As someone who has worked in fashion for many years now, I can’t help but be at least a little preoccupied with bodies. After all, when you work in this business, you’re exposed to a lot of individuals—models, bloggers, editors, designers, and celebrities—who, for the most part, fall on the thin side of the spectrum.
As it happened, I’ve been particularly preoccupied with my own body for many years longer than I’ve been in fashion. Given society's preoccupation with being thin, I hardly think my experience is a unique one: I grew up anxious about my body from a very young age. I was teased for being fat starting around 7 or 8 years old. Of course, I was far from actually being fat, but I think the cruelty of my peers ended up having a long-term impact that I am just now overcoming.
I’ve been pretty much every size you can imagine. The summer before high school, I made it my mission to show up to my freshman year looking fitter and better than ever, so I went on a restriction diet and exercised like crazy all summer. I think I lost about 25 pounds—going from weighing about 140 to 115. It felt amazing to walk into school and have all my classmates from middle school look at me and say, “Wow! You look great!” The high I got from being skinnier than I had ever been motivated me to keep going, until it became an actual addiction.
Eventually, I ended up somewhere around 110 pounds, and I stopped menstruating. Trust me when I say I was frighteningly thin. I easily slipped into a size 2, my hip bones protruded from behind my jeans, I was a 34B bra, the smallest I have ever been since I first sprouted breasts. My “rock bottom,” as they say, came when, at 15 years old, I found myself in my parent’s bathroom, sobbing because I had overshot my calorie limit for the day, and was pondering vomiting it all up. I ended up trying, but I failed. That's when I knew the skinny status I had worked so hard to achieve was no longer worth the strife. Although that was a major turning point, it was only the beginning of a journey toward total self-love and acceptance, which I am still navigating to this day.
Since then, I’ve been a size 4, a size 6, a size 8, and even a size 10—and here’s the pattern I’ve noticed in my own life: The times when I have been super thin, when I looked really, really great in every single photo, are the times when I have been the most miserable on the inside. This, of course, is not to say that every woman who’s a size 2 is miserable—but for me, a size 2 is simply not my natural state. Being a size 2 has consistently been the result of something not so good happening in my life: an eating disorder in high school; then, later in life, an incredibly stressful job that drove me to skip meals and suffer unbearable bouts with insomnia. All this is to say: When I’ve been my skinniest, I’ve been my unhappiest.
Of course, my main goal when it comes to my body is health, so I’m not advocating being overweight either. What I just wish all women could achieve is the state of bliss that comes with accepting your body for how it is all the time—even when you’re not the happiest with it. Right now, I’m a healthy size 8, and if I’m being completely transparent here, I am trying to lose a few pounds, but (and it’s a big but) when I look in the mirror at my body, I try to feel nothing but positive feelings— try being the operative word.
I’ve started going to hot yoga, which forces me to look in the mirror at my body, exactly how it is, for at least an hour or so a day. Sometimes, I’ll be honest, all I focus on are the things I don’t like—the familiar litany of complaints that runs through so many women’s heads whenever we analyze our bodies in the mirror: Ugh, I have all this extra fat on my arms. Ugh, my thighs are enormous. Ugh, I wish my waist were smaller. But for the most part, I focus on how astonishingly strong my body is—strong enough to have carried me through 29 years of life, and to bring me to the other side of a strenuous yoga class in a 100-degree room without going kaput.
My main point here, and the message I feel privileged to try to get across to as many women as possible, is this: It simply does not matter what size you are. What matters is your internal state—your happiness, contentment, and joy—and that your body is healthy. If you gain or lose a few pounds here and there, who cares as long as you’re healthy and happy?! Obviously, this is much easier said than done, but take it from a woman who has seen some success at trying not to care: It’s possible, and what you experience on the other side is a whole new level of freedom.
Me during New York Fashion Week, September 2013. I was probably a size 4-6 in this photo.
Me at a Marchesa shoot in early 2014. The brand's dresses run infamously tiny; I squeezed into a size 6, and it's not zipped all the way up in the back.
Me, August 2014: Trying out Spanx's brand new denim line. These are a size 29.
Me caught off-guard by a photographer at an event, November 2014. A healthy size 8!
Me, out to lunch in April 2015. See also: Proof that overalls are universally flattering, no matter your size.
Lela Rose for Lane Bryant Dot Dash Skater Skirt ($98)