I was recently asked on a podcast why I created the Beyond Beauty Project. As I started talking, I realized how damn long my full answer is! The reason being is that the creation of it truly came from the history of my life.
By the age of five, I started watching my Mom struggle with her self-image as the horrific disease of multiple sclerosis debilitated her body and stole her mental health. As her only daughter, I shared her tears and defeat as she unsuccessfully tried shoving her growing belly into clothing that didn't fit and her swollen feet into shoes that were too tight. Her longing for self acceptance made an indelible mark on my young psyche. That was a pivotal moment, a seed that was planted that I would later identify as the beginning of my own journey.
I was also fully emerged in competitive dance growing up where I wore leotards in a mirrored studio six days a week. I was constantly comparing myself to the turning abilities or six-pack abs of other dancers. Those years was also when I started to understand what confidence means, and that the way I looked held weight in the world.
In my teenage years, I got girl bullied in high school because I started to date a guy one of the “popular girls” had dated before me in a totally separate school. Dang girl, how the heck was I suppose to know!? Didn’t help that my proud boyfriend made a school wide announcement that I took a few modeling photos - that was something I felt extremely uncomfortable with at the time and wanted no one to know!! I have since been told the bullying was due to jealousy…this is still something I will never understand.
Fast forward to a modeling career where each and every part of my body was judged. I was consistently told to lose weight or to cut my hair. I was typically the biggest model on set… often referred to as “healthy” at a size four. This was before the world of advertising had the brilliant idea of plus size modeling… wow, how genius to finally start something to represent more women in the world… (insert all the sarcasm here).
I then had a long stretch of educating myself, trying to understand myself, knowing thyself…. whatever you want to call it! ;-) I studied personal training, holistic nutrition, Ayurveda medicine, did a shit load of talk therapy, read all the self help books, went to all the workshops and tried almost every alternative therapy!
I went on to have a successful modeling career. One that I am deeply grateful for. I traveled the world and I met some of my best friends. But whether I was walking through the streets of Paris daydreaming of one day helping women and children with confidence, or reporting a creepy photographer and getting told "oh yea that's just him" - I always had a pull to do something more. The truth is I’ve always been fiery and I’ve always fought for the person who couldn’t fight for themselves. I feel deeply, I am intuitive and always want to be better.
Around the time when I felt like I was at a height of my career. I also met the love of life, l was happy. I was healthy and I was grateful. But then my world started to unfold…
In a two year span, I lost my mom, dad, brother and a dear friend one right after the other. All the while, I was unknowingly pregnant facing another huge life change and trying to make sense of a quickly changing body I didn’t understand. I was legit mad at my friends for not telling me that being the “fit pregnant lady” wasn’t a sure thing and instead I could possibly be the “miserable, depressed pregnant lady who would gain 68 lbs and need orthotics in her shoes”.
I then had several crushing miscarriages, the last one being identical twin girls at five and half months. I am a twin and two of my best friends were pregnant with identical twins... I was absolutely certain it was fate after loosing our other babies... until it wasn't...
Lost, searching and wanting my life back, I slowly took steps to return to modeling and there I stood, a woman on the outskirts of a living hell hearing those all too familiar words, “but first, you need to lose weight”.
I was crushed on every level. Physically, I didn't recognize the body I knew so well. The body I had studied and perfected from years as a model, my holistic health studies and personal training. I was merely surviving.
My sweet daughter was three and half years old and she idolized me, I am her mom -- the person she will emulate -- with or without trying. All the while, unknowingly, I was behind closed doors having flashbacks of my years in my mothers bedroom... But now I was the one that was unsuccessfully trying to shove my body into clothing that didn't fit. The irony of me in front of the mirror discarding my body, the heroic, beautiful body that had gifted me the miracle of my daughter and the resilience of miscarriage was clarity for me.
I didn’t recognize my mental health and I had lost all of my faith…
But there’s beauty in breaking because I got to rebuild my life and I got to do it on my terms. Now I own how I look and my experiences. It’s like that saying, “an ending is a beginning in disguise”. My bottom, my breaking is what really led to the birth of the Beyond Beauty Project.
I started to realize two consistent themes held strong throughout my history…
First, I was the stereotypical ideal of what society saw as beautiful - I was white, thin, tall and I worked as a model. I was privileged. I also got trained from an early age from the patriarchy system to be the “good girl”, a caretaker, a co-dependent and to not use my voice. Add this training with my looks and we have exactly what society wants women to be… I was a walking brunette barbie.
Second, was my deep and sometimes painful journey of understanding that it didn’t matter what I looked like on the outside if the inside wasn’t healthy. I was often a walking contradiction because I was hearing how good I looked while simultaneously sacrificing my physical, mental or emotional health to achieve it. So I had “the package" but I could no longer ignore the loud, nagging need to heal and develop what was inside. This is when I realized the gift was not just my body or my face but my life experiences and the voice I'd been taught to silence.
I didn’t start my project because I have all the answers or because I am the “end all version” of what I want to feel like. I started because I am compelled to use the voice I’d muffled for so long in the hope I can reach someone who’s struggling to feel better, stronger, prettier or louder. I started it for my daughter and I started it for all of us.
What I do know for sure is that if I’m not tending to my physical health, my mental health, my emotional health and my spiritual health that it doesn’t matter what I look like on the outside.
Beauty is how we feel.
As we go into a new year, my goal is simple. I want to keep learning what my physical, mental and spiritual health needs for me to feel the most fulfilled. And I want it to spill over into my daughter and all of you! Let’s normalize that we are all a work in progress, and continue to grow and learn from one another ... because beauty really is an inside job!
Happy New Year, beauties!