Healthy: It's not a bad word

A former model speaks to the feeling of shame that once came with taking care of her body, and assesses the insecurity that allowed such irrational thinking to take hold. 

“Ohmigoshhh! You look soooo healthy!”

I can still remember the redness in my face upon hearing those words…right off a runway show in a stunning lamé bikini. I didn’t think much about my body at the time, yet I already held the idea that to be a model, and to be a good model…looking healthy was bad.

Let me clarify, because I need to take full ownership for this INCREDIBLY skewed view on health. I’ve been incredibly, incredibly healthy for all of my life. Mentally, physically, nutritionally…and I’ve actually enjoyed these habits.

When I started modelling, I had a kind of sponge-like mindset that made me soak up, and adopt, so many different perspectives. Sitting backstage, eyes peeled, I watched everything, sometimes even taking notes. I wanted so badly, more than anything, to prove to people…please people…be whatever I was needed to be to succeed. I can’t recall a time in my life where I wasn’t enamoured by fashion - not for the labels, or the status, of course - but for the sheer beauty in each fold of material, each mind that lingered behind it. I never thought about the models and what they looked like; I just thought about the world I knew I belonged within.

That said, I can recall easing my way into the industry and automatically feeling different. I danced, had muscles, and had a roundness to my face that wasn’t necessarily en vogue. Of course, looking back, this is what I see: I looked f****ing amazing. I was myself, I was curious, I loved life and all the people within it. I just didn’t allow myself to celebrate it, because nobody else was.

Sitting around other models, I would often hear girls gossiping about how they had to lose weight for their agencies, how one hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours…one was trying a juice cleanse for fashion week but ‘how many calories does an apple have?”

She looked at me and replied, ‘that’s funny, I feel better when I don’t.’

I was SO confused…my agents weren’t telling me any of these things! Was I supposed to do this, too? Was that what serious, professional models do? Desperate to stay in the game, I adopted these views and along with it, a hefty inferiority complex. I remember one day I was eating lunch and one model asked me how I can eat so much and look “so good.” I looked up from my bean salad and said, innocently: “Food makes me feel stronger, I actually feel better about my body when I eat.” She looked at me and replied, “that’s funny, I feel better when I don’t.”

Now, I’m almost certain that all of these girls felt the same as me: lost, unsure of how to act in an industry of subtle glances and shrinking spaces to fill. I don’t think any of these people are bad, or corrupt, or pathetic: I think they just didn’t know any better…like me. We were all trying our best to fit in and feel good enough, to own the space we occupied with a gentle nod from someone we'd given authority to. What I didn't see, however, was that this would never happen until we got our OWN shit together.

But I’m telling you now, and I seriously mean this…healthy is something that you should never internalize as “not good enough for fashion.” It's madness to think that's okay. 

For a moment, unearth your feelings and join me on this ride: if you were at a fashion show, and Anna Della Russo came up to you after saying you looked healthy, nothing else; how would you react?

Okay, good. And why would you react that way?

Call your Mom, write it down, talk about it. The most fundamental lesson I want you to grasp is that healthy will give you children, make your eyes sparkle, and give you longevity in this incredible gift of an industry. And also, never discount this…it will earn you RESPECT. If you really want to last, if you really want to be there when Marc Jacobs has his last show…gift your beautiful body with the tools to keep you around. Because you can. And you will…but first, be healthy.

Healthy kicks ass.

Photography by David James

madison schill