This post is part of my #makingwaves series – intrepid and inspirational women with an uplifting story to tell.
“Why does being a mum mean you can’t feel strong and sexy?” she said, as we walked along Walmer beach, pebbles crunching beneath our feet. “Why does being a mum mean you can’t do something for yourself? It doesn’t mean that at all!”
There is something about fitness and mindset coach Cat Pellow which stops you in your tracks and makes your jaw drop. Yes, it’s the bod – all six-stunning-foot of it – but it’s something else too. Her vibe. Aura. She’s gutsy. Upbeat. Driven. I was somewhat thunderstruck when I met her for the first time, when she swept into her beach shoot wearing a classic maxi dress with her daughter in tow. I’d only lived in Kent for a few months and was very new to photographing my clients by the sea. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding shoots I’d ever done in the whole 13 years of being a photographer. Both mother and daughter were naturals in front of the camera. The bond between them was so evident, and it really came alive on that beach, amongst the wild flowers and within the fierce waves. They laughed, hugged, played and really entered into the spirit of what a beach photoshoot should be. Free. Wild.
However, this confidence which Cat exudes hadn’t always been there. She is open about the bullying she faced in her teenage years, an ordeal which obviously evokes painful memories and yet is the force and fire behind her focus on diet, nutrition and, most importantly, self love.
“I’ll never forget the moment someone shouted, “Fat Cat!” at me across the road,” she told me. “I was 17 and those words, amongst others, had a huge effect on how I acted and how I felt for many years. I tried every single thing going to lose weight and just ended up in a yo-yo dieting mess. It was only when I got to my thirties that I managed to switch my mindset to being healthy; nurturing my body with the foods it needs, the foods I love, and a “diet” that would eventually become a lifestyle. I love using this experience to help women who are going through the same thing. Helping them to shine both physically and mentally is what I live for.”
It was inevitable that Cat and I would strike a synergy. We have values and experiences in common, namely that both our businesses grew from unsettling times in our lives. I’ve spoken frankly about dark days after the birth of my third baby when my confidence and creativity was at rock bottom, and she has also revealed how low she sank during the baby years.
“When I was well over 18 stone and looking after an eight-week old baby, I realised how much I’d lost myself. I didn’t know how to carry myself, how to dress, how to act and, in a sense, I accepted it because I told myself “You’re a mum now”.
“I did too,” I nodded. “I allowed my personality to fade away. I thought that I needed to sacrifice it in order to be a good mum. The reality is, since I’ve started weaving adventure and creativity back into my life again, I’ve been a much better mum. A happier, more giving mum.”
“Exactly!” she agreed. “Looking after yourself and remembering who you are isn’t selfish. It’s the best thing you can do for everyone around you and the most wonderful thing your children can grow up watching. Women should feel amazing. We should feel powerful and if I can contribute to even a small percentage of that then I am happy.”
There’s a fire in Cat’s eyes when she says these words to me. Passion. Energy. Willpower. It’s ingrained in her. You only need to scratch the surface of her Instagram feed to detect it. She blasts her ethos in powerful capital letters, punctuated with the odd F-bomb, in an almost military style. However, there’s depth beneath the noise. Her simple recipes and workout tips are accessible and gratefully received by her avid following of like-minded women. Cat has created a community. A tribe. A bunch of women supporting women. Her Insta is littered with effusive testimonials from women declaring how Cat has helped them change their lives for the better.
I can also credit Cat for shaping my life. During those early days of relocating to Kent and trying to re-establish my business, she made me realise that there were astoundingly adventurous women out there who would trust me, follow me into the ocean and enable me to create something different and dramatic. She was one of the first participants in my #makingwavesproject – a collection of intrepid and inspirational women with uplifting tales to tell – and she reaffirmed the vision I had for The Outdoor Studio I’d managed to get the ball rolling on my new beach niche but Cat gave it a helpful shove for me. My self-belief increased after that shoot on Walmer Beach, as did my determination to track down women like her who would brave wild water with me Take little risks and make huge steps. Share something so deeply ingrained in the female experience. Adventure. Empowerment. Discovery.
“Growth is painful,” Cat told me, as we wrapped up the shoot, the sun seeping into the horizon. “Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as being stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”
“I’ve been there,” I replied, “and I couldn’t agree more.”
Read other tales from intrepid and inspirational mermaids:
The Making Waves Project: “I started photographing women in the sea by
chance when, during a family photo session, the pregnant mum put on a boho dress and stood in the waves. I thought, wow, this is powerful!”
Talking adventure with Girl In A Yellow Jacket: “I came to England because I was looking for adventure. I had £50 in my pocket. No job. I didn’t know anybody at all. It was a crazy thing to do on my own.”
Imogen and the healing power of sea swimming: “You can’t out-run grief. It follows you like a shadow.”
Archie and her sea glass: “My whole life I’ve had these bonkers
adventures. Now I feel as though I’m living. I could never leave the sea.”