got to sell vegetables. I have done this all my life.I used to know everyone who lived in Soho.I

t has got more busy and I don’t know everyone anymore. But I still know some of the people who have lived on this street for nearly as long as me. When I first arrived I had to find $30 to guarantee me so I could live in Hong Kong.

It was very hard to find that money but I worked hard and found it. I married my husband soon after but he got very sick for 14 years and I had to raise my 7 children on my own. Life was very hard. We lived in a very small apartment but we all got by and we always ate food. I live alone renting on this street.

 I’m 87 years old, I never wear makeup or put cream on my face. I’m natural.The most important thing to me is that I can eat, walk and sleep everyday.I’m Siu and my name means ‘smile’. I have no sickness or pain and I am lucky.