Models. Rape. Eating disorders. Sexual abuse. Mental health.
While all of the above are quick to grab attention, they are also quick to receive criticism because most people do not understand them. In my episode of Real Women Real Stories, and my upcoming memoir, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light, I talk about all of the above, because I was a successful model who experienced all of the dark issues you can imagine.
Thankfully, I have recovered from a 17-year battle with eating disorders, PTSD from childhood abuse, sexual victimization, depression, and so on. But during my career as a fashion and swimsuit model, the industry definitely exacerbated my issues -- and created new ones.
I'm speaking out in the hopes that others will come forward, use their voices and get the help they need. These are "silent" issues that shouldn't remain so. My struggles could be yours, or your son's or daughter's -- tragedies and mental health conditions affect everyone, anytime, anywhere.
When I was modeling at one of the most prestigious agencies in the world, I booked coveted editorials and covers, sprinkled with some big campaigns, but everything came with a high price -- as we often hear about within the modeling and entertainment industries. It's currently poorly regulated but I, along with Assemblymember Marc Levine and some other incredible people, are pushing for change.
There were regular pressures to sleep around with the director of my agency, constant "model dinners" he organized that involved the owner of the agency, the director and his friends, and select models. The director had a girlfriend, however he was always booking her on long shoots faraway and that conveniently freed him up so that he could have girls over at his luxurious house. He didn't waste anytime in asking me, over and over, to come back to his place.
"My struggles could be yours, or your son's or daughter's -- tragedies and mental health conditions affect everyone, anytime, anywhere."
At the time, I felt pressured to do what I did, and to not use my voice. Now things are different because I've dealt with the issues from my childhood and know how to say "NO." However, back then I was a people-pleaser and felt that I had to give in to pressures because I had no self-esteem. I was so used to being abused and letting others control me that I allowed those situations to continue. And letting others abuse me eventually got me into serious trouble.
All of this led to being drugged and raped. Raped by a photographer at a lunch that was organized by the director of my agency. Where did this rape occur? At the director's very own house in Miami, who had assured me that on that day, everything would be glorious because he was holding a special casting with the photographer, just for me and his girlfriend. Later, when I confronted the director about what had happened, I was shot down and made to feel as though I was insane.
No one deserves to be raped. Ever. In any situation.
A naked female is not a open invitation for a male or female to rape her. A male who repeatedly says "No," "No," No," to a female or male who then ignores his voice and has sex with him anyways has every right to assume that he has, in fact, been raped.
Yet, society will oftentimes believe the perpetrators of rape and give cold eyes to the victims, which in turn, leaves the victims with feelings of shame and quite frankly, re-victimizes them. So a victim of rape has at least two perpetrators: the one who raped and those who do not believe the victim. And this attitude of denial trickles into so many areas: mental health, eating disorders, the modeling industry, addiction and so on. It is so much easier for individuals to look away because to try to understand and love others means two things: time and effort. Most people would rather play the denial game and assume the worst about those subjects than become educated.
"When I confronted the director about what had happened, I was shot down and made to feel as though I was insane. "
Especially with models, society tends to think that they are not intelligent, only "good enough" for taking photos, or then there is the other end of the scale where people believe that models live a glamorous life and don't experience anything "real." All of these assumptions are completely inaccurate; models are human beings who deserve to be treated as such and with respect and kindness.
Their world is anything but glamorous -- in fact, it can be a downright disgusting business that is in dire need of restructuring. And to undermine their worth and value is to fuel the cycle that keeps people everywhere -- not just models -- mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually sick.
If we are to break these vicious cycles in society and lessen, for example, the statistics of rape, we must become educated, learn to take personal responsibility and love one another -- it's how healing takes place.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.