When to Jump, an independent media partner of The Huffington Post, is a curated community featuring the ideas and stories of people who have made the decision to leave something comfortable and chase a passion.
I was 14 when people started telling me that I should model. While I was flattered, my heart was already set on being a journalist or a psychologist.
People responded to my disinterest in modeling by trying even harder to convince me that I would be successful. It’s as if they thought that no one in her right mind would reject modeling unless she was insecure. I argued that I wanted to make an impact in the world, but was told my best shot at that would come from being a famous model first. People insisted that I would attain more influence selling my beauty than my skills, and that my appearance was my smartest investment.
I ignored them at first. I auditioned for debate team. I was proud to have made it, until I overheard the coach ask “how the heck Barbie made the team.” Then, when I won “best math student,” friends said that it was because the teacher had a crush on me.
It started to feel like no matter how hard I worked, my exterior was all I would be recognized for.
To make matters worse, a friend stopped talking to me because her boyfriend hit on me. Another friend admitted she didn’t like going out with me because she felt insecure around me. I caught myself automatically assuming that other women wouldn’t like me. I constantly apologized and found ways to put myself down. I felt isolated, so I turned even more to external validation.
I decided to start modeling after all. I was 17 when I signed to my first agency. They said, “The more you watch what you eat, the more defined your bone structure will be, and the more jobs you will book.” I was already underweight.
At one of my first modeling shoots, the photographer insisted that I shoot topless and was offended when I refused. Another colleague told me that he could get me onto Vogue if I slept with him. He told me I’d never make it in modeling if I wasn’t willing to make “sacrifices.”
I started looking at my body differently—like it was my only shot at having the life I wanted. It was no longer just my vehicle to experience life. It was my livelihood. My worth depended on it.
One day, after leaving a casting where the models were rail-thin, I went to the bathroom and saw how my thighs spread out over the toilet seat. “Not thin enough,” I thought. I pulled up my shirt and saw how my stomach rolled when I bent over. “Not allowed,” I thought.
I was already restricting. The realization that I would have to restrict even more hit me like a ton of bricks. I cried and hyperventilated in the bathroom stall. From then on, I ate less.
I’d frequently check the back of my thighs in the mirror. If I saw dimples, I’d eat even less. I’d bend over. If my skin rolled, I’d eat even less. I could no longer connect with others or enjoy experiences because I was constantly in my head, analyzing how many calories I took in and burned.
I soon was diagnosed with anorexia. My doctor told me that my body had begun to eat away at my liver. My agency told me that I looked great. A friend jokingly asked if my agency paid me to not eat, since that was clearly part of the job. If not eating was part of the job, then I worked non-stop to deny my hunger signals and trick myself out of needing to consume calories.
I got paid to go to parties where all the men were successful and all the women were beautiful. At one party, naked women were spray-painted in gold with lampshades over their heads. They were paid to be there and weren’t allowed to speak. I understood then that beauty gets auctioned, like public property. It goes to the highest bidder.
I began to see myself as a commodity. Something to consume. Subject to the uncaring laws of supply and demand. I was afraid that if I was not thin and beautiful, I would be worth less. I became dependent on external validation. I equated myself with my exterior. My appearance was no longer a small part of me. It was me. I beat myself up striving for physical perfection because it felt like all I had.
Realizing what was happening, I quit modeling. This, along with support, meditation, therapy, coaching, and pursuing my passions, helped me recover.
I began publicly speaking about my eating disorder, sharing my story and giving others tools to be at peace with their bodies. People told me that someone who is beautiful doesn’t have a right to speak about these issues. They told me, “Of course you’re at peace. It’s easy for you.”
It was not easy for me. Being beautiful never made me love myself. Believing that beauty was all I had was terrifying. I felt that if I lost it, I would no longer be loved or valuable. Beauty had nothing to do with my effort or ability, yet it was the thing I was recognized for most, so I clung to it.
Being told, “You are beautiful” from a young age was not liberating for me. Often, it was confining and isolating. It was confusing to not be able to distinguish the difference between my outer and inner worth.
I finally realized that beauty is not who I am. I am not reduced to some thing. Nor do I have any obligation to be beautiful for anyone. Beautiful is not the best thing that I can be. It does not make life easy. It does not make me worthy. It does not guarantee peace. Peace earned through external means is not peace. It is vanity. Peace, happiness, love and fulfillment have no beauty standards.
Realizing that there is no true correlation between being beautiful and having a life I love gave me the freedom to not have to be beautiful. Now, I get to just be me.
Need help? Call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
When to Jump, an independent media partner of The Huffington Post, is a curated community featuring the ideas and stories of people who have made the decision to leave something comfortable and chase a passion. You can follow When to Jump on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For more stories like this one, sign up for the When to Jump newsletter here. (Note: The When to Jump newsletter is not managed by The Huffington Post.)