Becki Moss uses photography to document her chronic illness. Photo / Becki Moss

Becki Moss On Gaining Agency Through Vulnerability

The photographer and model shares how she navigates wellness while living with chronic illness

Becki Moss has dealt with difficult cards in her young life. The high achiever has her hand in many pots, such as advocating for people with hidden disabilities, photography, modelling for All Is For All and more, all while suffering from chronic illnesses.

Recently, she has been helping ensure people understand the impacts of Covid-19 on disabled and vulnerable communities.

Becki speaks on how she deals with the mountainous issues of everyday life and what motivates her to keep going through wellness and mindfulness, and how that looks different for everybody.

What does wellness look like to you day to day?

I suffer from chronic fatigue and ongoing kidney and endometriosis pain, so incorporating wellness in my daily routine looks a bit different from the average able-bodied millennial. For myself, good sleep hygiene is key, i.e. not working past a certain time, trying to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day despite what I have on and not consuming news past 10pm. I also try to move my body a little bit each day even on days when my mobility or energy levels are low and/or I’m in the midst of a pain flare. This can look like doing gentle stretches, walking around the house, tidying up my space, cooking food — activities that are second nature to many when they are able to do them easily but on hard days can be outright exhausting for myself.

Not all exercise is physical. What exercises do you do to help you find mental clarity?

Breathing exercises or small moments of mindfulness I find are really easy to incorporate into my daily tasks, such as waiting for the kettle to boil or my files to export from Photoshop. I am naturally an information sponge and doom-scroller, so I try to minimise my news intake by listening to the RNZ 5 minute news bulletin rather than spending an hour reading articles. Crochet is a great way for me to rest my busy brain and I love listening to audiobooks or podcasts while crocheting.

Where is your favourite place to exercise or have space to yourself?

I've really enjoyed swimming this summer at Takapuna Beach or Lake Maraetai (where my mum lives), both accessible swimming spots. I've been trying to regain my confidence in the water this summer as I’m a certified scuba diver and an avid snorkeler but my physical health over the last few years has made it hard to swim safely at many beaches.

How do you take care of yourself physically and mentally when taking on the loads of others?

I have an incredible support network around me — my mum and sister, my therapist, my close friends and my flatmates. Having them hold space to listen is invaluable. I also have strong connections with disabled and chronically ill people across Aotearoa through the internet and that is really helpful too.

I've learnt over the years, from being a super-sensitive child, how to navigate the feelings of being overwhelmed by the pain of others and I think my mum should take a lot of credit for teaching me that (as well as reminding me often that I don’t need to shoulder everything). Crying helps. Always.

Through self-portraiture, Becki has learnt to understand her body and its natural beauty. Photo / Becki Moss

Can you tell us about the importance of documenting your struggles, daily life and triumphs through photography?

The importance of documenting my life is two-fold. It's my way of processing events emotionally and mentally and it's also special to look back on the fact that I documented myself growing up and changing for almost 13 years. But it is also about sharing the things that I wished I had seen growing up and trying to help others to feel less alone, as I did. Vulnerability within my work has always been something that has come naturally to me since I first started exploring photography as a way to express the feelings I felt I couldn't say as a 13-year-old.

As I grew older and started working professionally, I was often told to keep my photography separate from my personal life and associated struggles and for a while I heeded that advice, thinking that being vulnerable on top of being a young teenager and then woman photographer would hold me back.

However, I never stopped documenting my journey and realised that there were aspects of my story that were reassuring or important when shared and that my vulnerability could be a strength.

How has your outlook on wellness changed and re-worked in light of covid and its constant stresses?

As someone who grew up chronically ill, I've always had a sceptical view of the wellness industry and its implied and often outright ableism and this scepticism has been further cemented during the Covid pandemic, with the seemingly ever-increasing cross-over between the wellness industry and the anti-vaccine movement.

What is your message for others looking for perspective or resources to cope during this time?

Those of us that are high-risk, immunocompromised and/or disabled are struggling daily with the implied and sometimes overt debates, discussions and articles that say our lives aren’t worthy. This makes it so hard to hang onto our sense of self and belonging in society, especially if we're hiding away from it for our own safety.

I find that keeping people around you (it doesn’t have to be in person) that remind you that you’re important and worthy is crucial at the moment.

I also recommend following people like @morgancedwards and @emilywritesnz on Instagram to break up your feed.

Reading the collaborative zine 'Anti-vaxxers Want Me to Stay Home', edited by Pinky Fang.

Take time to breathe each day, be gentle with yourself as you put your energy into surviving and go outside if you can.

What does your involvement with All Is For All look like?

The incredible Grace Stratton approached me in 2020 about being signed to them as a creative/photographer/speaker after she saw me in the Y25 list (25 women under 25 by the YWCA) and then later in 2021 I signed as a model with them as well. Working with Grace and meeting other members of the AIFA family has been one of my true highlights of the last few years and the work that is being done is so valuable in such an inaccessible world where disabled people are still barely visible.

Last year I photographed a campaign for adult diapers Brolly Sheets/Texi Care alongside AIFA models, got cast in my first (unfortunately cancelled) NZFW show and featured on a digital billboard in the Auckland CBD during lockdown. Ari Kerssens (who is also with the agency) and I were supposed to be hosting a panel discussion about the intersection of the LGBTIQA+ and disability communities as part of Auckland Pride but, due to Omicron, it was postponed (hopefully we can do it later this year). I can’t wait to work and collaborate with All Is For All further.

What is a song or playlist you listen to to feel good?

At the moment it's either the self described "lesbian happy hardcore" Hardcore EP by local electronic music duo Van Staden & Bohm or the album Dive by Tycho.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished listening to the audiobook of The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein, which is, without doubt, one of the best books I've come across in my entire life, but it does come with heavy content warnings.

What is coming up for you in 2022?

I am working on some commissioned long-form stories as well as some long-term personal projects exploring chronic illness that I'm super excited about. But before then I'll be hunkering down out of Auckland with my mum, who lives in the middle of nowhere, until the peak of Omicron has passed (which is a massive privilege) due to most of my work being postponed/cancelled and it becoming less safe for me to be here. I'll be hibernating with my crochet and sewing machine.

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