For two years, I lived off mostly steamed vegetables and protein shakes. I was so underweight that it would take me 10 minutes to climb a flight of stairs. I was tired, often going to sleep at 8 p.m. because I had no energy. My hair was falling out. I felt completely alone and isolated, but I was scared to leave my house.
I didn’t want to eat anything that wasn’t made by me, so I stopped hanging out with people. I became boring—a hindrance. I was listless. And I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on because I didn’t know what was going on. Unknowingly, I was battling an eating disorder and chronic anxiety that would soon lead to a ruined digestive system, all because I thought I was doing what I had to do to succeed in the industry that I love.
During this time I also saw a nutritionist because I thought I needed to lose more weight, but I was tiny. Instagram didn’t help. Every photo I posted of myself, people would call me disgusting. There was a small part of me that actually thought, Great! That means I’m skinny enough. But there was a bigger part of me that agreed with them. Having people attack me for being too thin, I was like, “Yeah, I know. I don’t like myself either.” All it did was flame my idea that I didn’t deserve to be here; that I was terrible and not good enough to be a successful model. All it did was make me think about how much I hated myself and how disgusting I thought I was. I wouldn’t listen to reason, because in the midst of an eating disorder or anxiety, it’s really hard to see yourself objectively. My agency was happy with me, and my clients were too, yet I was convinced I had to change myself and become smaller.
At the same time, dozens of young women and men were messaging me to ask how to get my body and how to look like me. Eventually I became frustrated with lying and pretending like everything was okay, when it wasn’t. That was when I realized I needed to come clean. I needed to tell everyone that I was sick. Everything I’ve said in the last year and a half about dieting? Don’t listen. Don’t look up to me. I was wrong.
A year and a half ago I started seeing a therapist and everything changed. I was finally able to realize how unhealthy my lifestyle was, physically and emotionally. From there, I slowly made changes in my life, and luckily, my friends and my now-husband stuck in there, supporting me with patience and love, helping me to see that my anxieties and need to diminish myself were due to the dysmorphic image that I had of myself in my head. It’s only now that I see how these sorts of situations thrive in silence, and once I started to step outside of that, I began to talk about it with more honesty. And finally, I began to heal.
Now I’m opening the dialog for people who are struggling with what I struggled with. I’m trying to do it in a way that sheds light on my experience, because I still work as a model and continue to love what I do—but only because I’ve taken the steps to heal, grasping the reality of what’s truly important to me. Modeling is a great job and it’s given me an amazing life—many assume that I would blame the industry for my struggles, but I don’t. The majority of these issues were already brewing from within, and an industry based around beauty and image was just an easy way for my issues to manifest themselves. I’m not really interested in biting the hand that feeds me. Instead, I want to acknowledge what I went through, because I’m not the only girl who deals with this. I’m not the only model. I know girls who work with nutritionists that encourage elimination diets in the hopes of losing weight, and it’s been years since they’ve had a period. They hold it as a sign of success: “I missed my period, that means I’m thin enough.” I thought that, too.
Unfortunately, they’re not in a place where they feel comfortable talking about it because they’re worried about losing work. And I know how they feel. After I first shared my story on my own website, I walked into Ford, my modeling agency, and the first thing I asked was, “Am I fired?” My agents gave me a massive hug and told me how proud they were: proud that me telling my story is the start of some real changes. If I had come out and said this five, 10 years ago, my career would probably be over. But people are finally listening, people are asking questions. If we can empower models to be truthful—to themselves and to everyone else—we might start to close the gap between a girl looking at a magazine and the model in the magazine.
There’re some great body positivity ambassadors in the fashion world as well as some great wellness advocates (and there’s always room for more), but there’s a middle that isn’t represented. Size 4-8 is what most models will sit at naturally, and only through strict diet and exercise can they achieve a size 0-2. But it’s about doing it the healthy way, and being honest about the hard work that goes into achieving a sample size. And since some women might never be able to achieve that size in a healthy way, it’s important for people to see other sizes represented in the industry as well. We’re slowly starting to see more sizes represented, as well as more overall diversity in the industry. If we create a safe place for models to be honest about this—free from the fear of being alienated—it will have a positive effect on body dysmorphia and women’s self-esteem.
It’s taken me nearly two years to begin to heal my own body with a healthier routine and way of living, but the anxiety and depression-like feeling continues to affect me from time to time—more frequently as of late. After landing in a stable place, physically, I’ve been able to focus more on my mental health and wellbeing. In doing so, I have recently been diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, or PMDD. There hasn’t been much research conducted about this disorder, despite the fact that it affects up to 8 percent of women—and the fact that 15 percent of those women will attempt suicide. Essentially, each month for two weeks, my life is hijacked by faulty hormone receptors; and it leaves me wondering whether years of not having my period has left my endocrine system burned out. I wish there was more research about this condition—it affects nearly as many women as diabetes, and there’s a ton of research and many remedies for diabetes, yet very few for PMDD.
Today, normal food often leaves me nauseous and bloated. I was eating so little that when I started eating a balanced, healthy diet again, my digestive system couldn’t handle it. If I eat something that doesn’t agree with me, I suffer from severe bloating that leaves me looking like I’m six months pregnant—a result of my body’s inability to process the food properly, for which I’m taking probiotics to try and counteract. I also get a stabbing pain underneath my ribs, in my stomach, and in my bowels, which leaves me immobile, unable to walk or sleep at times because it’s so painful.
I have found that overly exercising and stress makes it worse. There are also certain vegetables I can’t eat, or if I eat them it’s in a very small amount. After eliminating all legumes and grains I found there are some foods that made me feel better and make me feel worse. I tried eating fish but it just worsened my symptoms. Recently I gave up coffee and it made no difference, so (thankfully!) I’m back on coffee. When I have these flare-ups, I have to eat low residue, super bland, super low-fiber foods for a couple of days to give my body a chance to recuperate.
And fat, I have learned, is not bad. It is essential to a healthy life. Fat is so good for your hair, skin, and nails. For women, it’s especially important because our fat cells produce estrogen, and so without them we sometimes don’t get periods or work like women should—like healthy women should. But as women, we have this innate fear of fat. A lot of people think “fat” means you’ve lost control, or you’re lazy. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Fat is something that I cherish now.
Today, I love what I look like. I finally look alive in photos, there’s light behind my eyes. And I’m no longer addicted to the mirror. I used to look at myself to prove that I existed, and as a reminder that I could probably lose more weight. But now, it’s more like, “I don’t really care.” I’m naturally around a size 4; I can train to become leaner, but it’s still hard work for me and I want everyone to know that. I want to deter many women from trying to achieve a size that just isn’t healthy for them, or from achieving it in an unhealthy way, like I did for so many years. Still, sometimes when I haven’t slept well or I’m tired, I look in the mirror and I will catch myself thinking, “Oh, you could lose some weight.” But I quickly recover, telling myself to “shut the f*ck up,” and I go do my thing—the right way for me.
My advice to all the people out there who are trying to support someone in my situation is this: what they see in the mirror is not real and it is frustrating as hell. Don’t attack them or meet them with frustration. You can’t tell them they’re too skinny, because they’ll think you’re lying to them and they’ll lose trust in you. (Seriously.) You’ve got to meet them with love. Don’t be afraid to let them see your real emotions. If someone is starving themselves and it makes you upset, show that person your tears. Humanity was my savior. Having people that I love who cared about me and were worried about me made me stop thinking about myself for a second: “Oh, I don’t want to cause this person pain.”
My girlfriends and my husband have been so good to me through all of this. They’re patient. They’re supportive. We need more of that on social media. Today, being able to engage with my followers on a human level, with total honesty, is rewarding. Because I no longer have anything in common with that girl who was determined to lose as much weight as possible so people would like her and she’d be accepted. It’s like, “No, thanks. I’m good.”