Traveling Narratives

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I’m currently in the middle of a cross-country road trip, driving from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and modeling along the way. Because of this, I’m getting lots of texts from home, almost every day. “Where are you headed to next?” “Are you having fun?”

First, let me say that yes, I’m having a lot of fun. This is the trip of a lifetime. I’m making art and seeing friends I wouldn’t otherwise get to visit. I’m traveling through new states, and going all the way to the other side of the country just to stick my toes in the ocean. And I get to do it on my own schedule, booking work and lodging along the way with no solid return date. It’s a dream come true.

But there are some downsides. I expected to miss my partners terribly. And I do. But what I didn’t expect was to I miss my writing.

I’m still writing some from the road, as this blog post should show. I’m trying to pull a bit of a Kerouac. But I was writing more than “some” at home; I was writing a lot. Hours every day. Basically, whenever I wasn’t running my modeling business, I was writing. I’ve been enjoying the process immensely, but I was still surprised to miss it. Why? Because writing is work. Good, fulfilling work, but still, in the end, work. I thought I would have enjoyed a bit of a break—after all, I have to make myself work when I’m home, rather than fall into the easy temptations of bad TV and social media.

But it turns out that writing and road trips have a thing in common. Although there have been some amazing moments on the road, a lot of a road trip is just, well, driving. It’s work. It’s kind of drudgery. So I’m not always sure how to answer the texts about whether I’m having fun. Because I am, but it’s just not that entertaining to talk about the process.

Writing is the same way. It’s hours spent working, not just the fun of reading the finished project. So is modeling—that requires endless emails and booking tours and scheduling before I ever step in front of a camera. Same with music, which when I was playing professionally meant practicing for six hours a day. I enjoyed all these things, or I wouldn’t have done them (okay, except maybe the email. I kind of hate email).  But a major part of being a model, musician, or writer doesn’t look at all like what people expect.

The key to success is finding drudgery you enjoy.

I think the key to success, if there even is such a thing, is finding drudgery you enjoy. And luckily, I enjoy driving. And apparently, writing.

I’ve found we often do ourselves a disservice in the drudgery department. Instead of enjoying the process, we tell ourselves oversimplified narratives, focusing on the final outcome, or the challenges. The colorful, remarkable points that make engaging stories. And worse, we seem to expect them from others—like the texts asking whether I’m having fun. These narratives capture all the highs and lows, but they skip all the work that actually makes the thing happen. It’s the bullet points. It’s seeing snow glistening on the continental divide as far as your eye can see, and skipping over the four hours of driving that got you there.

Highs and lows are not how you build a modeling career, or run a blog for three years. It’s not how you drive across the U.S. either.

So when I answer my texts from the road, I’ll make sure to tell them about my latest adventure. Because I truly am excited about it. But maybe I can convey some sense of the real magic of the road trip too—all that time to drive and think.

Funhouse Mirrors

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When I was in Prague for a modeling tour with my best friend and fellow model Keira Grant, we stumbled across a set of funhouse mirrors. I don’t even know why they were in this otherwise normal building; I only have a vague memory of them feeling out of place. But I distinctly remember the two of us peering into those warped pieces of glass that elongated some parts of our bodies and widened others, searching for flaws in the reflection. 

I don’t know about Keira, but for me the experience was strangely comforting. Usually when I look in the mirror, I hardly recognize myself. My face doesn’t appear like how I picture it in my mind, and neither does my body. But in those mirrors, I felt like I saw the truth. My self-image was so warped that the distorted reflection felt accurate. See, I was weirdly chubby there, just like I thought. And that other part? Definitely out of proportion. Finally, a mirror was reflecting me

I bring all this up because—as many of you know—I’ve been struggling with some health problems. I seem to finally be on the mend, but it took a toll on my body. Since the last time I was healthy, I lost twenty pounds.

I was too skinny—I was sickly. I lost two cup sizes, and several inches off my waist. My butt, one of my favorite features, switched from curvy to boyish. I could see all my ribs; my hipbones protruded. Even my cheeks began to hollow out. I looked bad enough that people would approach me with concerned looks and ask me what was wrong. 

Once I felt better, I decided that it was a priority to put back on some of the weight I had lost. I started eating piles of food and going to a personal trainer.

I saw results almost immediately. I gained weight. My breasts came back, and my abs filled out and got definition. I regained my strength and energy. People began complimenting me again on how I looked. 

And I hated it. 

I looked in the mirror, and all those weird funhouse bulges were back. My waist was too thick from muscle; my breasts were huge. Even my face felt puffy. I found myself missing my sickly body. I was longing to be that skinny again. 

My girlfriend complimented me on how I looked while I was walking naked around the house, and I didn’t know what to say. I was feeling out of place in my own body, and had just been wishing that it would go away, take up less space. I wanted to go back to looking like something beautiful in what I admittedly knew was the warped view of my own perception. So I told her the truth: that I actually felt unhappy with how my body looked right now. 

Now, my girlfriend is the prettiest girl in the world, so my discomfort was difficult for me to admit. What if she agreed with all the flaws I was seeing? But I’m so glad that I did. Because just doing so reminded me of some very important lessons. 

I’ve never claimed my body was flawless. Instead, with my modeling, I try to put my body out there with all its flaws and still create beauty. When I started modeling, I had to be brave enough to pose even despite the fact that I had a list as long as my forearm of what I considered negative body traits. But modeling nude taught me that I could make beauty with those supposed flaws, and that I could be comfortable in my own body. 

I had to relearn that lesson when I got sick and started losing weight. Suddenly my body didn’t look like it used to, and I had to find new parts and angles of myself that were beautiful and new ways to pose and create with them.

And I’m looking forward to continuing to model as I age and my body changes that way too. It’ll be fun to discover the new beauty that my body can create as I get older.

The problem wasn’t that I was gaining weight. It was that I had started viewing my body as this static thing that was as close to society’s ideal as I could make it: namely, super skinny. I got attached to that ideal. Any change at all felt like a loss.

The only thing static about a model is the moments of beauty she creates in her images.

I forgot that my body is a dynamic, living, breathing me with different bits of beauty to be discovered and created as things change. I forgot that the only thing static about a model is the moments of beauty she creates in her images. All the rest is transitory. 

So it’s never useful to hate my body, but let’s be honest: sometimes I will want it to be something it isn’t. Part of me is still craving that unhealthy, skinny body I’m leaving behind. I’m not going to get mad at myself for wanting it, but admitting so to my girlfriend made me realize just how warped the views of society are, and just how strong their pull can be. But now I can tell myself that view in the funhouse mirror isn’t me.  It’s just what I’ve been taught to see.