Making her mark on the music industry with boldly feminist lyrics and attitude, Rebecca Lucy Taylor is a multi-award-winning, Mercury Prize-nominated English singer, songwriter, and the shining star of our Valentine’s 2023 campaign. Her stage name Self Esteem is inspired by her journey towards self-love and acceptance – something that lies at the heart of her unapologetically honest songs about relationships, frustrations and insecurities.
Bluebella founder and huge Self Esteem fan Emily Bendell sat down with Rebecca to discuss all the things that make her the perfect match for the Prioritise Pleasure campaign.
Emily: How does it feel to finally be blowing up? Is it a “pinch me” moment or are you thinking it’s about time everyone realised how fabulous you are?
Self Esteem: I love it, and I'm so happy. I don't feel like “pinch me”, I feel like yeah, hello! I have to rein it in a bit, but it feels like I'm just getting started. There is that part of me that wishes this happened to me when I was 21, but I know it’s because the society’s conditioned us to think that women should only be doing this when they are young. So whenever I think that I just remind myself it’s the patriarchy talking.
E: You’ve been in the industry for the last 15 years, and you came out of the indie scene which can often be the exact opposite of your current vibe which is very sexy and empowering. Did you feel like you were supressing yourself while involved in that genre, or did your attitude change over time?
SE: I think I was definitely suppressing myself. I couldn't be myself and anytime I was there were repercussions. Because I'm horrendously empathetic, I can figure out pretty quickly what I need to be like to survive, fit in, or make people happy. That's a wonderful skill in the right hands, but when it's abused then life can turn into very hard work. That’s what I thought it was and that's the end of it.
Now my life with the girls in the band and the jobs that I'm doing is a bliss. Truly a bliss. Even when it's hard at least it's hard on my terms. I can't believe how long I lived in the way that I was living.
I was just unlucky to be in that indie world that’s very male dominated and everyone wants to pretend that they are really not bothered about what they are doing. It just doesn't suit me, and it made me quite poorly, but it's all part of the journey.
E: It must feel so good that people are really open and receptive to the real you, as shown by the enormous success of your album.
SE: I don't think I've processed it just yet. I keep saying I feel less lonely. And I feel less like I'm the weirdo, and there's something wrong with me, and those were the main feelings for the first 32 years of my life. It is amazing, but there’s also sadness. It's a bit of a redundant thought now that I know that there are all these people who could relate to my feelings. They were all out there, feeling like I was, but I didn't know you, I didn't have access to you, and I couldn't communicate. So I get this grief for this girl in her 20s, that was asking herself “what’s wrong with me?” Well, there's nothing wrong with you, and there were all these people on the corner who were feeling pretty much the same, but I couldn't find them.
E: As a woman in her 20s it’s so hard to have that perspective.
SE: I don't regret any of it, but I do have these big waves of grief for younger me, and I do want to hug her and say: “You're not a weirdo at all. You are processing being alive, like anyone would. It's just you are around people that don't struggle, or the system works better for.” It's complicated but thankfully we got a nice happy ending. If this hadn't happened and I hadn't found all these people, I'd still be going, I'd still be chugging on, but I'm so glad that I got access to a wider part of life, and I want everyone to be able to find that. If you feel it's going to be difficult then there might be another way. There might be something else out there, you've just got to be brave enough to try and find it.
E: One of the hallmarks of your shows is that lots of people cry at the end. That’s such a strange ending! I guess that’s something that comes with the uplifting but emotional message of your music.
SE: It’s an experience!
E: Let’s talk lingerie. I think of you as someone who wears really interesting, fun stuff. You clearly have a love of fashion. So I’m really interested to hear about your relationship with lingerie. Do you love it or do you have those weird patriarchal hang ups about it like many women do?
SE: For a long time, my boobs have been this thing to be ashamed of. I got boobs early and I started looking for a minimiser bra right away. My whole MO in my head was to just hide them. And I see now how sad that is. I was scared of them because it brought me attention that I didn't want and made me frightened, but I didn't have any option but to have them.
So it was one of those moments where the penny's dropped and I realised I deserve for my boobs to exist. All of this is bigger than me just doing a modelling job. This campaign to me is about showing that this is what my body is, I'm enjoying it, I'm proud of it, and it's gorgeous or whatever. But also, I did that and I'm not frightened.
Lingerie before represented danger to me, just by thinking about my body, femininity and the attention that I might get. But now lingerie is coinciding with my music career and my art.
I didn't ask to have massive tits that are beautiful, but I have them and I'm not going to be scared of them anymore. If someone takes issue with that it’s their fault, their perception, it's not mine.
I had a weird relationship with lingerie where previously it was a tool I used to help me shrink and disappear, and now it's quite the opposite. I'm having so much fun and I love it. I talk about it online quite a bit, and so many women have said that seeing me in a bra has made them not buy a minimiser.
E: For us, lingerie should be like any other fashion item: clothes, shoes, handbags. We buy things that reflect our style and mood. Lingerie shouldn’t have this whole other layer on it. But sadly, it has all those weird associations because of the way it’s being used to sexualise women from a young age.
SE: I realised I was feeling ashamed of something I haven’t chosen. Fashion helps me have fun with the things that I've previously been embarrassed about or thought weren’t right. And also the idea that some women are scared that they haven't got boobs, and other women are scared that they do. When you actually think about it, that's just mental.
E: Tell me about the first time you went out shopping for actual lingerie.
SE: I had a really nice boyfriend when I was about 19, and thought, right, I'm going to get a bra and pants that look nice. I think I must have just gone to M&S, and I think I got red because it was Valentine's Day. It was probably perfectly lovely.
I've never had much fun with my lingerie journey around relationships. It’s always been about it being for them rather than for me. So it's either just been very structural and functional underwear, or the most "male gaze" friendly thing, certainly in my teens before I came out. I would think “what do the boys want?” Now I'm so in my skin and so myself, and it's what I want. Being comfortable is what makes me sexier than ever, to whoever is looking at me.
E: It's funny that your first experience of shopping for lingerie was on Valentine’s and here you are starring in our Valentine’s Day campaign as a completely different woman. I have a lot of issues with the heteronormative vision of Valentine’s Day of buying something just to please your partner. We’ve been challenging that every year by either celebrating love in its essence, diversity, passions etc. That’s why we wanted to work with you as we really felt the Prioritise Pleasure motto really resonated with our mission. What does it mean to you?
SE: Prioritise Pleasure. I always do this joke where I say it's not as sexy as it sounds. It's prioritising myself and what I want, and that can mean sexually for sure, but also I can mean do I want to go to that thing or to stay at the pub for just one more drink just because you want me to? It's not a fun answer, but that's where I was coming from. I've lived my life in constant service to what everyone else wanted and the knock on effect of that is why I've struggled mentally.
I always say it's Valentine's Day every bloody day of the year in my mind. It seems stupid to me that any date in the calendar is designed to make you feel alone or not like anyone else. That drives me mad, and I include Christmas in that.
I loved doing this Valentine's campaign with Bluebella because I'm going to be wearing this stuff all year round, and I'm going to feel like this all year round. It's all for me and my enjoyment of my own body because it's a gift. I could do a campaign that was all about: “Look how sexy and hot I am, and you can too!” But this photoshoot was about what it means for me and what it represents. The Valentine’s Day aspect is very secondary to me, because for me it’s Valentine’s every day.
E: For us lingerie is like outerwear. We always say: if it’s too beautiful to hide, why hide it? We’ve spotted Bluebella in some of your festival looks and music videos. Is that an everyday look for you, styling lingerie as outerwear?
SE: I'm very Madonna-inspired. The inherent femininity of lingerie combined with more masculine tailoring is something I’m drawn to and I’ll continue to do. I'm not just saying this, but with Bluebella the design is just so good. Everything is beautiful and sexy but also very cool and that's helpful because it's moving away from this idea of lingerie as this uncomfortable thing that you have to wear to arouse somebody else. Wearing it as outerwear is point proven, because it's all for me.
E: Let’s talk about the shoot prep. You had your fitting at the Bluebella HQ, and we’ve had so much fun. There was even someone filming you!
SE: We’re actually currently working on a documentary. So much of what I've been through this year is like this after-shock echo of what I preach. I decided I was going to do a lingerie shoot after a summer of looking in the mirror going “Well, I feel like this, I feel like that” and harbouring insecurities about my body. For everything that I say, I'm still thinking the negative feelings, they are still there. You can progress so much but it doesn't stop, that hard-wiring from being in you. But there I am for the Bluebella fitting, standing in my bra and pants, and that’s going to be interesting for the documentary. But even that, that is art. Truly giving over to somebody else to witness me existing.
E: Tell me about the actual shoot day. How did you feel?
SE: It was great, but I struggled in the way I knew I would. I was in fight or flight mode, thinking “What am I doing?” Honestly afterwards I was so proud of myself, and it feels like a real turning point. The part of me that thought a couple of times on the shoot “Oh no, I'm not happy”, that's the part of me conditioned by the patriarchy and the system. They’re saying I should have lost more weight for this. I know those feelings are warning signs that I'm giving in to the system.
E: During the shoot I was really worried about you but your team assured me that you’re doing fine and you just need some time to process everything. You also didn’t want to see the images on the day and asked us to show you them later. Can you tell me why?
SE: This is a thing that happens with me. My eyes will see something completely different, and if I see something that I don't think is alright then it all seeps in like a poison. If I see the same image two weeks later, I’ll probably see something good. It's just something I've learned about myself. I'm choosing to be on camera, and there's a separation that I need to have because of the years of my self-esteem issues. There is no image that will ever be perfect. Somewhere in my mind I'll find something wrong with it. It's kind of an artistic choice to say: “I'm here to be photographed, but it's not really my job to decide if that's a good photograph.” It's just another process in which I've got to accept my body and what I look like.
E: How do you think the world will react to the campaign?
SE: I just want to people to enjoy it as much as I have. I could starve myself, and I could work out all the time, I could do some much more to be so much slimmer, and that's what it feels like the industry wants from me, but that feels like the anti-thesis of what I'm talking about. To really proudly have my body in underwear and it's the shape that it is feels political almost. It’s like a protest. When I was a 28-year-old and I knew I had that coming up, I would have done really disordered eating and all of that bullshit, but I'm proud of myself that I didn't do that. I want people to look at it and see a reflection of themselves.
E: What’s next for Self Esteem?
SE: I’m doing a couple of TV shows and then I will probably start my next album. I’m going on a tour next year and will spend some time in the US too. I’ve got a lot to do and a lot of doors have opened for me. I want to do it all, and there’s no reason why I can’t.