My journey to a life of self-love and positive body image
Reprinted from "Body Image" issue of Visions Journal, 2016, 12 (1), p. 29
Even before I was a teenager, I hated my body. As young as 11 or 12, I stopped paying attention to my grades at school. I quit ballet, gave up piano and flute and became more isolated from my friends. What mattered to me was what was on the television programs I watched and in the magazines I read, with their messages about beauty and attractiveness. What society and the media told me felt all-important. I can’t recall ever watching a show or reading an article about loving myself the way I was.
I’ve always been tall and curvy. At my smallest, I was a size eight, but to me, that was huge. I wanted to be a size two. I would go days without eating, weighing myself compulsively several times a day. I would count the calories in the food I ate. Only when I saw that I’d dropped half a pound, for example, would I feel good about my body. But as soon as I ate another meal, I would hop on the scale and inevitably feel bad about myself.
As I got older, I took up smoking for a short time because I heard it was an appetite suppressant. I took laxatives after meals. And I dated men who would make me feel bad about my size, telling me I should avoid eating certain foods or that I would be so much hotter if I were smaller.
To the outside world, I seemed confident and happy. Behind closed doors, I was miserable. I hated myself and how I looked. I hid this ugly, inner battle fairly well, but a little voice in my head constantly nagged that I wasn’t good enough.
Five years ago, my confidence started to grow. Three years before that, I had started modelling. It may seem odd that I began modelling when I felt so bad about my body, but I think many girls who begin modelling come from a place of being overly focused on their appearance. A friend asked me to model for her hair salon in exchange for a cut and colour. Once I got in front of the camera, I forgot my insecurities. When the photos came back, the positive reaction from friends and family was a huge confidence booster.
At first, I didn’t take modelling seriously—I never thought I was very good. But one day I met a man who had seen a few of my photos and really liked them. He encouraged me to try modelling full-time. He also made me feel as if I was the most important person in the world. He listened to my stories. He laughed at my jokes. He encouraged me to be the best me I could possibly be. I didn’t necessarily believe everything he told me about myself, but I did love the way he made me feel.
So I started doing more photo shoots. I began with pin-up modelling. I’ve always loved the look and feel of the 40s and 50s. The women were glamorous, showing off their curves and proud of their bodies. As I became more involved in the local modelling community, I realized how many women of all shapes and sizes had the same struggles and passions as I did. When my modelling career began to take off, I started to receive messages from women and girls around the globe, telling me how I had inspired them to embrace themselves just as they are.
The attention wasn’t all positive, however. Even today, I still get comments from people calling me “fat” or “a cow” or telling me I shouldn’t be wearing that. At first, these comments were hard to take. I would spend hours crying, wondering why I allowed myself to go through this. Then, in the fall of 2015, a social media campaign called “Project Harpoon” altered photographs of me to make me appear thinner. The captions were insulting, insinuating that I could be more successful if I looked more like the falsified image in the altered photographs.
I got angry. I realized how damaging this message could be to the young girls I was hoping to inspire. On my blog I posted an open letter in response, and the letter went viral.1 The story got picked up by Good Morning America and by news sites like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post. It felt great knowing that I had taken a negative message and used it as an opportunity to make a positive statement about body image, body pride and acceptance.
I still have bad days, but what helps is thinking about the women and girls who look up to me. I also came to an important realization: people who write negative comments about strangers on social media sites are, quite simply, bullies. They get something out of making disparaging comments simply for the sake of making disparaging comments. Their words reflect poorly on them, not me.
As I continued modelling, I made connections with other plus-size models from around the world. They spoke about loving themselves, regardless of their size or shape: our bodies do so much for us, and they deserve our love in return. Slowly, with the support of the man who first encouraged me to do more modelling (now my fiancé!) and the support of the plus-size modelling community, I began to live a life of loving myself. I exercise. I spend time outside. I am conscious of what I put into my body. But if I’m craving a burger or pasta, I don’t deprive myself. Life is made up of special moments, and some of the best memories I have revolve around being with friends, eating food, drinking wine and laughing. I will not avoid the opportunity to create these memories for fear of gaining half a pound. If I wake up feeling bloated after a night out, I will remember the delicious meal I ate, the wine I drank and the people with whom I spent such a wonderful time. The bloat will pass, but I will have the memory of that evening as long as I live. And I wouldn’t trade that memory for anything.
It isn’t always easy. I am sometimes sad and I sometimes have anxiety. And sometimes I still have what I call “fat days”—days when I feel too heavy and not beautiful enough. What has changed, however, is that when I have a “fat day,” I tell myself that tomorrow will feel different. I remind myself not only about the things I love about myself that have nothing to do with my weight (my heart, my mind, my laugh, my smile) but also that “fat” is something I have. It does not define me. My dress size does not define me. The number on the scale does not define me. In fact, I haven’t stepped on a scale in three years. I no longer allow the scale to determine whether my day will be a happy one or not.
Being a plus-size model gives me the opportunity to show the world that beauty does not come in only one size. As a plus-size model, I am able to challenge social perceptions of feminine beauty. I will continue to do more public speaking, inspiring others to appreciate their bodies inside and out, to be the best possible version of themselves. And one day, if I have children, I will teach them to love their body for what it can do for them, not for how it looks.
Every day, I strive to remember that I am enough as I am. I love myself and my body, and no one can take that away from me. It’s not conceit or narcissism. It’s simply giving myself the respect and love I deserve. As a character in one of Oscar Wilde’s plays once said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”2 I only wish I had begun that romance a bit sooner.
About the author
Ruby is a plus-size model, body-positive activist, and Editor-in-Chief of Beauty Mark Magazine. She currently resides in Vancouver, BC, where she was born and raised. She is engaged and set to marry the love of her life in October in Las Vegas
For the letter written in response to “Project Harpoon,” see www.rubyroxxmodel.com/rubys-blog.
Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband, Act III, Scene i.