The influencers flaunting their ‘real’ bodies


THREE out of four Australians wish they could change the way they look - but not these women.

While they openly describe their relationship with their bodies in the past as one of love-hate, these seven body-confident women have all found a way to embrace their imperfections and feel happy in their skin.

Karen Mangelsdorf, 51, a grandmother of eight, says she has found that age has brought not only wisdom but acceptance. She's proud of her body that created and carried four children.

"I have reached a stage that I don't care what other people think about my body any more,'' Mangelsdorf tells U on Sunday.

"Are there things I would like to change? Yes there are, but that doesn't change how I feel about it; it's my body and I love it.''

Social media comes under a lot of criticism for reinforcing negative body stereotypes, but Mangelsdorf says, for her, sites like Instagram have helped her "get over a lot of body hang-ups".


Karen Mangelsdorf. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Karen Mangelsdorf. Picture: Mark Cranitch

"I want to empower other women, of all shapes and sizes, to get out there and enjoy life, because there is no such thing as the perfect body,'' she says.

"If I can encourage one woman to be bold and get out there in her swimwear and have fun with her kids and grandkids on the beach, that will make me happy."

Mangelsdorf, along with myself and five other women - aged 25 to 51 - willingly posed for U on Sunday in our swimsuits for today's photographs in an effort to help change the way women think about their bodies.

During the photo shoot, we chatted, laughed and shared our feelings about our bodies, which come in different shapes, sizes, ethnicities and abilities.

Bonnie Vanderboon became an accidental lingerie blogger when she started hunting for lingerie and swimwear for her curvy figure.

The 30-year-old mother of two, who recently gave birth to daughter Addison, struggled to find comfortable underwear that fit.

Bonnie Vanderboon. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Bonnie Vanderboon. Picture: Mark Cranitch

"Growing up, I was a 10H in the bust and I was buying bras that were 18F and cutting the backs off them to make them smaller. I thought that was my only option," Vanderboon says.

So when she found a Brisbane store specialising in lingerie and swimwear for curvy and plus-size women three years ago, she began posting photos of her finds online.

"Originally I did it anonymously because it was just about the product, but then it became part of my life, and my face is part of my life, so it seemed strange to hide it,'' she says. "Besides, I'm proud of what I do. I love what I do."

Unfortunately, Vanderboon's body confidence is not the norm among many women today.

Recent findings from the Butterfly Foundation's 2019 Insights in Body Esteemsurvey of more than 5000 Australians revealed almost half feel dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their appearance.

More than half also admit to rarely or never speaking positively about their appearance.

Despite the positive experience of the women we spoke to who use social media, the foundation's chief executive, Kevin Barrow, says the online platforms have played a part in raising levels of dissatisfaction and shaping how young people view their bodies.

Brooke Falvey. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Brooke Falvey. Picture: Mark Cranitch

"Women in particular are often faced with airbrushed images and other representations of 'perfection' online, and as a result, they often try to reach beauty and body ideals that do not exist in the real world," Barrow says.

"We must change the way we speak to ourselves and others when it comes to body image.

"It's important we set an example of body confidence for our younger generations and give them something powerful to emulate.''

In the past I was never one to strip down to my bathers without trying to strategically place an arm here or a hand there to hide myself, because I didn't have a firm torso or toned thighs like the models in my favourite magazines.

Looking back, it had a detrimental effect on my life at the time; instead of enjoying the moment, I would be overthinking, worrying and criticising myself. Which is why I now make a conscious effort to share photographs of myself in my swimwear - because somewhere there may be a young woman who feels the way I did, and I want her to know that her body is normal and beautiful.

Summer McInerney. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Summer McInerney. Picture: Mark Cranitch

Former model Summer McInerney, 26, says she has found looking in the mirror hard following the birth of her daughter, Seaura, in February. Yet she knows the importance of being a strong body-confident role model for Seaura.

"I think I appreciate my body more now than I used to, but looking at myself is hard, and I'm a stranger to my wardrobe because nothing fits," McInerney says.

"But I've created a life and now I'm working to feel good about myself again. It's about my mindset more than anything else; if I get up and go to the gym every day and eat healthy, then I feel good about myself.

"I want to teach Seaura to love herself no matter what skin you're in; although I've changed a lot of my skin (through my tattoos), but that just kind of happened, it wasn't a plan. I want her to grow up loving herself, and if I can teach her that, it will be the best thing ever."

Fellow young mum Rosine Kasuku, 26, says she has also had to learn how to be confident in her curves - and swimwear.

"I have gone on diet after diet in the hope of changing what my body looks like - to have that perfect shape and booty - but once I realised that perfection is imperfection, the world seemed a lot better," the mother-of-four says.

Rosine Kasuku. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Rosine Kasuku. Picture: Mark Cranitch

"I would never have done this five years ago, but loving and accepting one's body is all about the mind and your emotions."

For author and speaker Lisa Cox, 39, body positivity is about loving her body for what it can do, rather than focusing on what it can't.

Cox was 24 when she contracted an infection that caused her to have a stroke. The medication required to help her recover damaged her left leg, toes and fingertips, which all had to be amputated.

"It would be easy for me to dislike all my scars, but I'm proud of each one,'' Cox says. "They represent battles with illness that I've fought and won.

"When I was in a coma, all of my organs shut down and every cell in my body died, so I've literally rebuilt my body from the cells up.

"The human body is amazing."

When we met 25-year-old Christine Larbi-Bram, the first thing we noticed was her big, beaming smile.

Lisa Cox. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Lisa Cox. Picture: Mark Cranitch

But it's her nose that got unwanted - and unnecessary - attention growing up.

"My parents would tell me to hold the top (around the bone) narrower so my nose would get slimmer in shape,'' Larbi-Bram says.

"I honestly don't believe people had bad intentions in saying that, but it just made me hate my nose a bit more because it felt out of place.

"We were also told to cover up, not show too much leg, were reprimanded for skirts too short and tops too low-cut.''

She says she's learnt with time to feel confident in her skin.

"Five years ago I would not have dreamt of being in any swimwear on camera, but I think that shift has been in my personality and being open to try new things,'' she says.

"How we see our body and how we feel about our body starts in the mind, and if we can learn to change the narratives we speak to ourselves, we can change the conversations we have about our bodies."

Butterfly Foundation Helpline: 1800 334 673

Christine Larbi-Bram. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Christine Larbi-Bram. Picture: Mark Cranitch


* Over 40 per cent of people are dissatisfied with their appearance.

* An overwhelming 73 per cent of people wish they could change the way they look.

* Two-thirds of people remember being bullied or teased for their appearance at some stage in their life.

* 41.5 per cent of people most of the time or always compare themselves to others on social media.

* 53.6 per cent of people rarely or never speak positively about their appearance.

Source: The Butterly Foundation's Insights in Body Esteem report

Let’s hear it for women being comfortable in their own skin! Picture: Mark Cranitch
Let’s hear it for women being comfortable in their own skin! Picture: Mark Cranitch