Welcome to the final part of this 3 part interview with Carol Hanson, CEO of Want Her Dress fashion website.
In this exclusive interview series, part 1 covered her childhood, background and current career path; part 2 covered her work experience in different industries, quitting her first successful business and the balancing act of marriage and entrepreneurship. Now, part 3 will delve more into her personal life, her mission to empower other women and her lasting legacy. I hope you do find something to inspire you from her words.
S: You said you work with students in colleges, how important is it for you to give back to the community?
C: Simple answer is very! I enjoy the buzz of helping others and am keen to carry on doing this. A few days before my last photo shoot I had a call from a college I’d been doing some work with before Christmas and they wanted to talk to me about a new concept in video marketing. I got it straight away and invited them along to the photoshoot. The result is that we’re going to have some very exciting stuff to share on social media and the website very soon. I can’t wait!
S: What inspired you to create the Women are B.E.ST awards?
C: Women are B.E.S.T came from what I can only describe as my Narnia year! Last year to me was about walking through the wardrobe from the corporate life into this new world of entrepreneurs and yes I’d been there before but it was a whole lot different.
I’d met so many amazing people and in particular women within the industry I’m in, and the women’s groups I tend to focus on for networking. I’d attended many events, been inspired by some fantastic people. I’d also had the chance to speak at events and been told that my own story was inspiring and realised that what I’d experienced was probably the tip of the iceberg, so I decided to reach out to give other women the chance to celebrate and champion the women that they admired.
S: You’ve just launched the awards, what was the experience like and what can we look forward to in the future?
C: I felt very humbled by the stories I heard and the energy that flowed from the way that women love to celebrate other women.
There were six categories in the awards and I’m going to be working with the winners of each category on some kind of collaboration. Some of these projects are starting to kick off soon, others will take place over the next few months. I’m very excited!
S: You seem very geared towards women’s causes, has this been influenced by any personal experience?
C: You’re right I am focused on women, as I draw on my own experience and what’s happened in my life.
I suffered from very low self-esteem and a lack of confidence for many years, including when I ran my first business. I covered it with a brash and bold exterior, I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out!
When I was 17 I became anorexic – which further exacerbated my feelings of low self-esteem. For over 20 years I battled with anorexia which is debilitating and consumes your entire life like an addiction.
Being anorexic put me off wanting children for a long time. I didn’t want to be ‘fat’ when I was pregnant, and I was never hugely maternal. When I got to a stage where I could accept that being pregnant wasn’t the same as being fat, we started to try for a family. I couldn’t conceive and we sought help. We tried some basic infertility treatment but it didn’t work and my husband was reluctant to go very far as he didn’t want us to get on to the ‘infertility treadmill’ spending thousands of pounds and going through the trauma. It took some convincing but it was ultimately a joint decision.
However, when I later had some more tests, the doctors found I’d actually had my menopause in my early 20s and not realised it because with the anorexia, my monthly cycle had stopped. I blamed myself for a long time for not being able to conceive as the result of the anorexia, but the medics told me that the two were not related. Have I ever accepted that it was not my fault? Not sure if I’m honest, but we needed to come to terms with the fact that having our own family was not going to happen.
S: It must have taken a lot of courage and strength to finally overcome such an ordeal, what was that period of your life like?
C: In terms of my anorexia, eating was an area I could control, so even if I couldn’t get pregnant I could have control over my weight; so that became a focus. It was about a year after finding out that I’d had my menopause that I started my first business, so I threw myself wholeheartedly into that to create a diversion. I also started to exercise even more than I had been doing to the point of total obsession. I ran every morning, went for a swim and in the evenings I did an aerobic or step class.
That in turn added more pressure to our marriage which was already under strain with the news that we’d never have our own children. I was acting very selfishly trying to demonstrate that it didn’t matter.
All of which created a pressure cooker in our marriage, which imploded before we both realised that we did actually want to make our marriage work and started to come to terms with the fact that we could still live a rich and fulfilled life without children.
It was a difficult time in our lives but when we started pulling in the same direction we got through it and it made our relationship stronger.
S:Did you ever consider adoption?
C: We did, but only briefly. Our desire to have children wasn’t so strong that we wanted to be scrutinised or go through the adoption process.
S: Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for anyone going through something similar?
C: It’s very easy having gone through it and now out the other side, to offer words of wisdom, but I guess the main things I would say are to the person going through the issues:
- When you recognise that what you’re doing to yourself is not ‘normal’ and you want to change, seek help.
- Read as much as you can about eating disorders and the Effects that they can have on your body – teeth, hair, nails, prone to infection, poor circulation, effect on your menstrual cycle and fertilisation and see what you may be doing to your body.
- Focus on your strengths and achievements however small they might be by keeping a list of your achievements other than losing weight or getting into a smaller sized item of clothing. See how your life is not just about your body image.
- Invest in a personal trainer if you can afford it. PTs will be able to help show you how to achieve the body image you’re looking for through safe training and exercise. They can also hold you accountable in terms of diet – whether you’re overeating and can’t stop or are on the other spectrum of anorexia. This will not feel like seeking help in the same way as going to a doctor.
If you’re a family member or someone very close to someone you suspect has an eating disorder, don’t try scare tactics to frighten them into doing something about it. This will very likely drive them to be more devious and conceal what they’re doing – like any addiction deep down the person suffering knows they’re behaving differently but until they come to terms with it and want to get better, they will be in denial. Don’t drive them away from you but build up confidence so that you can gently offer suggestions when they’re ready to accept help. Unless they’re doing something that is life threatening take this approach – you may need to be more radical if they’re endangering their life.
S: How has this experience impacted your present day life? And what will you advise your teenage self now you know better?
C: It’s had an enormous impact on my life. Had I not gone through this then I’m sure I’d have achieved more at an earlier stage of my career, had I not been so fixated on my weight and body image and living up to other people’s ideals.
I think the best advice I could give my teenage self would be, stay true to yourself and not to try to be what other people want you to be.
S: You battled with the eating disorder for a long time, what finally helped you to overcome it?
C: It’s a bit like grief over a loved one – it’s something that time helps to heal. It was a gradual process not a lightbulb moment and I don’t really like seeing photos of myself where I’m conscious I look bigger now.
I’m still very conscious of my weight and figure but in a more healthy way. I get very angry with all the faddy diets that then turn out to be rubbished when they fade out of fashion.
The legacy is that I still exercise a lot and get a kick out of seeing my body more toned and muscular. The downside is that I will work through minor strains and injuries rather than taking a break, so prolong recovery. My physio gets to see a lot of me!
S: You’ve obviously come a long way from the woman that left school at 16 years. What lessons have you learned about life, love, family and business?
C: For me it’s been a journey of discovering my true passions, learning what really makes me tick. Letting go of stuff that doesn’t matter but hanging on tenaciously to the stuff that does! Admit your mistakes, learn from them and move on.
S: Want Her Dress is still in its infant stage, what should we expect from you in the future? And after all is said and done, what would you like your lasting legacy to be?
C: Ultimately I want to leave my mark on the fashion industry. I have several ideas on how I can do this and there may be a few changes in direction as I refine this strategy. I have an idea for my own range of fashion accessories, which is in its infancy at the moment but has potential.
I would like to use Want Her Dress as a way of helping women to establish more confidence. I am on a mission to inspire women to look good and feel good about themselves, which I want to do by ensuring women understand their body shape (only 10% do) and how to dress for their shape. I want women to understand the colours that suit them, help them to feel and look well and glow positively as this will in itself help them to radiate confidence.
I’d also like to be able to help young designers either by launching their career or by mentoring them while they establish themselves.
I have so many ideas that I have that it’s a good job I have a coach who is helping me to refine and get them into a more focused plan!
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Linked in: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/carolahanson