We talk to Rachel Peru who has become a successful, in demand model in her 40s! Let’s hear it for older women!
What made you decide to do what you do?
After years of drifting from various retail jobs without a career goal I began working as a nursery school teacher aged 39 and went back to university to do a degree in Early Years Education studies which I loved. Unfortunately my eldest daughter became ill so I had to stop working for a while which really knocked my confidence. During that time I took part in local fashion shows for MacMillan cancer charity and always came away on a real high from doing it and each year my confidence increased. At the same time as this was happening I woke up one morning and after colouring my grey hair since I was a teenager I decided I wanted to stop and embrace my grey. Something shifted in me then, for the first time in years I felt like I knew myself so I decided to take the plunge and send some photos to a few modelling agencies after being encouragingly told I was photogenic. To my surprise I was offered places with several different agencies across the country and decided to go for it.
Why did you wait until then to do it?
Modelling was never on my radar to be honest, I certainly didn’t have the body confidence to think it was an option , although I have watched every episode of Americas Next Top Model so maybe it was hidden somewhere in my subconscious.
What are hoping to accomplish?
In my first year I worked hard at building up my portfolio and attending lots of castings, which is quite difficult when everything is London based and I live in Yorkshire, but it’s something I have become really passionate about. I am classed as a curve model, I’m a size 14-16 and now signed exclusively with Bridge models in London. So far I have worked alongside curve supermodel Ashley Graham in the Bahamas modelling swimwear, lingerie for Panache, with Davina McCall for Tesco FF Active range and am currently one of the faces of the latest JD Williams ‘I AM’ campaign.
I am aware on paper that a 5’7’’, 34FF, plus size, grey haired, 48 year old model doesn’t get represented as often as they should by the fashion industry but I see that as my challenge instead of a negative and am actively involved in campaigning to change this. I am hoping to become a real spokeswoman for midlife women in the fashion industry.
How did your family and friends react?
I think embracing my grey hair was a catalyst to how my self- confidence has grown which started the ball rolling. When I had modelling agencies saying they would like to represent me that’s was a huge step in me thinking I could make it work and step out of my comfort zone. It’s a domino effect then, once you do one job and realise you didn’t make a complete foul of yourself every job gets easier to believe in myself.
My family have been very supportive. I married Mark in 2014 and he has been so encouraging and positive about it all. I also have three teenagers, Millie (20), Hamish (18) and Nancy (16). They are proud of what I am achieving. Mark was completely understanding when I told him I didn’t want to dye my hair anymore. I actually found an old post that I shared on Facebook recently when I said to friends that I was going to ditch the dye and I think I only got one positive reply, the majority were shouts of horror and don’t do it, you’re too young. Although mostly tongue in cheek, I think it’s very telling of how society, including women, still see grey hair as a negative sign of ageing and something to hide and be ashamed of. That’s why I am a huge fan of groups like The Mutton Club where women really do support each other. I have found that over on Instagram too, you just have to find the right like-minded people.
I’m now exclusive with Bridge models agency in London and they have become real mentors to me and so supportive, it’s a nice feeling to be part of such a positive like-minded team. I think I’ve probably surprised some of my friends but they are all very encouraging and cheering me on.
How has life changed having gone down this path?
My life has changed because I am doing a job I love and every day I wake up I am working on new projects to help my career and improve. I feel like I am in control of the direction I want to go. I travel down to London for castings and can be away for jobs for 3-4 days but when I’m home its normal family life. I have more freedom in my spare time but I am always busy on social media, working on my portfolio and I am really enjoying tapping in to my creative side. I can have a really busy month followed by several weeks of no work at all so it’s quite hard to plan ahead. But what I love is being in charge of my own future, I know what I want to work towards and I am passionate about it.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
Believe in yourself and if you are interested in modelling send some basics photos to some reputable agencies. Do your research and find models that fit with you. Don’t fear rejection. The job is full of rejection and you have to have a thick skin. I do think as an older model this is easier, I don’t take it personally as I know it’s about finding the right fit for the job. Don’t start with any expectations and go with the flow.
What are you proud of and what keeps you inspired?
I’m always going to say I’m most proud of being a mum to three amazing children and I’d like to think I’m a positive role model to show them that they can follow their dreams and that life isn’t set on one track, it can be changed at any age.
I also know how anxious and nervous I get about the jobs, particularly when I first started out, mostly because I want to do the best I can and am still doubting my abilities but that’s what has made me proud of myself. The fact that I am not letting that fear stop me from pursuing things. I have discovered so many great books that I keep rereading to help me move forward, one of my favourites being Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
The liberation that comes with it, I’ve slowly started to stop worrying about what others think and make my own rules. I am constantly surprising myself and it’s liberating, I look back at how shy and lacking in self-confidence I was when I was younger and feel like it stopped me from trying so many things. I think I’ve found my voice now and am making the most of everything by saying yes and figuring it all out afterwards!
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
I’m 48 and confess being peri-menopausal was a bit of a curve ball to deal with. You do wake up one morning and feel like you are in someone else’s body! Why aren’t we told more about this when we’re younger? I’m on HRT now and have slowly started to calm my symptoms down, I’ve also started jogging which has helped. Apart from that I love my age and am looking at 50 fast approaching as a positive. I am just getting in to my stride.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
That it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what direction or career you want right now. Everything you do will be part of the journey and you learn something from it. That I am enough as I am and I don’t need to try and change for anyone to fit in.
What are the most important business and or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
To trust my gut instincts and be open minded to all possibilities.
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any?
Just do it! I am very open minded to life, I am very much a say yes and figure it out later person now.
Which women do you admire and why?
This is a hard one. I get inspired by so many women every day.
Friendship wise I really admire Jo Moseley (HealthyHappy50) because I have followed her journey and I can see how far she has come and she is so motivating.
Career wise I really admire model Ashley Graham as she has already broken down so many barriers in the curve industry and working with her was an absolute pleasure and a pure pinch myself moment. She’s really used her brains and voice in her position in the industry to make changes.
I love Helen Mirren. I think she is a perfect role model for positive ageing and she can still rock any look with style.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
I do get a lot of people questioning my size and why I am classed as a curve model. I am a size 14-16 with a 34G bra size but I know I carry my weight well in proportion so people seem to think I’m smaller and that I’m lying which can be annoying. I have nothing to hide about my body!’
I also get asked so many times about what colour dye I use on my hair because they don’t think it’s natural.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
I have a website with a blog www.rachelperumodel.com.
I’ve also launched a fortnightly podcast called Out Of The Bubble where you can hear from inspiring women over 40 who are embracing life and leaving a trail of inspiration along the way, available on Anchor and Apple podcast.