Yvonne Connolly: "All that was going through my mind was that I could have died"
"Every time I looked in the mirror I would say - at least you can see how bad you look."
Yvonne Connolly hadn't planned on sharing a selfie after her horse riding accident, but she had some new makeup on, the lighting was good, she took a selfie... "and it wasn't bad!" she tells Her. "It wasn't great either, you could still see my scar, but I thought - this is me. This is how I look now."
Yvonne suffered the accident in 2019, a trauma that left her with a broken eye socket, a split open nose, a broken cheek bone and a smashed arm. Fighting for her sight in the intensive care unit of St James's Hospital, the TV presenter was aware of how bad her injuries were, but grateful to be alive.
"All that was going through my mind was that I could have died," she says. "I was in intensive care and they thought I was going to lose my eye, and probably my eye sight, but every time I looked in the mirror I would say - at least you can see how bad you look."
After the accident, Yvonne fought to remind herself that she was more than her looks. Today, she did her first professional photo shoot since the accident, a new self esteem project with Dove aimed at giving young Irish girls the tools they need to love how they look, no matter what they look like.
Research conduced by the brand showed that Irish girls have some of the lowest self esteem in the world, with 87% of girls saying they struggle to have high body esteem. This issue isn't just affecting young girl's confidence but also their health, with over half reporting they avoided going to the doctor because of what they look like.
After her accident, Yvonne says she struggled with her own body image - but, she also didn't want to be a hypocrite. "Being a model and living a showbiz red carpet lifestyle for a time, I was always very determined to not let my looks define me," she says.
"But when I damaged my face, I could not myself go. I would think, you've always maintained that what you look like isn't everything, so you need to stop getting so upset about this.
"My body healed - not completely, and it never will, I'll never go back to the way I used to look - but to see what my body did over that year was fascinating. You don't need to be an Olympian or a supermodel to embrace your body and know what an amazing job it does, that's beautiful in itself. There's always some positivity in everything, it's just about finding it."
Since then, Yvonne has received hundreds of messages from other women thanking her for sharing her story, "and the continuing thread I've noticed is an issue with other people's comments, what other people say," she says.
"I'm hoping this will help people feel better about themselves but also stop others from making comments about what they look like. We need to accept each other for whatever differences we may have.
"We give out about social media but it can be fantastic. I don't think we should get away from Instagram, but we should get away from toxic accounts.
"I'm happy for my kids to be on Instagram, but I want them to follow the right people, transparent accounts that say they've used a filter, or post the pictures that didn't make the cut, or show how they look with no makeup on. Showing they're just like you."
But recovering from her accident isn't the only major life event that left Yvonne seeking confidence from within. Some years after her divorce from ex husband Ronan Keating, she officially changed her surname back to Connolly, a decision she took her time making to ensure her kids were okay with it.
"We talk about confidence and identity together a lot," she says. "I think everything just comes at the right time in your life. When you've been through a traumatic situation, it's about getting your self esteem back.
"I've chatted to a lot of people who've been through divorces and separations and they say 'how did you do it?' and sometimes it's not about what you do, it's about time. Time is a great healer, the human mind is a resilient thing.
"If people knew about Covid before it happened they would've said we can't get through a year of lockdowns. Is it easy? No. But have we got through it? Yes."
Yvonne Connolly and daughter Ali have partnered with Dove to launch the Dove Self-Esteem Project in Ireland which aims to arm the next generation with the tools they need to grow up enjoying a positive relationship with the way they look. Resources are now available for teachers, parents, mentors, and youth leaders across Ireland here.