When I was scouted by a modelling agency at the age of thirteen, I didn’t realize the impact it would have on my life. And, I certainly didn’t foresee that I would be doing what I’m doing now.
I was shocked when the agent approached me. It was the Calgary Stampede, and I was hanging out with my friends, eating a hot dog while awkwardly standing around. I wore skater shoes and some kind of neon blue hoodie.
But at five-foot six, my ninety pound frame and size 10 shoes hinted that I had the potential to fulfill the strict criteria of a size two model, once I grew a couple of inches. Little did I know that I would live in Paris, Milan and Tokyo, as well as work in other major cities around the world, while appearing on the covers of magazines and walking on runways for fashion week. Or that I would hang out with royalty and have dinner with celebrities like Kanye West.
My braces came off at the age of sixteen and I headed to Singapore and New York for the summer to model.
In the initial days of my modelling career, everything was great. I loved and became friends with my agents in Calgary. I worked as a “Photoshoot Manager” on the weekends, helping to style the outfits and hold the reflector for the photographer. I would take the measurements of all the potential models before they began their test shoots.
At the time, it was impossibly easy for me to maintain my thirty-five inch hips and size two frame. Despite how much I ate, people at school thought I was anorexic. But I could go to buffets and eat three plates of food and find myself hungry an hour later. My metabolism was insane.
But this changed my first year of university when I started to “fill out” after gaining ten pounds. My agency in Paris called me to tell me I was on option with Italian Vogue. I didn’t want to be the person who said, “What if?” so I proceeded to get my body back into modelling condition.
I adopted restrictive eating habits for what I thought would solve the problem in the short term. But this turned out to be the long term solution I adopted after I continued to gain weight when I went back to eating the foods my body needed and wanted.
Did I think I would develop anorexia to maintain my body for the job? Certainly not. I was a student at McGill University, and knew about the risks of adopting this behaviour. I thought I knew better.
Now, this is not to say that all models are like this. There are some models who naturally have very thin bodies. But for me, it was impossible to maintain the figure I had in my teens. I developed an eating disorder, consuming rice cakes, oatmeal and very little fruit in order to achieve my thirty-five inch hips.
It wasn’t like this was abnormal. Living in model apartments and eating at industry dinners, the majority of models would ignore the bread and eat only a quarter of the food on their plate.
For some, extreme eating disorders developed. I lived with a girl whose hair fell out in the shower, and who developed bruises all over her body from anemia because of her three hundred calorie per day diet. I worked with many who smoked cigarettes and drank diet coke all day to maintain their lithe frames.
The end of my modelling career came nearly a year after I started modelling full-time. I looked at myself and wondered who I had become. Depressed. Anorexic. Low energy. And apathetic to everything in my life.
I had my final wakeup call when a 13-year-old model arrived at the agency with dark circles under her eyes and a boyfriend 10 years her senior. The loss of her childhood and innocence was heartbreaking to me.
At the age of twenty, I headed home to Calgary and returned to university.
It took a long time for me to reflect on that period of my life. It was hard to come to terms with my life then, and how negatively I felt about myself and the fact that my body couldn’t meet the standards I needed in order to model.
As I reflected, I saw not only the impact this requirement to be thin had on me, but also on my friends from high school and university who had developed eating disorders to become the size they were told was beautiful. For some, this disease and mentality will never end.
This continues to be the most upsetting thing for me - to see my friends, family and others in my life think their worth is valueless because they can’t look the way they are “supposed to.”
This applies not only to the images seen in magazines, and on the runways, but also to the photoshopped and manipulated bodies on Instagram and across social media channels. What is real anymore?
The life of someone behind the camera, it seems, is something many in society aspire to obtain and emulate. Many asked me, “But why did you give up your modeling career?” As if it was the cherry on top of the cake of my entire life.
But to be honest, my modeling career made me the most unhappy I have ever been. The fact that my career revolved around monitoring every aspect of my life to maintain a very specific appearance, and to stand silently in front of photographers and designers for the purpose of making others desire what they can’t have, was entirely unfulfilling.
And harmful to society as well.
Now, I'm about forty pounds heavier than I was when I was a model. I'm actually not quite sure, because I never use a scale. But there are about a trillion things more important to do with our limited time on this earth than perfecting appearances to embody unrealistic beauty standards. Like building stronger relationships with those you love. Or furthering your education. Or pursuing what seems to be an impossible dream. Or helping others.
Alexa contacted me after I wrote this article about my modeling experience. She was creating the first iteration of what BodyThoughts would become. Her charismatic personality encouraged me to drive to Vancouver with a days notice to speak at the show. The BodyThoughts experience Alexa created was powerful for me, and the conversation it ignited afterward was essential.
This is why BodyThoughts is so important to me. This is why I care about this movement. The body image conversation must end. The way women are represented in this world must shift, and I want it to happen in my lifetime.