Published on July 16th, 2015 | by Lorraine Leslie0
Karen Brunger – My Fair Lady!
In the fall of 2014 I was searching the internet for the International Image Institute and to my delight I connected with the founder Karen Brunger. We chatted through email for a few days where I mentioned I would like to meet her and for her to give me a call if she was going to be in the area. Well, within a few short weeks we were sitting in a mutual friend’s cottage having tea.
Our friendship grew and Karen became a writer for Women with Vision Magazine and an exhibitor at the International Women’s Day Expo in Collingwood. Intrigued by Karen’s story, I asked if she would like to share it with our readers… Karen reminds of the movie My Fair Lady!
Karen was born late January in 1958 in Woodlands, Manitoba. “I grew up on a farm. We had six cows, one pig, fifty chickens, and crops. I can’t remember how old I was but my dad eventually sold the cattle and got a job as a welder in Winnipeg to help make ends meet. My mom was a homemaker who did all the sewing, gardening, and canning. I was fortunate to have wonderful parents. We had a wood-burning furnace, but no running water or indoor plumbing.”
“I was home-schooled in grade 1 when I was 5. Since my birthday was in January, my mother didn’t want me to waste a year. So when I started grade 2 at Woodlands Elementary I was with kids a year older. My mother later regretted this as she thought this difference may have caused my shyness. I think I would have been shy anyway, and I am grateful that I got an early start!”
“Woodlands school had four rooms with two grades per room. (I actually missed by 1 year going to a 1- room school.) Grade two was okay, but in grade three I somehow became the victim of a bully. A classmate decided she was my best friend and became my jailer. She told me where to sit, when to move, where to look, and when to speak. I don’t know why I thought I had to listen to her. Every day was a nightmare from which I wasn’t released until I got home off the school bus. This continued until grade five, when I finally had enough. But instead of standing up to her, I wrote a note which I pretended was from my mother. The note said I wasn’t allowed to play with her anymore. I was free!! I was still shy, and an outcast, but I was free.”
“In grade five our bodies were starting to change as puberty struck – some more than others. My friend was one of the first to develop early. The day she started wearing a bra, everyone noticed. She was probably 36DD. Can you imagine the comments from the 11-year old boys? Not to mention comments from the kids at higher grades. The comments went on all day – every day – every week – and every year. (By the time we reached high school my friend’s behaviour matched what had been ingrained.) I, on the other hand, maintained a child-like body into adulthood. So I felt like a child.”
“In grade five we were all so happy when we finally got RUNNING WATER!” Karen said with a smile. “No indoor plumbing, though, and it was my job to “dump the pot” every day.”
“I remember my first day of grade six. As I walked into the classroom and approached the group of girls, they all turned their backs and would not let me join their circle. I was ostracized again! So I spent that year just reading, as no one would let me join in any socializing or activities. When they played baseball outside I would stay in the school and read. I read a book a day.”
“When I advanced into grade seven, the teacher let me read all the textbooks in advance and write all the exams early, so I finished grade seven by Christmas. But since I was already a year younger than everyone in my grade, he didn’t want to advance me. So I just kept reading more books and wrote book reports.” Thinking back to when she was eight years old, Karen recalls, “I was in 4-H, and my sewing and needlework always got winning red ribbons, primarily because of my 4-H teacher. She was amazing – she had six children, and they lived in a teeny tiny house that had a wood stove in the centre of the house, a table in one corner, a tiny counter and sink in another corner, a sofa in a third corner and a TV in the fourth. There were two teeny tiny bedrooms. One bedroom had two sets of bunkbeds for the four youngest, and the two oldest slept on the sofas. They had an outhouse and of course had to get their water from the well as we did but they always had space for me.”
“At a time when everyone started blooming into beautiful women, I somehow became more troll-like. I developed one large eyebrow, which was partly covered by thick ugly glasses. My mother thought hair should not be washed more than once a week, so it was usually greasy. And since we couldn’t afford hairdressers, my mom was also my stylist – and I will say it was not her talent. My body formed in a way to match my incredibly low self-esteem – hunched shoulders, caved in chest, and knockknees.”
“All through high school many of us had to take a second bus from Woodlands to go to Warren High School. This was a much bigger school – a total of 200 students. There were three options for each grade, and I took “A”, which was for university entrance. Even though there were even more bullies, there were also more people like me – so we stuck together. Also, some of the girls were not as mean as the Woodlands crowd, so I was included more often. It was pretty heady. But I was never one of the girls that went out to the cars at lunch time to “neck”, and I was never invited to a party.”
Being self sufficient Karen was able to take care of herself, so when her mother got a job in the city and started driving into Winnipeg every day with her dad, she was very proud of how she kept things at home running smoothly. Her parents alarm would sound at four a.m. in the dead of winter. They would drive to the city in the darkness and come home again in the dark. The prairie winters were bitterly cold.
“When I was fourteen I spent a week at 4-H camp. Of course I was in agony because of my extreme social anxiety but I made friends with another person who was just as socially backward. She was the first person in my life who ever called me pretty. This inspired me to tweeze my eyebrows and shave my underarms and legs; I just had to make sure my mother never found out, as she didn’t believe in shaving. I would also get up really early in the morning to wash my hair very quietly. I started wearing makeup, and made sure it was washed off before mom got home from work.”
“When I was in grade ten we finally got INDOOR PLUMBING!”
“Graduation was fast approaching so I decided to design and made my own graduation dress which I also entered into a 4-H competition, and because of it I was crowned “Queen” at the Stonewall Fair. A little girl asked me for my autograph – that was kind of cool.”
“At the instigation of my French teacher, I spent that summer after high school graduation, taking a French Immersion program – she thought I had an aptitude for languages. I moved out on my own and lived in residence at the University of Manitoba and spoke French for the entire summer. I made friends that I have to this day.”
“I was seventeen years old when I entered into the Home Economics degree program, at the University of Manitoba. I lived with relatives close to the campus, so I could walk to class. I also got a part-time job on campus translating textbooks into Braille (I could type 110 wpm) to pay for my tuition and other expenses.” “With financial independence, I started to buy my own clothes, go to a good hairdresser, wear whatever makeup I wanted, and invest in contact lenses. I was still shy, but at least I started looking like a well-adjusted person. I even got a boyfriend.”
“I graduated with a Bachelor Degree at age twenty one. My major was Human Development, in the department of Family Studies, although my original intent was to take Fashion Merchandising and Design. This meant I was trained to be a family counsellor. My boyfriend at the time encouraged me to fulfill my lifelong dream of living in Toronto. So I bought a one-way ticket, and moved to the big city in August 1979.”
Karen started working in market research, and one of her colleagues asked her if she wanted to join her at Mimico Correctional Centre every Wednesday evening as a “square” in a self-help group for inmates. “(Flashback – In grade eleven I had the idea it would be cool to go to jail and talk to inmates.) I attended as a square for two years, and then became the Coordinator of the 7th Step Program at Mimico, was elected to the Ontario Board of Directors, and in my last year received the “7th Stepper of the Year Award” (which was supposed to go to an ex-con).”
“The 7 Step Program may have been designed for inmates, but it was transformational for me. I don’t know why, but I had always had an intense fear of men. On my first night when I found myself locked in a hallway with a crowd of men dressed in blue, I almost panicked. But in the group I was accepted and appreciated like I’d never been before. At break they all jumped up to get me the milky sweet tea that was delivered, and they kept offering me their precious cigarettes.”
At the same time she became a Volunteer Probation Officer, and she was often given the cases that required family counselling. “I was about to step into a position as a full-time paid Probation Officer, but my friend who was a P.O. advised me to re-think my decision.”
“Around this time it was the thing to do, so like others I knew I had a psychic party, and the psychic told me to get out of jail work and out of probation – it was not the place for me. He said I was supposed to be doing something that combined fashion and social work, and to start taking courses. My friends said “Karen, of course you’re supposed to be in fashion! Look at you! How could you not know that?” So I enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Canada Continuing Education program. Colour Analysis training also came to Canada, and this was very exciting to me. I had always known there must be a system to objectively determine someone’s best colours. I was in the first training in Canada, and started my business as a Colour Consultant April 1st 1984. I also met my husband that month. Life was good!”
“My colour analysis led naturally into style and wardrobe consulting, and personal shopping. When asked to take on a new endeavour, I said “sure”, and then figured it out.”
While getting nudges from her mentor and colour teacher, in 1985 she became the National Style and Wardrobe Trainer for Seasons, the largest colour consulting company in Canada. “For six years they sent me across Canada training people to be Style and Image Consultants. This led to training for clothing manufacturers and retailers. Since my part-time hobby was now taking more time than my full-time job, I let go of my safe, secure, salaried job to step into an unknown and risky sole proprietorship. At the request of my students I travelled to San Francisco to learn from world renown Image Consultant Robert Pante. I then developed an Advanced Image training program. I felt I was on a rocket shooting forward so fast that I was just trying to hang on. One of the things that set me apart from other consultants was that I took a holistic approach in training my students – hence I became known as the Holistic Image Consultant.”
Karen was hired to teach the full-time program at the Fashion Institute of Canada. She hired guest speakers for the subjects she didn’t have experience in – especially fashion illustration! In 1990 this led her to teaching all of the non-makeup subjects at the School of Makeup Art, which she did for many years after. In 1991, Karen also started teaching Effective Speaking at Humber College, and then later taught in the full-time Fashion Merchandising program. By 1994 Karen developed the Image Consulting Program for George Brown College (GBC), and has continued to teach and provide teachers for the program for 20 years.
Seasons was no longer supplying colour analysis tools and swatch wallets, so Karen took the initiative and started making her own, and then of course selling them to her students.
“Life was moving quickly now as we started a Toronto chapter of the newly formed Association of Image Consultants International in 1993. The meeting nights conflicted with my GBC classes, but when I was nominated to be President-Elect, I changed the GBC schedule.”
In 1996, Karen became the first certified Holographic Repatterning Practitioner in Canada – a system to identify and transform non-conscious patterns. She now calls this system Energy Shifting.
That same year, Karen achieved Certified Image Professional status, and was asked to speak at her first Association of Image Consultants Conference (AICI) – held in Dallas in 1996. “I was invited to speak at the next conference in 1997, and was also invited to join the international Board of Directors as VP Education. This meant I was responsible for the standards and training of image consultants worldwide; I held this position for four years.”
“During this time I experienced one of the most surreal events of my life. I was invited by the New York Chapter to come and speak at one of their meetings on how to be successful as an image consultant – the twelve year old Karen didn’t know this was going to happen; it would have been beyond anything I could have imagined.”
In 2003, Karen received the Award of Excellence from AICI, and in 2005 I got “Teacher of the Year Award” from GBC. By this time she had chaired and served on so many committees, she felt it almost impossible to keep track.
In 2006, she was elected President Elect for the International board of AICI, so this took another four years of focus and dedication.
“In 2007, I became a contributing writer for a well-known magazine. I also started travelling a lot. Since then I have conducted trainings (sometimes consecutively for a number of years) in Boston, Atlanta, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Guadalajara, Santo Domingo, United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea, Tokyo, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, China, and India.”
“In 2012, I became the Chief Stylist for the Style Institute, based in Long Beach, California. This has meant numerous trips to Long Beach… To date my systems and products are in over 70 countries.”
“I am now entering my 31st year in business and I’ve seen the internet become the biggest advantage to my business; – up until the internet, my business was based on word of mouth and maybe it still is but the internet adds another element for my business. It’s easier for people to find out about me…”
When people meet Karen at conferences they are so awe struck that they make sure they invite her to come and speak in their countries. “Once I go to the country, those people spread the word and have me come back and do more training.”
Life has certainly given Karen opportunities to step out of her shell. “I’ve learned to get out of my own way and I’m still learning to do that. I like to share; controlling anything doesn’t work – surrender and let it happen.” By 2020, Karen will have completed her next project – her practical workbooks, the ultimate guide for the image consultant, published into four volumes.
Her vision for retirement is to have a home in Costa Rica to spend her winters… have financial freedom and to have done training in South Africa, South America and Dubai. Karen has transformed women from Liza Doolittle into outstanding fair ladies, and men into Professor Higgins. She started out as a shy little girl who certainly walked through the doors that opened before her. Her positive and creative attitude continues to give her hope to follow her dreams. A dynamic self- empowering and inspirational woman, I know Karen will achieve all that she sets out to accomplish…
copyright Lorraine Leslie – Women with Vision Magazine 2014/15