When Carla Banks was younger, she was homeless. She became a mother at 18 and tried to balance the needs of a toddler with establishing a career for herself. Now, Banks wants to give back to the community and combine her skills in makeup artistry with her passion for social work.
Banks is just one woman involved in Starting Over, an eight-part New Zealand series designed to facilitate change for eight women, giving their lives an overhaul with career assistance and physical makeovers.
Coach Sian Jaquet, style consultant Samantha Hannah and career practitioner Sarah Moyne have been enlisted to share their expertise and help the women reach their full potential.
Don't expect this to be a fluffy, once-over-lightly reality series, says Jaquet, who came on board after understanding the integrity of the show. "If we were seriously going to work with women who were stuck in their lives and had some significant issues, I wasn't prepared to be part of a TV show that went in, made people cry and left in 48 hours," she says. "And when [production company] Top Shelf approached me, the producers were incredibly passionate that this was going to be real . . . they were asking me ‘Can we really do this? Can we really help women change their lives in this time?"'
Hannah agrees. "We had a lot of creative input into what we did with the girls and so it's very, very authentic. What you see is what we did and we worked for genuinely a long time with them. It's just a really amazing, inspiring show and the stories of the women - you can't say no to that."
To begin with, each expert sat down with the women individually to find out what their goals were, what their lifestyle was like, past factors that may have got them stuck in life, and what they wanted from their futures.
Jaquet, who avoids the term "life coach" to describe her work, met the women for the first time when the cameras were rolling, without knowing the background to the women's stories. "The focus of that coaching is the focus of my philosophy of anybody making change in their life: You need to look at what your core values are because if we don't know who we are, we won't be able to make change," she says. "A lot of very real, personal serious life stuff was disclosed. And the women were incredibly brave, that's the other thing I can't say loud enough."
For Hannah, her role was about helping these women feel happier with themselves on the outside to encourage inner change. "As soon as you put a bit of effort into your image and you learn how to put nice makeup on, even if it's not a lot . . . you feel 20 times more confident," says Hannah.
Her first step was to find out what each woman's lifestyle was like and then get into their wardrobes. "Some had ridiculously packed wardrobes - you couldn't even see in there . . . and others had nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing; [they were] wearing their husband's oversized T-shirts and the same jeans every day."
Hannah taught the women about dressing for their body proportions and wearing colours to suit their complexions. "The way I work is I need to bring out your story," she says. "I don't want to be telling you what to do, I want you to discover, with my help, who you are, what you like and who you want to become."
For Carla Banks, whose story is explored in tonight's debut episode, Jaquet and Hannah say they instilled some self-belief in her, reaffirming her goals and helping her follow her dream. "What we needed to do was find a way of her feeling and understanding what her life purpose was - she wanted to put back into the world but she wanted to do it in such a way that empowered her but also created a career path for her," says Jaquet. "I used that - her personal experience - to show her that we don't have to have a degree in business or have gone to Harvard in order to set up a business and what she was doing was putting road blocks in her own way."
Hannah helped Banks navigate shops to get a more professional image. "I just explained to her that if she's planning to be standing up in front of corporates, which is where she wants to end up . . . then she had to have a sense of professionalism," says Hannah. "What you say and what people see have to marry or else they won't believe you."
Jaquet and Hannah are thrilled with the progress the women have made, and say they found working on the series very rewarding.
Says Jaquet: "The best part of my job is knowing that when I see people at their lowest - because very rarely do people come and see me with a big smile on their face and say ‘My life is perfect' - I know in my heart where they're going to get to, and they've got no idea."
Starting Over, Sunday, 7.30pm, Vibe.
- Sunday Star Times
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