#MyAfter Portrait Series
I thought long and hard about including myself in this portrait series. It felt a little vain and promotional to me, but knowing that I’m the biggest I’ve ever been and that I’ve been through some of the hardest physical challenges and the biggest stressors of my life this year, I thought it was important to emphasize that it’s okay if your body changes, many times due to circumstances. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself, and that’s hard, but this picture that I chose – while I’m not happy with the way I look – it shows joy and confidence. It shows me embracing life regardless of the pounds. And the real victory is that I maintained my recovery throughout those major stressors this year.
Skinny does not mean happy – I have learned that 100 times over this year. My husband loves me regardless of the weight that I’ve put on, and he knew me when I was controlling my weight through over exercising and restriction. I was not happy then.
I have to look at the stretch marks and know that I’ve earned them. I have to toss out the clothes that don’t fit and come to grips with the fact that I may never be that size again. I cry a lot about my body changing, that does not come without pain. But I am completely unwilling to go back to the behaviors I used when I was sick. It was not a life, and it totally overtook my thoughts, my actions, and my relationships.
If I go back to my eating disorder, that means sacrificing my future family for the way I look, or giving up Body Boop and helping other people because I wear a bigger size in leggings? When you type it out, it really doesn’t make any sense at all, but eating disorders carry with them powerful voices. It is a daily fight to push back against those thoughts, and if you’re reading this and you’re struggling or recovered, I know you know what I mean.
This month, I have noticed a lot of people comparing photos of themselves in 2006 to current 2016 photos. You want to know where I was this time in 2006? Crying on my dorm bed on the phone with an insurance agent so that I could get placed in a residential treatment center.
My 10-year recovery anniversary is in March 2017, and I’m gonna throw the biggest party you’ve ever seen. I do not need to look back at those photos from a time when I lived with my head over a toilet. I’m doing hard work to adjust to the body I have now, and I will keep fighting any fleeting desires to go back to such a painful time because I looked thinner. It’s just not worth it.
I hope you read this and know that you are powerful and that you can chose recovery. It’s not easy, but a better life is waiting for you.
We chose to feature is Nathalia Novaes, a model and student studying the pervasiveness of thinness in the media. Nathalia is obviously a PRO at photo shoots, so we were lucky to have her talent and spirit on set in New York in September.
I had an eye-opening conversation with Nathalia about the conflict in her mind and soul that occurred when she began to recover and feel happy with herself, but lost jobs at a larger size.
I am recovered from anorexia and a binge eating disorder. I started dieting at the age of 9, and pretty much my whole life I thought I needed to “control” my body to be as skinny as my friends or the girls in the magazines. When I started to model (I was 19) all of my body hate was validated and I started to feel like my body was a burden to my career. I had to hear on a daily basis that I would have a better career and get more jobs if ‘only I lost weight.” And so I did it, but in the process I lost my happiness and my health. I started to get great jobs and was in big editorials around the world but I was just not happy and ended up developing an ED. At that time people were praising me for my jobs and body, and it was the saddest moment in my life, which is so ironic.
I started to get scared because I was gaining weight from my cycles of restriction and binge eating. I had extreme anxiety and got to the point that I even occasionally contemplated suicide. So, I started going to therapy hoping to keep my weight down and be happy again. When that happened, I started to unintentionally recover from my body dysmorphia and ED and finally realized that my problem was not that I was overweight, but instead, I needed to recover from years of eating disorders. I finally realized how sick I was. It was simultaneously terrifying and liberating.
It is crazy to look back and realize that I was dangerously sick for at least 5 years, and even got close to losing my life. I started to normalize my eating and consequently started gaining weight. Obviously, the industry did not like that and so I had to put on the superwoman cape and say “whatever,” which was extremely difficult as I love my career so much. But at the same, I was feeling so beautiful and sexy while my clients were not booking me anymore because I was too big. But that changed something inside me and I felt an urge to model because I wanted to show my new kind of beauty: a healthy and genuine kind of beauty.
About 10 months ago I changed my agency to JAG Models because they represent girls of all sizes. I found out that I could be me and still model, I could be healthy and happy and keep working. It was so liberating. I also went back to studying and am currently studying women’s studies and communications because I want to eventually research about the impact that the images from the media have to women in general. I want to spread body positivity around the world in whatever way I can and contribute to more body diversity in the media and the fashion industry. I believe we need to see different shapes and sizes validated in the media to actually learn to respect bodies, both ours and others’. That is why it is so important to have models with different shapes and sizes – it is the way of getting out of the thin obsession (as a society) and that is what gives me fuel to work hard for my career. I also think that every human being has the right to experience the pleasure of loving their bodies while taking genuine care of it. It’s time to redefine health and beauty.
Nathalia has so much life ahead of her – it’s hard to believe that such a beauty inside and out could have succumb to suicidal thoughts, but sadly, this often accompanies eating disorders and other mental health issues. I thank her for her honesty, and for chasing her health, happiness and career at the same time.
Always call 911 with any emergencies, and if you are having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1 (800) 273-8255.
Nicole Javorsky is a college student and the founder of Cubs for Coping, a nonprofit that provides handmade teddy bears for people in eating disorder treatment programs, hospitals and homeless shelters.
Nicole contacted Body Boop two years ago so that we could support each other in our efforts for eating disorder recovery. I continue to be impressed with her determination is her own personal recovery, and with her strong will and desire to help others.
It doesn’t matter what I looked like before because my struggle with anorexia does not define me. In fact, it never did despite what I believed. In recovery, I can be a better friend, a healthy student and a passionate CEO for a cause I care about.
Being in recovery means that my past can inform my choices instead of define who I am. Life is messy and, for me, my recovery means embracing that there are in-betweens, overlaps, things that can’t be categorized. Just like there are no “good” or “bad” foods, I don’t need to be defined in terms of “good” or “bad” either. Everything is messy, everyone is messy and I can enjoy the messiness, and join in it, too.
I love this photo because her expression of sheer joy shows a STRONG individual who has said goodbye to her days of suffering and false control. She is ready for all of the ups and downs that life and recovery brings her, and she is enjoying life!
If you would like to learn more about Cubs for Coping, click here. Nicole’s organization has donated more than 500 handmade teddy bears to children and teens experiencing hospitalization, homelessness, or eating disorders. They could use your support!
Diana Denza is a 27-year-old lifelong New Yorker who lives with her wonderful partner. She has six tattoos, five pairs of colorful Doc Martens, and four sweet cats. Diana works as a communications associate at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) and volunteers as a crisis counselor in her free time. She has recently started taking kickboxing, dance, and yoga classes and hopes to one day be good at all three. 🙂
Diana told me that she would like people to know that recovery is rarely a linear process and it takes a lot of work. There are times when she is uncomfortable in her own body, but she’s learned to let those feelings pass without acting upon them. There are even some days when she wants to fall back into eating disordered patterns, and she is lucky to have the support of her partner and therapist.
Diana said that she has been a variety of weights and sizes, and that she has to remember that in the long run, those things don’t matter. The people who matter will like you for your personality, not some number on a scale. Please don’t wait to live a good life until you meet an arbitrary body ideal.
When Diana was struggling in college, she wasn’t aware of the low-cost help that was available. She felt hopeless and ashamed, but when she finally did ask for help, she received it.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder or any other mental health issue, please research clinics and sliding scale therapists in your area. You deserve support and care that you can afford.
When we spoke at the shoot, Diana said:
I actually started doing a lot of exercise, and for me it’s not about losing weight or dropping pounds or sizes or anything. I actually don’t own a scale anymore. For me, it’s about being strong, and proving to myself that I can be athletic, I can take kickboxing and I can take pilates. I want to be flexible and powerful, but it’s not about the weight anymore, it’s about taking care of my body. I’m really proud of that.
I think it’s freed me in a way because when I was a kid, I was the kid who was always the last picked for the sports team. I was never athletic. I never thought that my body could do sit-ups or kickboxing. I never thought that I could do any of these things, and I was always put down for not being athletic.
Now, it’s like, ‘Oh wow, there’s more to life than being skinny and limiting calories.” All of those things that women are supposed to do. So, that’s been an empowering experience for me.
I know a lot of people get obsessed with exercise and it’s a negative thing in their lives, but for me it’s definitely a positive thing. Working a few times a week has been really positive. I’ve also struggled with depression and anxiety, and it has lifted my mood. Keeping myself healthy is improving my overall physical and mental [wellbeing], and it’s not anymore about fitting into clothes or fitting into society’s ridiculous ideals.
It’s so refreshing because I’m around people who are all different sizes, and they are so powerful and empowering. Different races, different genders, it’s really been an amazing experience. I now [understand] that you don’t have to look a certain way to be healthy.
I think for me, it was a big shock to a lot of people that I was gay because I grew up in an Italian household. We were expected to look feminine, and my family was very Roman Catholic and went to church every weekend. So, coming out as gay was a very big and sort of traumatic experience for me. And I think in the community there is pressure to have a tomboyish, very thin body with not a big chest… to be on the more stylish, dapper side. I didn’t look like that, and even my partner is more masculine, and she has a larger chest. People would tell her, ‘I’m not really attracted to you because your chest is too big.’ We’ve both heard ridiculous things coming from our own community, so I kind of got it from both sides. It was like, ‘You’re so feminine, you can’t be gay,’ and then there was also this pressure to be into certain things or look a certain way, and I just really didn’t fit into either of those. Even if you look on TV or in magazines, there’s a certain style that you are expected to fit as a gay woman. And I never really fit that.
So, I spent a lot of my life thinking that I really didn’t fit in anywhere. That was a big factor in my eating disorder and why I struggled so much… the feeling that I don’t belong anywhere. Because I felt that way, I thought the only thing I could control was my body, and so I started restricting. And I restricted so much that I didn’t have my period for over a year. My body was hurting, but I felt like being thin would solve my problems and that people wouldn’t notice that I was feeling out of place, that they would just see me as skinny and attractive. Especially because I was interning at these fashion magazines, there was an intense pressure to look a certain way, so I tried to fit that. I needed to fit in somewhere. I needed to do something to make me feel more okay with who I am.
It was only really through therapy that I was able to come out of that and begin accepting myself. I was really struggling the summer before my senior year of college. I was having anxiety attacks and I was very depressed. I ended up being in therapy three times per week for a couple of months because I was struggling so much. I think that really taught me to start accepting myself and being myself. There were times when I would binge during my recovery process because it was hard being around food. My therapist would say, ‘It’s okay. That’s part of it. It’s okay.’ She calmed those anxieties.
It’s been a very long process, and I recognize that I have a need for perfection, but there’s a lot of things that you can’t control in life, and you can’t even control your body. Your body is going to change. That radical acceptance has helped me a lot. No matter what you do, no matter what you eat, no matter how much your life changes or the situation changes, there is no way you can control it. And I have a hard time accepting that still, but that is what it is. And I think that having hobbies and having a partner and having positive outlets in life has been really helpful because it takes my mind off these fears.
I’ve also realized that I’ve been through a lot in my life. You are powerful enough to overcome your situation. You are powerful enough to take back your life. Just because you fail at something, doesn’t mean that you’re always going to fail at everything. It doesn’t matter what your weight is. People will like you for who you are. If people’s priority is your appearance and they are so concerned with what you’re doing, they’re probably not positive people to have in your life, and they’re probably struggling with something themselves.
When I look at this photo of Diana, I see peace and tranquility, but I also see strength. I hope that she sees someone who has been through a lot, but has come through on the other side. She is one of the most authentic people I know.
Shayna Goncalves is a freelance fashion writer, teacher, and editor of the Endangered Bodies NYC blog. She has higher qualifications in fashion design, history of art, gender and sexuality studies, and fashion studies. Shayna received a certificate of distinction for her thesis essay as well as for a course called “A Visual Anthropology of the Body.” Her consistent study on the intersection of fashion, art, and visual representations of African female bodies earned her a curatorial internship award at Wits Art Museum (WAM). Since graduating with her her MA at Parsons School of Design, Shayna has written and instructed the fashion syllabus, produced the end term fashion show, and published the first educational Zine for Oxbridge Academic Programs in New York –in addition to her current positions.
Shayna’s intensive work and study of fashion, feminism, race, and gender encourages her to think about her own body image and the subsequent relationship she forms with her body. While she cognitively understands the larger politics which entrap us within negative self-imaging, she occasionally battles with accepting her own appearance. Her love with herself comes from claiming ownership of her body and taking charge of what she considers beautiful. From this mind’s eye, Shayna chooses to see the beauty in herself as much as she loves to see beauty in the world and beings around her.
Shayna is such a hero to me in heart, spirit and mind. And, yes, she is recovered from an eating disorder. I met her and instantly bonded – she radiates love and energy, and to think of her struggling makes me hurt.
But look at her triumphant, on the other side of her eating disorder! No before pictures needed, no proof required that she once struggled. We believe her, and we see her.
When we spoke at the shoot, Shayna said:
I work with Endangered Bodies, a global organization that focuses on raising awareness about the way bodies have been imaged in the media. They focus on the how the portrayal of very standardized kind of beauty has a very personal effect on people’s self esteem and the way they view themselves, so it’s really important us to open up different perspectives not just on people’s bodies, but people’s perspectives on themselves. The tag line [for Endangered Bodies] is “Be you, inside out.” Although we’re looking at image and what people look like, it’s also focusing on how it makes you feel on the inside.
I found out about Endangered Bodies about a year ago through school. I’ve been studying fashion for seven years. I studied fashion design and I worked as a stylist and junior fashion designer in South Africa, which is where I’m from. I moved here to do my master’s in fashion. I’ve had this love/hate relationship with fashion for almost all of my life, especially growing up playing with Barbies, which were white and definitely did not have bodies that any normal woman could have.
For a very long time in my life, I felt like I was chasing an image because of the Barbies I was playing with and the celebrities that I idolized. That same pressure was coming from my family, as well. Different family members would always make commentary on my weight.
I wanted to be on a fashion shoot that didn’t make viewers of the editorial feel badly about themselves, and so I got in touch with Endangered Bodies and told them this was something that I wanted to do on my personal journey in my life and my career. They were very supportive. I took a break from them for about five months while I wrote my thesis on fashion media and rape culture, and then in July of this year, they asked me to be the editor of their blog.
I was never in treatment and I never went to rehab or anything for body dysmorphia or eating disorders, but I know for sure… this is probably the first time I’m saying it aloud… I know for sure that I had an eating disorder for a long time.
It was very much [motivated] by how to get the perfect body. I would go through periods being very conscious of not eating, then binge eating, and so my weight was constantly fluctuating. I would lose weight and I would gain weight. I would exercise compulsively because I hated my body, not because I loved my body. [I was] constantly be trying to live up to things that didn’t really exist.
I’m turning 26 this year. Since I was about 19, I started practicing yoga, and that’s probably changed my life in ways that I could never ever take back, or never want to take back. That’s what yoga does. It fixes you from the inside, so that you start to form a connection between what is on your inside and what is on your outside, so what is happening on the outside, you don’t compare to anything else. You’re comparing it to how you feel on the inside – emotionally and spiritually.
I’ve had an interesting two or three months. Physically, I have gained weight, and I thought that I would be upset about it, and I only know that I’ve gained the weight because my underwear doesn’t fit me [laughs]. It’s not even something that I feel badly about anymore. A few years ago, I would have gone through the same cycle.
It took me a while to transcribe our interview because we were laughing about 50 percent of the time. We are celebrating you today and every day, Shayna. Look at how far you have come with your own perception of your body! Consider that every single day, how far you have come.
Please share on social with the hashtags #MyAfter #edrecovery! Are you a photographer or recovered individual interested in participating in the next installment of #MyAfter? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.