I’ve lived through 10 years of eating disorders. I’ve worn a size 0 and a size 16. I’ve dealt with female athlete triad, body dysmorphic disorder, and I’ve had plastic surgery. All in 28 years of life.
I don’t wish this journey upon anyone else, but I will say with conviction that had I not had these experiences, I wouldn’t be sitting where I am now, on the other side of my own personally enlightened rainbow, so to speak.
We can all agree that when we look through a magazine, we’re being taught to learn something that is untrue. In the United States, flipping through a fashion magazine will teach you that being beautiful is so important. Maybe even the only thing that’s important.
In this country, beauty is a pair of long stemlike legs, a skinny body, symmetrical face, clear skin, perfect teeth, a perky full chest, a nice round butt, cherub lips, thick hair, defined muscles, a thigh-gap, wrinkle-free skin and hairless limbs. If you check every box, you’ve probably been scouted by a modeling agency — just like I was.
I began to model at age 22 as a size 2; over the course of several unsatisfying years, I decided I wanted to eat (enough) again, and I became a plus-size model.
I now travel the world shooting for clients in plenty of countries where my trying to speak the native language sounds like noises passing through a mouthful of rocks. And the food from my travels always leaves me with pangs for more when I get back to the states; I’m so thankful New York City has everything! Once, I came back from Germany and went on a two week fresh pretzel bender (Note: The Standard Biergarten is so delicious and fun!).
Here I am, behind-the-scenes with hair and makeup artist Timo Pravitianos during a work trip to Europe:
What I’ve learned during my travels is that every country and region has its own ideas of beauty. In South America, it could be a curvy body. In Europe, it could be light hair, light skin and blue eyes. In the United States, it’s the all-American girl, or the exotic, “what planet are you from?” mystery woman.
After years of traveling around, role-playing different beauty ideals for clients and magazines, I began to believe that there was a much greater message to share with the world. If every country is selling a different idea of beauty (confusing — I know!), what on Earth is true beauty that transcends all ideas, and all countries? What if I were to lose my appeal tomorrow, or have an accident that transformed my look completely? Would I still be worthy of beauty? And more importantly, how important is beauty, really?
Should we really be buying into this silly idea that drastically changes with every passport stamp?
After falling into the beauty trap of personal unworthiness, constant seeking for the next new miracle treatment, wearing 16 different sizes, and being a cover model, I’ve finally put my finger on a truth that’s set me free from a lifetime of marketing scams and beauty ideals.
The Greek philosopher Antisthenes once said, “The most useful piece of learning … is to unlearn what is untrue.” Every box that I checked to become a model was an untrue body image rule (identity crisis — eek!). Sure, I happened to fit a lot of the requirements, but I discovered that beauty and modeling are two very different things. And this is an idea worth sharing.
Beauty, I’ve learned, is found in intelligence and strength. Beauty is being brave. Beauty is friendship, honesty, loyalty, thoughtfulness and compassion. Beauty is not learned; it is something you are, even before your first breath of air. Without any comparison, beauty is uniquely you.
Unlike beauty, modeling is a career full of changing standards that leave you worthy at one moment, and not good enough the next. It’s a fun career, as I get the chance to travel around the world and meet incredibly interesting people who have become very good friends. Modeling is a career that has supported me in sharing my greater message of true beauty.
Beauty can be any body. At any age. Beauty can be in wrinkles and sunshine. Beauty can be in nature. Beauty can be in healthy bodies and self-loving practices. Beauty knows no height requirement or skin color — it only knows you. And you, lasts your entire lifetime. There’s no prime age for you. No required look. No rules, really. Beauty only suggests that being you is perfect, no matter how the universe has designed your Earth suit.
Heeding Antisthenes’ sage advice, I’ve dedicated my time to teaching people — myself included — to unlearn what is untrue. Wrinkles aren’t unhealthy. A soft stomach is no different from a hard one. A shorter person is just as useful as a taller person. Full head of hair or not, we still share an equally worthy soul. What I’ve learned is that beauty is defined by just being you.