‘I love looking a little quirky’: TV presenter Michelle Ackerley on the power of authentic style | The last taboo

Illustration: Irina Kruglova/Guardian

Michelle Ackerley

I love bright colours, bold prints and being experimental with my style, but it hasn’t always been that way. As a teenager, I often felt insecure about my appearance, so I was happy to fade into the background. You’d have found 15-year-old me in black trousers, a plain crop top and trainers so chunky they made my calves ache.

I grew up in a white, middle class part of Cheshire; nobody really looked like me or had hair like mine. I spent a lot of time questioning my identity and what was deemed “attractive”. That meant I didn’t always feel comfortable, so I was reluctant to push the boundaries when it came to fashion.

But as I’ve got to know myself better, learned more about my heritage and become happy with who I am, my love of colourful clothes has flourished. I’m like a magpie – if something’s bright and loud, I want to give it a try. I have my Ghanaian grandfather to thank for that. He was the sharpest dresser, with a huge collection of vibrant shirts. He passed his sense of style on to my mum, who is really creative. I have many happy memories of sitting with her at the kitchen table while she was busy on her sewing machine.

Every morning, mum would appear wearing a completely different look from the day before – some days she’d be in a sleek trouser suit, the next day in an oversized dress, sometimes in a turban, often with bright red lipstick. That really excited me and showed me that you could essentially become a different person every day, according to your clothes.

Watching her made me realise that what you wear is an extension of who you are and how you’re feeling. It also taught me that clothes have the power to enhance and even transform your wellbeing.

So each morning – even if I’m not working – I’ll ask myself, what shall I wear that is going to help me feel good? And the answer is usually something colourful, like my bubblegum-pink jacket. I love it because I can tone it up or down (I have the matching trousers!) and every time I slip it on, it really boosts my mood.

Clothes are anything but functional for me. Mum taught me to sew, and we loved scouring vintage and charity shops together for clothes we could customise. Giving things a distinctive twist is now very much part of my approach to fashion. I love being playful with my outfits, whether that’s adding a colourful lightning bolt to a jacket or choosing a matching headscarf to wrap around my braids. I find that adding a little quirkiness can perk me up and improve my day.

If you look in the mirror and make yourself smile, I think it sends a message to your brain that says: “You can do this. Let’s go!” In that sense, putting together an outfit can be like pulling on a suit of armour – it helps you feel ready for whatever comes your way.

A lot has changed for the better but even now, in the television industry, someone might question my hair or the way I look because, to them, it’s unconventional. In those moments, sticking to my own authentic style helps me feel positive. We all have insecurities that can hold us back – and whether it’s body image or bladder weakness, the best thing you can do is be kind to yourself and be open about how you’re feeling. A good friend has suffered with incontinence since she became a mum and we’ve talked a lot about how it shouldn’t be taboo and it certainly shouldn’t stop her from wearing whatever she wants – with the right liners, pads and underwear, your style doesn’t have to change.

Feeling secure and confident in myself is a work in progress. I’d like to think that as I get older and more challenges come my way, I’ll be open about them. But having the courage to speak up depends on feeling secure. For me, making an effort with how I dress is key to that.

With bladder weakness affecting one in three women over 35, it’s time to overcome the taboos around incontinence. TENA aims to help women feel sexy, confident and able to wear what they like. Find out more at tena.co.uk/women

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