'I wanted to be as fit and strong as I could by the time I faced chemotherapy'

Conventional beauty might get all the airtime, but when it comes to real life, true beauty reveals itself in many ways. No one knows this more than Fionnuala Murray, a breast cancer survivor. Two years ago, Fionnuala was devastated with her diagnosis, but the experience challenged the mother of two's perception of beauty. Taking a proactive approach to her recovery, making the most of the window between surgery and starting chemotherapy the only way she knew how. “I went back to the gym. Everyone thought I was mad, but I wanted to be as fit and strong as I could by the time I faced it. In the end, I felt more mentally prepared too. I had processed what was ahead of me. Working out every day helped me stay in control of who I was as a person.”

How did having breast cancer impact how you feel about your body?

I used to be very critical of my body, but when you hear you have cancer, you visualise what cancer patients look like, you imagine sick and pale-looking people. I had always wanted to stay fit and healthy so it was hard to take in. Losing my hair in the beginning was very hard, but for me, the key was staying physically and mentally strong. That’s why I kept going to the gym. I wanted to feel as strong as I possibly could. I couldn’t always do as much as I’d have liked, but it was about doing something to stay in control of who I was and how I felt.

 

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Photography by Barry McCall

 

What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty is an energy you get from a person. It’s more about when you’re speaking to someone, how you are reacting to them and they react to you. Physical beauty is one thing, but if you’ve nothing inside of you, there’s no beauty there. So for me, it comes from within, from kindness and personality, from what you can offer other people and they can offer you.

What advice do you give to your daughters if they were insecure about their looks growing up?

I always told them to talk to someone different every day. Even if you’re in a coffee shop or something, you never know what someone is going through. I remember going through tough times and a stranger saying something nice and immediately feeling better.

Did having daughters change your perspective on beauty?

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I think we all look at our daughters as extensions of ourselves. At least we try to, but then we see that they are their own personalities and how they look and behave is who they are.

When have you felt most confident or most beautiful?

The most recent time was on my eldest daughter’s wedding day last January. She was marrying the love of her life and everyone was in good form. When I was sick, I worried that I’d start to feel and look old, but that morning, from the moment we got up, the energy was amazing. I loved getting my hair and make-up done, and felt strong and beautiful.

Do you believe in embracing individualism?

Absolutely. What’s right for me, is not right for the next person. What I wear is not the next person should wear. I used to work in Brown Thomas and people would come in and I’d need to know their personality before I could dress them. I’d need to know if they were bubbly or quiet, or whatever. Once you know that, you can dress them. You don’t put a fitted dress on someone who is free and fun.

As leading advocates for real beauty with a rich history diversifying the images of women portrayed in commercial media, Dove’s latest campaign is an empowering call to shatter unrealistic beauty standards. IMAGE recruited Irish women as part of Dove's project #ShowUs which is doing the important work of filling the gaps between how beauty has been depicted for generations. With the goal of true inclusivity in mind, we can finally begin to expand society’s definition of beauty.

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