Real Life

NZ’s bravest models

Forget stumbling on the catwalk or posing in painful heels – these women and their kids are the most courageous models in New Zealand. Survivors of abuse, they’re standing strong on the catwalk to raise awareness and funds for Taupo Women’s Refuge.

The 12 women and seven children, who all found shelter and new hope through Women’s Refuge, are taking part in a unique fashion show to prove that, no matter how bashed, bruised and belittled they have been, they’re still beautiful.

Fighting back

There was a time when young mum Susie* would never have dreamed that she’d have all eyes on her in admiration. In her violence-filled past, she’d curl into a ball to try and make herself small so there was less of her that could be attacked.

“Sometimes I would try to fight back, but other times I’d curl up and take it,” she says. “The beatings would last for a few minutes. There was also a lot of yelling and I would just put up with it. I would end up crying and withdrawing into myself, hiding from everybody.”

Eventually, Susie (28) confided in close family who gave her the support she needed to seek help from Women’s Refuge. She then became a volunteer for the service, and admits she hadn’t even known about it until she went there as a last resort.

With her four-year-old son Alex*, Susie was happy to take part in the fashion show, which she hopes will demonstrate to other women living with violence that there is a way out.

“It’s better to be alone and happy than with someone and unhappy,” she says. “Why be with a man you can’t trust not to hurt you? You might think you love him, but you don’t have trust in each other.”

She also understands the control that abusive men can have and why women stay with them or return to them.To her, the answer is simple.

“People shouldn’t keep asking, ‘Why don’t you leave?’, they should be asking, ‘Why doesn’t he change?'”

**Names have been changed*

Stepping forward

It’s almost ironic to Ida that she’s walking down a runway with her son Ben at a fashion show – she’s been running from violence for most of her life.

Since her early twenties, Ida (now 54) has had countless black eyes, had her two front teeth knocked out and has even been thrown down stairs while pregnant, resulting in the loss of her unborn baby.

After suffering years of brutality, Ida knows she’s not a stereotypical catwalk model, but she’s finally come to accept that her strength and courage are true beauty.

The mum of five stayed in abusive environments because she didn’t know anything else. She grew up in a household where beatings were part of life, and when she became a mum at just 18, she admits she simply didn’t know how to parent without violence.

“I’d been brought up with it,” she says. “oy father did it to me, so I thought that’s how it was. I decided to stop giving my kids a hiding and talk to them instead.”

Even though that past is behind her and she’s in a non-violent relationship now, she is still haunted by fear.

“It’s like I haven’t stopped running. I keep running all the time. I think there’s a part of me that’s still scared,” she says.

“I’m doing this fashion show because I want women to know they can move on from where they are. I know many stay because the man will threaten to take the kids, and they put up with the abuse, sometimes every night, because tea isn’t properly cooked or something. But we need to break the cycle for our kids. Don’t think violence is okay, because it’s not.”

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