When I first heard the word model, I was five or six years old, and it was part of the expression “role model.” At the time, I had just started playing soccer and I idolized Mia Hamm. I believe that she was and is still one of the greatest female athletes of all time. At a young age, she defined mental and physical strength for women everywhere. Because of her, I felt I was capable of achieving anything.
Shortly after the first time I heard the term model, I heard the word in the context of “fashion model.” I started modeling clothes when I was seven years old and immediately fell in love with the industry. Once modeling took up too much of my time for me to be a normal kid, I stopped. I didn’t start modeling again until I was nineteen years old in Boston, after I had attended an open call. From there my career expanded to other markets within the US and Europe. I idolized the supers, such as Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer, because they meant business and were full of personality and strength.
However, all sorts of fancy troubles arose after I dove into the industry. But the most trouble I’ve dealt with has involved my body image. The moment I left Boston, my body was criticized in every market. I have a memory of walking into one of my first agencies and my agent squeezing my thighs and asking me what sports I played growing up. My answer obviously included soccer. I was then asked to follow a strict diet and refrain from working out. I was told to walk only and to avoid weights. However, I physically and mentally needed to work out, considering I’d been active my entire life. Working out was crucial to my mental health. So I did my own research and spoke to a wide variety of other models, agents and trainers. At that moment, the trouble began.
I became obsessed with over working out and under eating. I lost over fifteen pounds after a few months of an exhausting new lifestyle. The most frustrating part was that it still wasn’t enough. I was constantly asked to lose more weight. I was even told to not eat for three days before an important shoot. An agent told me that if I needed to eat something then I should eat watermelon or cucumbers because they are water based and could hold me over.
During my time in Europe things got worse; I started to feel and look physically sick. I was overwhelmingly exhausted. I barely had the energy to walk around a grocery store to shop for food. I couldn’t take in or appreciate the beauty of Milan and the other cities I lived in because I was too tired to notice life happening in front of me. I was light headed and at the point of fainting a majority of the time, which I blamed on auto-immune issues and stress. I was measured weekly and told if I could lose more weight, I’d have more success. All of this pressure resulted in an agony of guilt after my first bite of pasta in Italy, which didn’t take place until two months after I arrived in the country. I told myself that I didn’t come this far to let a couple pounds get in my way. I refused to get sent home because I was a size four and not a size zero. A smoothie and some egg whites with spinach was consistently my day-to-day meal. My sister and close friends from home would respond to my photos and ask me if I was eating. I would defensively snap back and tell them I was healthier than ever. But in fact, I was the unhealthiest I had ever been and felt far from beautiful.
It took over six months at home of resetting and getting back to a normal eating plan and exercise routine for me to feel healthy. I wanted the body I had before I started modeling, when I was strong and fit. Since then, I have deleted my weight loss apps and have stopped counting calories. I’ve thrown out the measuring tapes and I’ve learned to listen to my body, not other people. I have days where I don’t feel great, but I am continually learning. I don’t workout to lose weight anymore. I workout to feel better, have more energy and relieve stress. But most importantly, I eat plenty of healthy food.
These struggles are something I have never opened up about because I was in denial for a long time. Would a young girl idolize me the way I idolized Mia Hamm? Would I want a young girl to idolize me? I’ve been ashamed that I let the industry control me. I was so fixated on being a fashion model in Europe, that I was willing to alter my image completely. It took other models, standing up for body positivity and coming forward with similar stories for me to realize I wasn’t alone in these struggles. Ashley Graham, Emily DiDonato, Nina Agdal and Camille Kostek are among those models who have spoken up, who I greatly appreciate. Brands, magazines (I love you @si_swimsuit) and modeling agencies have been coming forward in support of wanting a change to happen as well.
The beauty in my struggle is that my confidence has grown tremendously. I love my body now, including my muscular legs, which I worked my entire life for. I will find a brand that loves my look and wants to work with me because I am who and what I am. The brands that don’t love my look will find exactly what they are looking for too. This is an important truth that applies to other careers and even relationships. I will never let anyone tell me that I am not good enough and that I need to change myself in any way. I wish I had known this five years ago when I first started modeling, or ten years ago when I was in middle school trying to fit in. You don’t need to change yourself, you only need to be your authentic self and success will follow. My hope is that people can understand that we all must accept ourselves as we are, and strive for our own goals; we must not let pressure from others or society divert us from our paths. We are worthy of achieving whatever we set out to do. My body and mind are healthy and empowered and that is what I want to represent going forward.
Now who wants to go to Italy and eat some pizza?