LOOKING back, I always hated being this pale.
I would put body make-up on to go and have [costume] fittings with the band because I hated my skin tone.
I felt like once I took my clothes off, the seamstress or the stylist was going to think: “Oh my god, she’s so white!”
I was so wrapped up in it and so self-conscious that I let it get so much bigger than it was.
Even from when I was a very small child, I knew that being pale wasn’t considered beautiful, because all the adults were always using sunbeds.
When I was at school, it would be a blazing hot day and I would ask my parents if I could wear tights because I was so embarrassed about how pale my legs were.
They just let me do what I wanted to do, there was no big sit-down to see if something was going on with me.
Boys at school would joke: “You’re so pale, you look like death warmed up.”
I think they would hear it from their dads at home, because that perception of women just trickles down, doesn’t it?
When I auditioned for Girls Aloud in 2002, I became more aware of my looks.
The reason I wanted to be in the band was because I could sing.
I didn’t think about how it was going to make me feel and the fact that I might look different from the other girls [Cheryl Tweedy,
Sarah Harding, Nadine Coyle and Kimberley Walsh]. Once I got into the band, the magnitude of all those other things just became so apparent and I saw comments about me in the media, from people on television and the radio, other celebrities and the public.
Everything was related to my appearance – nothing was about what I sounded like.
It felt horrible for me as a teenager in a new world.
But still, I would always think I’d rather be me than the person saying those things.
As a child, I never got bullied by kids for my red hair, but I got bullied by adults later in life.
Over the years, I dyed it, mostly for fun, but now I’m older and I’ve got my own natural colour, I wish I’d always kept it this way.
My hair is like my superpower.
Over time, as the band grew, I became more in tune with myself.
At 23, I started looking at fashion magazines and the runway models that they were choosing for the shows.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t look like a supermodel, but the way I looked was more in line with an editorial look than with your average blonde-haired girl on the front cover of a beauty magazine.
As my perception of beauty changed, I was saved.
I started to rebel and stopped needing to look pretty.
It was about representing people who look and feel like I do.
I cut my hair and dyed it pink, and my brows black, and I wore daring, bright gowns. I thought: “How do I make more of a statement?”
Therapy was the best gift I ever gave myself, and now I tell all my friends to do it.
I started in 2018, when I was 33, because of the trauma I’d faced with a stalker [Nicola’s ex Carl Davies, 43, stalked her for five years and was given a suspended 15-month sentence and lifetime restraining order in 2017].
As a young woman, loving yourself is top priority.
If you completely love yourself and you have high self-respect, you won’t tolerate negative things.
But when you’re operating from a place that isn’t entirely full of self-love, bad things get through the cracks.
These days, I couldn’t think of anything worse than going to bed every night and not accepting the way I look.
We’re all different colours, shapes and sizes, and the beauty of getting older is you just accept who you are.
If I could go back and speak to my younger self, I’d say: “Stop fake tanning, go back to your natural hair colour, get a good stylist and stay true to yourself!”