MIA: Leather hotpants and cystitis. Behind the scenes of this shoot.


“Hello Mia, nice to see you. If you’d like to step this way, you’ll see your comfort zone over there on that couch covered in rainbows. Yes, I know it’s far away isn’t it? Squint and stand on one leg and tip your head sideways and you might be able to make it out way off in the distance. Now, follow me over here and see that rocket ship? We’d like you to jump into it so we can blast you into outer space.”

That slightly tortured metaphor is an accurate description of what it recently took to get me from this:

to this:

Shall I take you on my journey? Because, my friends, it was an epic journey and it started on a toilet.

Wait, before that. Let me rewind a bit further. A couple of months ago the first issue of a new magazine came out and I sat up and took notice. The founder / editor / publisher / creator / svengali of Renegade Collective is Lisa Messenger. Who happened to be my best friend when I was 12.

We’d lost touch since leaving school twenty years ago and it wasn’t until she launched the mag that our paths crossed again.

I had been blown away by what she’d done with this new magazine which she says is about “Game changers, thought leaders, rule breakers and style makers”. I thought there was a real freshness and unexpected gutsiness to the idea of swimming against the glossy tide and producing something that looked at what women (and some men) were doing with their lives and careers. So when we caught up for a cup of tea and Lisa asked me to be on the cover, I was surprised. And a bit torn, frankly.

Two reasons.

My position on re-touching is well known. And I loathe having my photo taken. Going to shoots was always my least favourite part of being a magazine editor. Not much happens. It’s boring. If you’re the person being photographed, there are endless hours you must spend sitting quietly while your hair and make-up is done and then you have to try on endless outfits until the stylist and everyone else is happy with the way you look. There is a huge amount of poking and prodding and adjusting and WAITING AROUND. You get touched a lot.

My impatience and short concentration span are legendary among those I work with. And I find being the centre of attention in that way, excruciating.

If you’re not the one being shot, there’s a lot of standing around waiting for the model to be ready, for her skirt to be adjusted, the wispy bit in her hair sprayed again, her lipstick reapplied, her shiny forehead powdered, the photographer to adjust the lighting…and on and on and on until you stick a fork in your eye or 100 years pass, whichever comes first.


So I knew that deciding to do the cover would involve all of this as well as a very large bowl of Relingquishing Control. Was I prepared to abandon myself to the experience and allow the Collective team to create the cover they wanted?

I decided that yes, yes I was prepared to do it, so long as the images weren’t retouched. Lisa agreed to that immediately and the next thing I knew, I received a very detailed brief with many, many visual references so I could get my head around the look they had in mind. “The thing with our covers is that we always want to flip the way someone is usually portrayed and make them look totally different.”

For example, this is how workout gear queen Lorna Jane Clarkson usually looks:

Lorna Jane.

And this is how Lisa shot her for the first issue of Collective:

So I knew what I was getting myself into. Still, I blinked a few times when the references arrived for the shoot and they looked like this:


Immediately, I relaxed and became tense at the same time.  The clothes, the look, the hair, the make-up….they were all far more sexy than I normally dress, a style I like to affectionately refer to as ‘Rainbow Vomit’. But what reassured me was how well thought-out the whole thing was. So much planning, creativity and effort was clearly going in to the concept that I decided I would just jump on the train and do what I was told.

Like dress ups. A costume.

I was issued with strict instructions for the day of the shoot which included arriving with clean hair and face – no make-up, no hair product. And to bring a selection of nude and black underwear and bras.

What nobody suggested was that I bring antibiotics to treat the urinary tract infection I woke up with because nothing says sexy and glamorous like feeling as if there’s a hot, barbed skewer being shoved up your wee hole (that’s a technical term, look it up). I WISH THEY HAD SUGGESTED THAT ON THE CALL SHEET.

So I turned up at the studio at 9am last month, dressed for comfort and lugging a bagful of fat-sucking undergarments that I own and yet rarely wear.


Time for hair and make-up.

An hour or so later I was ready to climb into my tricky underwear and surrender to stylist Lydia who dressed me in all manner of tight, short and see-through situations.

Lisa wanted to shoot the cover first because once that was ticked off, everyone could breathe a little easier. Except me because I was still wearing my fat-sucking underwear.

TANGENT: For those who are limbering up their fingers to write comments about how ‘disappointed’ they are that a body image advocate would be endorsing fat sucking undies instead of loving my body and letting it all hang out, I say this: to me, fat sucking undies are the equivalent of make-up. Both are ways to slightly amend the way you look without having to do anything drastic or permanent. When I’m being photographed or when I go on TV, I sometimes prefer not to have to tuck my tummy into my pants. It’s expanded three times to make babies and I’m totally fine with that but in the same way it’s nice to wear make-up and have my hair look nice before I have to go in front of a camera.

No, I do not hate my body. Yes, I am vain. There’s a difference. You can be perfectly happy with the way you look but still be vain. I draw the line at anything that makes me look permanently and impossibly different – like Photoshop. But things like high heels, push up bras, control undies, makeup, hair dye, hair removal….I’m good with all of that. Every woman has a different line and for most of us, that line will change as our faces and bodies do. Right now, that’s mine.

OK, where was I? That’s right. On the floor picking my high-waisted leather hotpants out of my bottom:

This is where I’m desperate to convey to you just how surreal it is to be a model – even if only for a few hours. It’s a wonder more models aren’t sitting in the foetal position in all the corners of the world, rocking back and forth and waiting for their close ups.

After about half an hour of trying to make this outfit and position work, the entire crew crowded around the monitor to asses the shots, murmuring quietly and looking very concerned while trying to reassure me. I was invited to come and look but I politely declined. I never like to look at the monitor during shoots. It messes with your head. I’d rather leave it to others and trust their judgement.

Because let’s be crystal clear, it is judgement. When you are having your photo taken, it’s purely about how you look. Nobody cares if you’re a nice person. Nobody is thinking about who you are or what you do. Not to say they’re not lovely, caring people. They are! Not just on this shoot but on every shoot I’ve been involved in. But everyone is there for one single purpose: to get the ‘right’ shot. Which is purely a visual judgement.


The ‘right’  shot doesn’t care about anything other than appearances. So yes, it’s quite surreal to sit on the floor and look up at a bunch of people discussing your image on a monitor. It’s not ideal for one’s self-esteem. Maybe it’s different for Miranda Kerr but I defy anyone not to feel self-conscious or inadequate in the same situation.

This is the view from the floor (yes, my phone was nearby because I’m me):

Except there were about five more people that I couldn’t fit in the frame and they were all looking at me, sitting on the floor, contorted and trying to look sultry while cystitis made merry hell with my urinary tract and I tried to use the power of the force to stop my eyes watering and my leg cramping.

After more consultation around the monitor, everyone agreed the shot was ‘not working’. The sense of disappointment and anxiety was palpable. NO PRESSURE. The stylist, Lydia, scurried off to grab more things from the clothes racks before shepherding me back into the cupboard we’d turned into a makeshift dressing room.

The next outfit involved a push-up bra with some sort of S&M strappy things, a sheer lace shirt and a Gucci necklace along with the stay up stockings which had in-built knee-pads and the studded boots that were 4 sizes too big. Oh, and the hot pants. What you can’t really see is my flesh-coloured control undies that finish somewhere under my boobs.

We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

This look would eventually become the cover.

After that, things went a bit faster.

Some of the shots just didn’t work and never made it into the mag. Like this one:

And this one:

Clown shoes aside (loved these but my God they were huge), see how I’m fluffing up my hair? This was an on-going issue throughout the shoot.

Now might be a good time to tell you that hair pieces are almost always used on shoots and on TV presenters (even newsreaders) but since we had none at the shoot, we had to improvise to create the ‘sexy, tousled, messy’ look the creative team envisaged.


Here is how my sexy hair looked from the back:

You totally want to do me now, right? At other points in the shoot, wearing various outfits, I had bulldog clips all down my back to create a better fit or I had zips open or shoes that didn’t fit and enough hairspray to create a new hole in the Ozone layer. I was also wearing some individual false lashes and a LOT of make-up.

I tell you all this not because I have a problem with it. Dress ups can be fun. Looking different can be like having a brief holiday from your normal life. But it’s important to be honest about what goes on behind the scenes to create those images you see. And it’s also important to tell you that while it LOOKS glamorous and sexy, every so often I would bolt to the toilet and try not to cry while counting down how long it would be before I could stuff my face with antibiotics. Because when I get cystitis, it comes on so bad and so fast that nothing else will do.

By 1pm we were done and I sat down for the interview part, back in my comfy clothes, trying to yank out the fake eyelashes that looked like little spiders and sipping a comforting cup of tea while curled up on a chair.

A lot of talented people went to a lot of trouble and worked really hard and thought really carefully to come up with the shots that eventually appeared in the magazine and it was something I’m proud to have done.

Here I am with Lisa Messenger, founder and editor of Collective and brains trust behind the shoot:

When I showed my 15yo the shots, he said, “Whose body did they put your head on?”

I had to laugh.

Here are some more behind the scenes shots – any questions you may have about Collective or the shoot, please leave in comments and I will answer them over the next few days (so check back).

[For those who have been asking, the magazine is available in newsagents, WH Smith stores, travel and airport stores, Virgin and Qantas lounges, Coles Express and Woolworths. Or if you want to read on your tablet, you can download via the Magshop App or Zinio. Or pop on over to the website here.]