I nervously came out from behind the changing screen in a too-small-for-me outfit, and 10 glamorous executives all stared at me and started gabbling away to each other in French.
I just wanted the ground to swallow me up whole.
This was back in March, and probably a low point for me in terms of my confidence and self-esteem. The smiling, confident woman with the glorious red tresses you see in the L’Oréal (Olia by Garnier) hair colourant TV advert is not the same person that was inside me that week.
That moment when I came out from the changing screen was the first time I felt utterly out of my depth – and incredibly vulnerable – during my blogging career. I honestly wondered why I was there. Imposter syndrome had well and truly kicked in.
Disclosure: The TV ad was a paid partnership with L’Oréal but this post is not part of it (all opinions are my own and not the views of L’Oréal). This blog uses affiliate links at no cost to you. Full disclosure
Here’s the ad in case you haven’t seen it…
It’s hard to believe that the woman in that advert felt like she didn’t belong, right? That she felt that they’d got the wrong person FOR SURE, that those stunning French executives were going to take one look at her in that ill-fitting outfit and think, Why on earth did we ask this frumpy, middle-aged woman to be in a national TV advert…?
How I got the L’Oréal gig
To start back at the beginning… several people have asked me how the whole TV advert thing came about. To be honest it’s really straightforward: they just emailed and asked me – it was that simple. I must have been on their mailing list/list of potential bloggers to work with already, as I had been asked to take part in the event that launched the Olia hair colourant a couple of years previously. Just a lunch with other bloggers, no video/TV coverage or anything like that.
But that offer was retracted at the last minute, and I never knew why. So from the beginning, and despite my excitement when the offer came through, I was already thinking, This isn’t going to happen, they’re going to withdraw the offer any minute, there’s no way I’ll REALLY be filming in Prague and end up being in an ad on TV.
I was wrong. It DID happen, we DID film it, and it DID end up on TV. And even more than that, I ended up not sharing an advert with the three other girls who’d been chosen to be in the ad, but L’Oréal made an ad featuring just me – the first time they’d ever featured only one person in an Olia ad.
Of course at the time I didn’t know that would happen. Even during filming I thought that I might get left on the cutting room floor, in the same way I was the only model (I say “model” with a huge pinch of salt) whose images weren’t used in a campaign for a hairdressing chain. I’m sure being left out happens to models and actors all the time, but modelling isn’t what I do – it’s a small part of what I do. So that sort of rejection doesn’t happen on a daily basis in the same way, and it does hurt a bit.
It makes you ask the question, If you were going to leave me out anyway, why did you ask me to take part? Or was I so rubbish that the footage/images of me were unusable?
Behind the scenes
I must start by saying that EVERYONE involved in the shoot couldn’t have been any nicer or taken better care of me. The feelings of imposter syndrome were 100% down to me, and nothing else. It was my own insecurities and how I felt about myself at the time that dictated my feelings that week.
To give you an outline of how it worked, the whole operation (for me) took almost five full days, including all my travelling time up to London and flying out to Prague. L’Oréal weren’t filming just a UK advert, they were filming the same advert for about 10 European countries, one after the other. It started with us (the UK), then France the next day, with maybe Spain, Italy, Germany, etc. after that. We had one full day of hair (dyeing of course!) and wardrobe, with the next day dedicated to two photo shoots, one video shoot for the advert and one filming social media content.
It’s a huge understatement to say it was intense.
If I were to include ALL the people involved in the whole operation, including models, stylists, PR people, all the L’Oréal execs, drivers, caterers, studio bosses, runners, etc. etc. then I would guess that around 150 people were involved. It was a MASSIVE operation, and although a little overwhelming, it was incredibly exciting.
We stayed in a stunning boutique hotel. Everything was taken care of for us, from a bouquet of flowers in our rooms to dedicated drivers taking us door to door to all the room service we wanted. We were treated incredibly well, and at no point did anyone make me feel out of place, or like I shouldn’t be there. In other words, no individual was responsible for making me feel bad or that I was the wrong person for the job.
I did that all by myself.
Above: Wardrobe constantly adjusting everything. Dig those groovy slippers.
My own insecurities and the low point for me
The first day in the studio was hectic but exciting – my hair was dyed the bright copper shade I still have today (yep I still use the exact same hair colourant!), I had my nails done, I chatted to the (incredibly motivational and upbeat) director about what to expect during filming the next day – and off to wardrobe I went.
This was when I started getting uncomfortable. It was all down to my appearance and how I felt about it.
Earlier this year I’d hit the heaviest weight I’d been in my life ever, and by a very long way. Although I’d do it all again for him in a heartbeat, Riley was probably getting doggy dementia and basically just couldn’t go through the night without weeing every 1-2 hours or barking for us. So one or the other of us would sleep downstairs with him every night, and we were too tired to exercise the next day or even cook properly for ourselves. He only plodded on his (getting shorter by the day) dog walks so they certainly didn’t keep us fit.
So many, many months of no exercise, no sleep and too many beers and pizzas had taken their toll on my weight. I could no longer fit into the bigger clothes I’d bought last year due to my regular clothes being too small. I’d increased by 2-3 dress sizes and really didn’t like what I saw in the mirror BUT more importantly, I was incredibly unfit and my (our) health was starting to really worry me.
Therefore, when I went off to wardrobe and tried on that first outfit, I could see that I was bulging out of both the top and trousers – I’d probably gone up a size since I told them what my dress size was during the initial negotiations. I didn’t need a mirror to see that it looked DREADFUL on me.
You know when you’re in a changing room and you try on something that looks terrible and doesn’t even fit, but your other half/best friend/sister/mum is waiting patiently outside for you to come out and show them? And you put your other clothes back on because THERE’S NO WAY I’M GOING OUT IN THIS OUTFIT TO SHOW THEM (AND HALF THE SHOP AS WELL?)
Imagine that happening, but you HAVE to come out of the changing room. You HAVE to show a room full of stylists, PR people and the most beautiful, glamorous, French female executives from the biggest beauty brand in the world what you look like in that outfit. Lots of red lips, long dark hair and slender figures were staring right at me and my unfit, middle-aged body in a too-tight outfit.
(Now I look back I’m sure they weren’t THAT glamorous and they weren’t THAT model-like, but at the time it seemed like they should have been the ones in the advert, not me.)
And that was when something inside me snapped – I just wanted to run away. Having A-level-standard French, I could understand odd words in their gabbling to each other but not enough to get the gist of the conversation. For example, I heard “malheureusement…” – What do they mean, unfortunately? Unfortunately/regrettably WHAT?! At that moment I wished I didn’t know any French whatsoever as me catching the odd word here and there wasn’t helping.
Thankfully we did eventually find something that fit, though I wasn’t overly happy about the choice of outfit. It was just the best of what actually fit me. I was even asked if I’d brought anything that might work, but they required neutral colours and a plain neckline – I hadn’t brought anything but pattern and colour with me. I had the perfect dress at home, but of course it didn’t occur to me that they might want me in my own clothes so at home it stayed.
It then didn’t help my self-esteem to see the three other girls looking amazing in three gorgeous outfits. All in all, it wasn’t a good day in terms of how I felt about myself.
And this is the rub: I went back to the hotel that evening and cried. I had to get it out of my system because the next day was filming day, and there was no way I could let my own insecurities affect my performance in front of the camera.
I didn’t tell/call Keith (I didn’t want him to worry seeing as he wasn’t there with me and couldn’t give me a hug). Instead, I WhatsApped my girlfriends for some moral support and to explain how I was feeling. I said that I felt like I was the biggest fraud. That I was wondering why on earth they picked me when – in my eyes – I basically looked the worst I’ve ever looked.
I was feeling imposter syndrome to the nth degree. But (and this is why they’re my closest female friends) they rallied round and gave me the boost I needed. They told me that L’Oréal wouldn’t have picked me if any of what I was feeling about being frumpy and middle aged was true.
And before I went to bed I did pull myself together and thought, Right, you have to own this. There’s no getting out of it, too many people (and a very large production) are relying on you. You DO belong, you have GREAT hair(!), you CAN be natural in front of the camera because you’ve done this many times before. Get out there and fake that confidence.
And that’s what I did.
Above: the photo shoot before the video shoot. We all wore black for the photos, this is not the outfit I was referring to before.
Overcoming imposter syndrome
The next day we started very early. Straight into hair and makeup, which took an absolute AGE… it’s for a hair colourant advert, so you can imagine how long they spent on my hair. I must have had about eight people standing around discussing/looking at/styling my hair at one point.
Once my hair and makeup was done and I was dressed (all of us wore all-black for the photo shoot, the advert filming had us all in different outfits), I felt a whole lot better. Still nervous, yes, but it was good that I had a night’s sleep in between my crazy feelings of being an imposter and the actual shooting.
There was a lot of sitting around in between the two different photo shoots and the video shoot. As before, everyone took very good care of me (us) and I had time to read my book and catch up on social. The studio had its own café/restaurant where you could get whatever you liked at any time. I kept being called back into hair and makeup in between shoots to keep me looking fresh.
I was the last to shoot the video (TV ad) and by that point I felt pretty good. The photo shoots seemed to go well, and despite being in the most enormous studio with the most enormous lights all around me and the most enormous number of people behind the lights (that I couldn’t even see), I think I delivered what I had to say pretty confidently. It took an enormous amount of smiling and suppressing the nagging feelings of doubt inside me to get through it, but get through it I did.
I realised I must have done okay because I got a lovely round of applause from the crew when we wrapped (how much does that make me sound like I think I’m Meryl Streep or something) – though I’m sure the other girls got the same too – and that was it. Straight back to the hotel (it was late), room service ordered, a bath and bed. A few hours the next morning for sightseeing before catching our plane back to London, and it was all over.
What gave me a bit of boost at the end of the filming was the fact that not only my PR contact told me I did really well, but the L’Oréal brand manager spoke to me and said he was super impressed and that I was a natural in front of the camera.
Now I’m NOT saying this to boast – far from it! – it’s to explain that despite what you think about yourself, if you’re trying your hardest then others are invariably impressed with you. And that all those feelings of imposter syndrome are a waste of time.
What everyone else saw on the monitor during filming.
It’s one of those situations where no matter WHAT anyone tells you about how you look, you will always have a subjective point of view. And everyone else has an objective point of view about you. No one can tell you how you SHOULD feel – others can help you sway your opinion, but being told you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way doesn’t help. The way I feel about how I look is all down to me and the pressures I put on myself.
I don’t compare how I look to other people. I compare how I look to how I look when I’m at my healthiest and happiest, because that is my healthy weight. That is me at my fittest. The extra weight I’d been carrying represented my unhealthy lifestyle, and that is what gets me so down. It represents a future life of health problems, extreme tiredness and lethargy, plus more and more frequent headaches, all of which I’d been suffering for quite a while.
(But that’s a subject for another time. Please understand I’m not looking for compliments, I’m just explaining what goes on in my head.)
In the end, it’s the results that speak for themselves. Seeing how I looked on the monitor (above) made me realise that I didn’t actually look all that bad… my hair was pretty incredible (HOW was that my hair?!), and of course you’re only filmed from the chest up. Even if I HAD worn trousers that were too small no one would have seen them anyway.
I got a lot of praise from someone that mattered (the UK brand manager) as well as many others. And finally, the fact that they dedicated one whole advert to just my story – apart from being quite astonishing – goes to show that I must have been the right person for the job after all. When the final ad came out I actually loved (yes, LOVED!) the next-to-last shot when I’m smiling and looking up.
When I got home from Prague, I made a pact with myself that I mustn’t ever feel like that again. I embarked on a healthier lifestyle (as much as we could considering we still had our beloved Riley till the end of June) and I’m starting to see results at last. Even if life does throw something at me again that hampers my effort to stay on top of a healthy lifestyle, I know now that my appearance does not affect my ability or suitability to do something.
If L’Oréal were impressed with me when I was at my lowest level of self-esteem, then I should never let those feelings of imposter syndrome creep in ever again. If someone wants you at a particular place to do a particular thing, you ARE the right person for the job.
Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome – what was the situation and how did you overcome it? Do tell us in the comments!