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.
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.