When I went to dinner the other night, I overheard a woman talking to her husband and her friends. “I’m skinny for my age. . .I think,” she said hesitantly. I wanted to tell her just how beautiful she was, and how much her weight didn’t matter. Yes, she was skinny—and not just for her age. But more than that, she was vibrant. Besides that one statement, she had been vivacious and bold and loud and outspoken. It was hard not to overhear her.
But that one statement made me sad, and not just for her. Because it’s not just her—I can’t think of a female friend who hasn’t said something like this to me, at one point or another. Sometimes it’s in the past tense: “I used to be uncomfortable with my weight.” Other times it’s like their bodies are a loose net of flaws, that there’s always a body part or a number on the scale to criticize.
I’m guilty of it too. I used to be so bad that I made a list of body flaws that I saw in myself. I spent years with my list trying to eradicate those flaws, or at least hide them from everybody else. Even when I’d gotten through that, I still hated my reflection in the mirror, or my face in photographs.
All this changed after I started modeling. It engendered in me strength and capability, and a respect for my body and what it does. I think modeling can be the foundation for a healthy body image. It has allowed me to use my body in a non-sexual context to express myself artistically. Modeling taught me to view my body not just as a thing to be improved, but an instrument for creating and conveying beauty and emotion to other people.
But lately I’ve been battling with my body image again. I know why. I’ve been struggling with some health problems that have—among other things—caused me to lose fifteen pounds. It makes me doubt myself. Yes, I love my body and how it looks. But am I celebrating a body that’s inherently unhealthy?
It’s even worse when other people comment on it. When a photographer says I look “ideal” with the lower weight, I get frustrated. I like the idea of “looking ideal,” but I’d like it to be because I’m actually healthy.
On the other hand, I know where they’re coming from. I actually like how the new weight looks. I can see my muscle tone better; my hourglass figure is emphasized. I may be weaker, but I look stronger and fitter. I like it enough that I feel guilty when my boyfriend says that I’m too skinny and I should eat more. I know he’s just concerned, but part of me wants to stay looking like this.
One thing has been helping, though: looking at other model’s photos. Particularly models that look different from me, and from each other.
That sounds weird, right? But if I’m being honest, I know that part of the reason I’m so attracted to being skinnier is because it’s closer to society’s beauty standards. I know that those standards are ridiculous and harmful. But that’s an easy thing to forget when we’re only exposed to images of one type of beauty: young, white, and skinny. Even as a model—someone who really should know better—the more I see that singular definition of beauty, the easier it is to judge myself against it.
Other models’ pictures remind me that modeling can be and is so much more than fitting a narrow standard of beauty. When I see another model’s images, I recognize the art that they’re making. It reminds me that modeling is the process of creating perfect moments of beauty—not being inherently “beautiful.” It reminds me that my body can create beauty through modeling, even when I’m sick and skinny. And that my body was capable of creating beauty when I was fifteen pounds heavier too.
This made me think: what if that woman at dinner was exposed to more examples of beauty? Would she still be concerned about her weight? What about all of my female friends? What about myself?
I think we need more voices in modeling. We need more plus sized models, more models of color, more short models and tall models and young models and old models. And yes, we need more skinny white girls too. We’re creating what beauty other people see by choosing to stand in front of the camera lens. So if you’ve ever wanted to be a model, now’s the time. Contact me, and I will help you. Let’s make sure that beauty is diverse, for the sake of our fellow women, our friends, and ourselves.