Half a cup of oats with berries. Four ounces of chicken with three stalks of asparagus. Not too much salt on the chicken (sodium retains water weight). Coffee, coffee, coffee (for energy). Crunching one liter of ice to burn an extra 160 calories (lessons from the). Sleep for dinner and an appointment with the scale for breakfast. But I still wasn’t small enough.
Being 5’11”, I had been told my whole life I should try out for modeling, but I had heard the horror stories of girls eating only carrots and turning to hard drugs to stay thin. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old, scrolling through Instagram and tempted by the glamorous lives of supermodels and Victoria’s Secret Angels, that I actually began to see a dream and an opportunity to chase it. I did the research on what they ate and the workouts they did, and simply tried to match them. It started out as innocent fun, but it soon became an obsessive, unending war with food.
Another inch off my waist meant I was on top of the world. The weight loss fed me.
I would count every single calorie that I put into my body (even if I ate three grapes, I’d document it). My goal was to consume no more than 900 hundred calories a day and to burn at least three times that at the gym, working out for up to three hours a day. I lost weight immediately and continued to lose weight rapidly, to the point where friends and family were asking my parents if I was okay. But I showed them what I was eating and assured them I wasn’t starving myself, so I was able to keep up this charade for a while. Often, my friends would go out to grab pizza and see a movie. I would tell them I couldn’t go, just so I didn’t have to go watch them eat movie popcorn or a greasy pizza.
Every morning, straight after waking up, I’d measure myself. Another inch off my waist meant I was on top of the world. The weight loss fed me. I lived by the famous words of Kate Moss, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.” I was an advocate for a “healthy” lifestyle—no junk food, no soda, no sugar. Just vegetables, fruits, and lean meats. No one could tell me I was unhealthy because I “ate clean” and exercised. But even after all the weight loss, I would look in the mirror and think I looked fat, or I’d step on a scale and see a number that wasn’t good enough.
About three months later, I entered a model search and won. I was signed to a local Nashville modeling agency and began doing photo shoots, preparing to meet with agencies in New York at the annual agency showcase. I knew that to be successful, I had to stay a size 2. But all of a sudden, the weight loss stopped—along with my period. I confided in my mom and she forced me to see a doctor, who diagnosed me with amenorrhea, the absence of a menstrual cycle due to starvation, malnourishment, and too much exercise. He told me my body was going into starvation mode and if I didn’t start eating more, it could have long term effects that could be detrimental to my health. To some extent, I knew this was getting pretty serious, but still, I wanted to achieve a standard of beauty and prove I was worthy of societal expectations. So I continued my extreme dieting with an end goal in mind: the annual agency showcase.
This was the day I had been preparing for. I wanted to have the perfect measurements so I could get signed to a reputable agency and begin a career as a working model. I put on my black bikini and black pumps and conjured up all the courage I could muster, and to my astonishment, I got callbacks from a majority of the agents at the showcase. This excitement validated nine months of rigid dietary restrictions I had gone through. It was all worth it.
I wanted to achieve a standard of beauty and prove I was worthy.
Until I found out that ultimately all of the agents had passed on signing me until I could get my measurements down. What? I haven’t eaten Chick-Fil-A or a brownie in months and you want me to lose more weight? I was furious and defeated. I had finally hit a wall. Modeling, I insisted, was stupid. I was done.
So I traded spinach leaves, ice cubes, and MyFitnessPal for acai bowls, chicken pad Thai and freedom in Hawaii with my family. But the day I landed, I received a phone call that Wilhelmina in New York City had offered me a contract if I was willing to gain back the weight I had lost and join their curve board.
I was unsure about the idea at first. I decided I would try to enjoy my time by the beach, so I continued to eat healthy and exercise, but I refused to count calories or weigh myself. Soon, I naturally began to gain my weight back, little by little. I remember one morning a few weeks into the trip, I was standing in front of a mirror in my underwear and was horrified at first. I kept staring, until I couldn’t help but smile. For the first time in months, I looked in the mirror and thought, Wow, I have boobs. I have a butt. I look pretty good.
That smile carried me through the next few weeks and into the next chapter of my life as I signed with Wilhelmina in New York. Today, my agents are all extremely supportive of my size regardless if I gain or lose a couple of inches here and there. I have also had the privilege of working with great companies that support diversity throughout the fashion industry, and my hope is that more companies will make a conscience effort to include different sizes and shapes in their campaigns and ads.
I continued to eat healthy and exercise, but I refused to count calories or weigh myself.
Recently, I came across some photos taken of me when I was at my thinnest. It immediately brought me to tears just to think back to how hard those times were for me. I was nervous to post the image, but my mom urged me to do it, and I am so grateful she did. When I woke up the next morning, I was surprised to see how many messages I had received; the response to the post was unimaginable to this small-town girl. I am mostly blown away by the amount of people who, to some extent, have felt the same way I felt, or know someone who feels pressure to succumb to the media’s unrelenting expectations. My favorite responses were from people who thought I had put the photos of my transformation in the wrong order, only to find out that I had done it on purpose. Many people expressed it was refreshing to see it the other way around for once. However I have also had a lot of women asking me how to gain weight, which misses the point.
I never imagined I would be able to continue pursuing my dream of being a model at my natural size. At the end of the day, I want everyone to be able to look into the mirror and smile regardless of what size or shape they are. It’s not about gaining or losing weight; it’s about being free from deluded body image expectations, because we are all beautiful. Regardless of what people say, you can have your cake and eat it too. Seriously.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US