It has finally just hit me – I am free.
As I sit here, and do the dreaded task of organizing thousands of photos from my iPhone to folders on my USB, previews flash before my eyes. Photos from previous trips, photos from my “vacations” back at home, and everything in between. The one photo that hit me hard, and gave me the realization of freedom, was one of my mother and I at the airport just prior to my last departure.
I really feel as though I am a bird, finally being released from my cage.
Looking at the photo allowed me to visualize a different life. If I don’t want to, I never *have* to go on another modeling contract overseas again. Now, currently I am calling this return home a “break” but it may even be time I hang up my towel, other than the odd side job or direct booking. But I won’t set it in stone, or cry wolf.
This photo made me feel overwhelmingly joyful, an indescribable happiness that brought me to tears.
The painful airport goodbyes and stressful curiosity of what each contract would bring… no more. I would not need to worry further about when I will see my family, friends, and boyfriend next. I wouldn’t need to stress about the amount of calories I ate on the plane ride over, or if my body would be measured immediately after landing (who isn’t bloated after flying, right?). I would no longer need to wonder how many girls would be bunking (literally, bunk beds) in the same tiny a room, or how many I could befriend. Restrictions on how I live my life were now erased, if I wanted I could now cut my hair, have flashy nails or even bronze my skin.
The past five years have been a non-stop motion of turbulence. Especially in the last three years, as I had been traveling seven months of the year usually. I will say on one hand, I am blessed. I have gotten to see some of the most amazing places in Asia: Singapore, Tokyo, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. I also have gotten to meet some lifelong friends, receive special treatment when partying (models party for free in Asia) and attend exclusive events with A-list celebrities. I have seen myself appear on television, been on billboards, and have been asked by people seated beside me on flights, if they can take a photo with me, as they recognize me from the magazine in front of them. These moments surreal, but at what cost? Before you decide to jump into the industry of modeling, I ask you to consider everything. I don’t throw these examples out as “bragging rights,” but as a contrast to say “these are great things” BUT look at what is worth much more. Like peace, sanity, loved ones, self-love and freedom, the ability to let go of control.
My irreplaceable friendships I made overseas, the self-exploration, financial “luck” that allowed me to pay off schooling, and the opportunity to see places I never would’ve seen without this job… Make me grateful.
If you ask me, if I could go back — would I do it again? I just don’t know.
The real reason I am blessed is because I have a strong army of support behind me back home that kept me going.
Ever since I can remember, I have always had anxiety (generalized anxiety disorder). I worried more than the average person, handled stress differently, care a lot, and think differently, this made daily activities a lot more difficult. When I started traveling it forced me to spread my wings and take a leap of faith.
My first trip was the most intense one for me, being 6 months long, a lot happened in that timeframe.
When I returned home from that trip my anxiety and depression was at an all-time high, and I took time off from working internationally to seek help. It was too much all at once. Never had I traveled much before, and within the 6 month time frame I dove head first into learning and embracing new cultures and countries, had a traumatic experience where I had to lock myself in a room to protect myself from outward forces, had nearly been physically taken advantage of, experienced the death of a loved one, the loss of a romantic partner, had possessions stolen from me, the realization of corrupt governments, tourist visas, and personal illness on top of everything. As I mentioned, it was too much.
After seven months of returning home, I finally recovered from my depression. Although I was “better,” I knew depression was a mental state that could return again at another time (and it did). My anxiety was also a lot more tamed, thanks to an amazing counsellor who guided me, and taught me how to manage these overwhelming feelings with useful techniques.
As time went on, I returned overseas to take on more contracts. I returned stronger than ever, but eventually slowly ran myself down again.
During trips overseas, I would find the industry a difficult place even for the well-equipped.
I would stress about booking jobs and the financial uncertainty. Agencies take a very large percent, and when you work overseas you are “advanced” all of your necessities such as accommodation, flights, photos and pocket money expenses. These fees are all eventually paid back through the hours of slavery the models put in. My longest job was 23 hours. If you are lucky, at the end you make profits. I, for the most part, had been very lucky.
I experienced restless days and nights, with the pressure to be thin. I can actually remember the day my perception on my own beauty changed. I had called my very first agency to ask them some questions regarding an upcoming test shoot (free photo shoot for portfolio usage, I did these for three years before traveling, to build a strong book) and that’s where the turn of events had happened.
“By the way, what are you doing for exercise nowadays?” asked the director of my former agency.
As I excitedly told them about different fitness classes I had been enrolled in, step class, running, etc, he stopped me mid-sentence – “You need to stop, these workouts are making your legs bigger! Just walk. Walk every day for 90 minutes, and then your legs and hips will be smaller.” I agreed, hung up the phone, and cried.
I hadn’t even meant to fall into the traps of the industry. I had started out doing acting gigs and was a dancer when I was younger. As I aged, I needed to get braces to straighten my smile, and that caused me to take a break from the acting side of work, and eventually I quit dancing for other reasons. To do modeling was just the urge to try something different. Little did I know that I was “the exception to the rule,” and that at just under 5’6”, I would need to be extra thin to compensate for my lack of height. How was I to know that girls my height usually don’t get the opportunities I was being given? I thought I was indeed blessed.
These statements pushed me down a road of self-hate and carried on for years, until this day even. For years afterwards I would step on the scale, and measure my body by the inch each and every morning. This gave me validation. The good or bad news I would receive from the scale and my measuring tape would dictate my mood for the day, and let me know what foods I should/shouldn’t eat that day. I could recite the caloric content of any food or beverage if asked, and always had my day’s intake calculated. I figured out the chemistry, the code to my body… and knew what I could and couldn’t eat together in a day to stay thin. When I would miss the mark, and over eat, I would sit in deep shame, often binge eat because I had “blown it already” and work extra hard the next week to ensure I get back to the body I had the week before. If my weight caught up with me, and I had access to a treadmill, I would stay on until I saw the number “1000” decreased from my caloric intake.
On one trip in particular, I began feeling my depression immensely again, and when I am depressed, I often turn to food for comfort. I was never the type to “restrict” foods, or so I thought. If I was hungry, I would always eat. In fact, I ate every couple hours of fear of getting too hungry and binge eating later. When I say “restrict” in quotations, it’s because I did in fact rule out many different foods deeming some good and others bad. Moderation wasn’t possible because I wasn’t allowing myself a little of the foods I love when I would crave them… it was often all-or-nothing, black and white thinking. I preferred to eat alone and when I would over eat, I would make up for my “mistakes” the following days.
I was never the puking type, and when I had fellow model friends overseas who used methods of starvation, diets or purging, I hid my own insecurities and would reassure them they were beautiful, and thin. I would try to assure them they can’t do these things to their bodies. It is unhealthy.
I never wanted anyone to feel the pain I felt. I didn’t think they deserved it, and I knew they were indeed all so beautiful already.
See, I thought my problem was much less severe because I was still eating, and knew too much about food. I had been confused if my obsessive 24/7 thoughts of food and calculations were enough to be deemed a disorder, or if it was a “wimpy” disorder because I wasn’t actually puking.
During my depressive states, I would “lose control” and eat and eat until I couldn’t breathe. As though food was the one thing I had control over in my life. I kept eating and eating, and eventually on one of my trips, I found my solution. I began to use laxatives nearly every day to release the emotional and physical abuse I was doing to myself. My weight fluctuated a lot in the past five years.
This scarred me not only physically but most of all emotionally, and left me with misconstrued perceptions on life that I still need to overcome.
When I receive a compliment, I would think it meant I needed to work harder. And worst of all, when a loved one or partner would tell me they love me… I could only wonder how they loved me, when I didn’t love myself.
My eating disorder — and most of all, my anxiety disorder — makes me feel as though it takes up an entire half of me.
The other half I am left with is the real “me,” the “me” who is a good person, who likes to have fun, with personality, and a big heart. I often still wonder how people can love me as much as they do, when because of my disorders, they only get to experience half of me. The other half is constant worries and stress about life (anxieties other than my ED), depressive episodes where I am at a low point and in tears, and moments where I don’t feel in control. Sometimes I feel detached from my body. Medical professionals refer to anxiety as “The Beast,” as when it takes over your body, you aren’t really *you* in those moments. My anxiety has the tendency to make me always want to be in control of everything, and stress easily – I hate uncertainty.
Besides the financial and physical uncertainties, there were many other battles to deal with such as being away from the ones I love most, finding true and trustworthy friends and relationships overseas, slaving at jobs only to receive 60% of it, experiencing the nervousness of visa extensions (most agencies only provide a tourist visa) and spending a lot of time alone.
I am now back at home in Vancouver, Canada and in returning home from my previous trip, my depression again cured. I am so happy to share this, and while I am working very, very hard around the clock to keep it in check when it creeps back… I am also actively seeking further help with my anxieties and for help for my newly diagnosed eating disorder.
I am very nervous to share part of my story with the world, but in doing this my intention is to extend a hand out to anyone who is feeling alone or who needs support.
I have an army of unconditional support behind me, and as I struggle to fight through all of these difficult battles, they will be there for my victory when that day comes. My amazing family, friends, mother agency and boyfriend are the most precious to me; they are always there when I need them.
Since I have returned home, and wanted to genuinely make a change, I have been making progress. I have taken the scale and measuring tape out of my bathroom. I have been trying my best not to calculate my caloric intake, and have been resisting forms of purging. I am learning to give myself grace, and trying to eat a wide range of foods I have excluded from my diet for so long. I will be reprogramming and using my anxiety techniques learned to serve me better and bring inner peace preventing depression.
The obstacles I am fighting will be exceptionally hard to break after five solid years. At times I feel physical pain and discomfort, leaving me in emotional distress…but I am on my way, wanting to finally recover from these nightmares. As I am not perfect I surely will be taking “wins” and “losses…” but I do hope to come out as the victor.