Photographed by Karine Basilio
I am so excited to be a contributor to such a positive website. When I first looked at Plus-Size Models Unite, I was inspired by the amazing women featured, but also really struck by the support these women were offering to one another regarding healthy body image and self-acceptance. Having had so many struggles with these issues myself; it feels good to know I wasn’t alone. I’m excited to be a part of this movement to help women love themselves inside and out!
I’m happy to say I’ve come full circle in my journey of learning to love my body, but it wasn’t easy. There were many years of self-loathing, criticizing, and thinking that if I could only lose two more pounds my life would miraculously change overnight and all of my wildest dreams would come true. I thought being very thin was the key to happiness. Well, what I can tell you is that your life can most definitely change overnight, but losing that last two pounds that you are convinced is weighing you down has nothing to do with it. It is important to be at a healthy and comfortable weight for YOU, but we are all different and that’s the beauty in us all.
It’s easy to be caught up in insecurity about your tummy roll or fuller hips, especially when I recently saw a top fashion magazine now claiming a size 4 to be curvy and there seems to be an endless stream of Victoria’s Secret catalogs in my mailbox every day. Who is signing us all up to receive these? Who looks like that? Well surely, if you look like that you must have a perfect life in every regard right? Do I have to be that skinny to love myself? Does this sound familiar to anyone? I did a lot of this type of thinking for a lot of years! Here is my story, and how I turned it all around.
Photographed by Alexander Neumann
I grew up in a suburb of Portland, Oregon. It was beautiful. Green, clean, and full of fun outdoor activities. I spent my free time camping, skiing, and hiking. When I got to high school, I was on a highly competitive volleyball team and the sport was a huge part of my life. We did a lot of training, and I loved that I had an athletic body and my mother had taught me how to eat well to support my endurance. I thought I looked pretty good and was a happy and healthy young woman.
People had suggested for years that I try modeling so one summer when I was fifteen; I finally decided to give it a go by sending some pictures to agencies. I was immediately accepted by some big names and I thought it would be a good way to save some money until I went off to college. I was always very tomboyish and, up until then, had never really thought about having a delicate frame or a tiny waist. The first time I went to the agency that I decided on and the measuring tape came out, somehow I knew I was in trouble. Sure enough, according to the agent I had some extra inches lurking around my 5’11″ figure. But, the promise of big money and travel if I lost the inches was enough to put me on the first diet I could find. That was the first time I remember thinking…If I could just lose five pounds….
I did lose the five pounds, but then of course I thought if I could lose more weight my career and life would be even better. So, I did…and nothing changed besides the fact that I was able to model for some catalogs and my mind was constantly consumed with thoughts of food. I never use to think about food unless I was hungry, then I’d eat whatever sounded good, and the thought would go away until my next meal. When you diet to extremes like I had begun doing, you’re never really satiated so you think about food nonstop. It became a distraction from what should normally be on a teenage girls mind. It was somewhere my mind would wander more and more. If I were tired of thinking about my friends, schoolwork, sports, or my family; then I would just find a new diet to think about and follow. Diets became a distraction from whatever was really going on in my life. Even the things that were exciting and fun. I had a wonderful high school experience and a lot to be grateful for, but my mind was starting to become focused on food deprivation more and more. That was no way to live.
Photographed by Becca Thorpe
I was definitely thin at this point, but the parts of my body that had recently been pointed out to me as fat still seemed fat to me. There were always the same spots I picked on and would resort to complaining about when I was having a bad day. In fact, I would turn to these “flaws” even when I was having a great day and they would bring me down. I am now convinced this is something women do to themselves as some form of unnecessary self-torture. Some way to keep ourselves down at a certain level because we think we aren’t worthy of feeling like more. I think we have all done this to ourselves at some point. And trust me, even the girl or woman that we look at and think have a perfect figure has had negative thoughts like these.
When I was eighteen, I left college to pursue modeling full-time in Paris. I was a girl they said had so much potential, and I should have been thrilled but I don’t remember this as a particularly happy time of my life because I felt that everything was riding on whether or not I could be skinny. I was getting a great response from clients and I just couldn’t walk away. Sure enough, I was instructed to lose more weight once I arrived in Paris. Surely, this was the last time and then life would most definitely be fabulous! And, fabulous in Paris nonetheless! It all sounded so glamorous. The problem was dieting alone wasn’t going to do it, so I went to some extreme measures in an attempt to shave that last bit of weight off.
It still wouldn’t budge, so I was shipped off to Germany with the other “overweight” girls and told to work on it while I modeled for unglamorous catalogs for a while. I felt like I had won a consolation prize but I wanted to be the best. I recently came across some photos of me at this time, and I was thin and beautiful but in every picture I looked absolutely empty and terrified. I had dug myself into a very deep hole.
Photographed by Fiorenzo Borghi
I was homesick living overseas so eventually I moved to New York where I had a career as a catalog and commercial model, and I never made it back to Paris, but I also never stopped trying to get into that perfect sample size they had given me the measurements for because that had become my ideal of perfection. In New York, I was allowed to be a bit bigger but not much and my weight was a continual struggle. I missed out on so much happiness because I was always torturing myself for not being thin enough. I avoided social events involving food and was at the gym more than I care to remember. I finally lost that weight and right when I thought the true rewards for my efforts were right around the corner, I ended up in the hospital for five days. I came close to kidney failure but the doctors dismissed me after rehydrating me and temporarily patching me up.
Over the next few years, I was in the hospital four more times with the same issue when finally a doctor came to me and asked me if I wanted to live a long time, because the path I was on wasn’t going to get me there. All of the dieting and over exercising was taking a dangerous toll on my body. Finally, someone stepped in and realized all of the destructive things I had been doing to mold myself into that perfect ideal of thinness I had formed in my head. This was my wake up call. The quest for my perfect figure, which I believed would lead me to true happiness, actually landed me in the hospital five times close to kidney failure. Hmm… Something definitely wasn’t working here. I was unhappy, unfulfilled, unhealthy, and all this for what? So, I made a decision.
Photographed by Becca Thorpe
I chose life. I knew I needed to take some time off from measuring tapes and sample sizes so I left New York, quit modeling for a few years, and started to remember all the things I used to love before I got lost down that road of self-torture. I traveled, went on dates, laughed, tried different careers, built meaningful relationships, played volleyball again…and I ate all of the things I had deprived myself of for so long. And it was fun! I felt alive again. I learned that being who you are doesn’t have to be a struggle, even though so often we make it one.
I did go through a period of time where I started to seriously overindulge, but I think it was my body’s way of making up for lost time. And lost dessert! After a few months of eating recklessly, my body began to tell me what it needed. Maybe one day it needed some dark leafy greens because it craved iron or calcium, and maybe another day it absolutely needed a piece of salmon to boost my healthy fat intake. Once I really started to listen to my body’s cravings and learned to give it the nourishment it yearned for, I truly began to live a healthy life again. Not only was I physically healthier, but on a personal level I was healthier as well. When you don’t have to spend every waking moment thinking about dieting and your next meal, you have the opportunity to think about your life and how you want to live it.
A few years later, I found out I could have a career as a healthy shaped model. It was actually in demand! I moved back to New York, started my modeling career again, and enrolled in school to learn about holistic health and nutrition. From there, I have taken numerous courses in holistic healing such as herbal medicine and breathwork. The thing I treasure most about my education is that I continued to learn that there’s so much more to being a healthy person than just what you eat. While proper nutrition is very important, the day-to-day thoughts and feelings we have are important as well. It was difficult for me at the beginning, but I learned to feel my thoughts and feelings and sit with them instead of trying to distract myself with the thought of another diet or starvation plan. Maybe my body is not perfect, but by learning to find things about it that is beautiful every day was what changed my life overnight.
Photographed by Fiorenzo Borghi
We all have so many things that make us beautiful and that we can be grateful for. Our thoughts and feelings affect every cell of our body. So true health for me meant learning to think positively more than negatively. Learning to really feel things like love, compassion, forgiveness, hope, and joy have been one of the greatest blessings of this whole journey.
The best way I know how to describe holistic healing is that it is health based on the “whole” person. You are what you eat, but you are also what you think, feel, dream, do, and love. I am continuing to learn about mind/body healing because not only do I want to help others learn to love and honor their body; I want them to learn to nourish it inside and out. After all, we only get one.
*Thank you, Erin!
**We will be reading much more from Erin in the future and we are looking forward to it!
To view Erin’s first piece for the Huffington Post visit~