“You are lovable as you are now!” Interview with Healthy is the New Skinny CEO Katie H. Willcox

 


I had the absolute pleasure of chatting to CEO of Natural Models LA and Healthy is the New Skinny, Katie Willcox.


 

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Photo by Bradford Wilcox

 


Growing up, like so many other girls, Katie hated her body and felt disconnected to her true sense of self. She felt like she stuck out like a sore thumb and felt emotionally empty. As she entered adulthood, she was given opportunities to model which, like countless others, Katie believed would bring her acceptance, happiness and emotional and physical health. Unfortunately, she came to realise that the industry had deceived her. She had to face the stark reality that the title of “model” lead her to feel completely the opposite of what she envisioned this career would make her – unfulfilled and unhappy. She was forced to make sacrifices in order to keep everyone but herself happy – pressured into maintaining a body type which was not natural to her or comfortable for her to live in.


Then, one night, everything changed for Katie. On a chance encounter, a photographer who she describes as “the most handsome man she had ever seen” who she thought “would never be into her because she was so fat” approached her and said “You are honestly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know what plus size modelling is but I know the models I have seen have been really unhealthy. Don’t let this industry tell you to be any different than you are now. I think you are stunningly beautiful.” And the rest is history! Bradford played a huge role in helping Katie on the road to self-love as he directly challenged the way she had been taught to think and feel about herself. The pair now battle beauty standards and media manipulation as one, solid force.


 

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Photo by Bradford Wilcox


 

After being a top model – working for clients like Torrid – for over a decade and witnessing first hand the dramatic change in society’s preference for the use of models who represent health and a far more attainable reality for the average woman, Katie and her husband founded Natural Models LA. The agency’s goal is to “let models be healthy and happy while providing them with an opportunity to work as a model at their natural body shape and size.” But this isn’t the only venture of Katie’s which is giving society a breath of fresh air. This unstoppable powerhouse of a woman who describes herself as having a “warrior personality” (I’ll say!) created the company which is changing the lives of girls all over the world – Healthy is the New Skinny.


“In our culture today, people are conditioned to believe their worth and greatness as individuals comes from the physical beauty they possess. We have realized that we have been sold far more than products and beauty ideals. As women, we have been sold our identity and our dreams. Our self-love has been high jacked by corporations to make a profit without us being consciously aware it was happening. HNS is dedicated to changing the game.”

 

“Education is key. We can only do our best with the information we have at any giving moment in life. Our goal is to bring interesting insight on the real meaning of beauty from various sides of the modeling, and fashion industry. We will expose the good, the bad, and the ugly; to give girls a realistic view of the modeling world. We will also show the sacrifices and effects of building a career on your looks. We will be educating girls and women on what it truly means to be healthy. This starts by being honest and speaking the truth about the “perfect” images they see everyday. Advertising and media are extremely powerful entities. What makes them powerful is the majority of the public is unaware that they are being manipulated. At HNS we will be educating people on the ways they are being manipulated into buying more, and believing they never have enough. This manipulation results in the subconscious belief that “I am never enough.”


“We will be promoting all kinds of beautiful women on our website. We love all bodies and we believe health is not one size fits all. We hope to reduce the judgments we make of others and ourselves buy exposing the beauty of being alive. Each body is a unique vehicle that we have been given to experience this adventure we call life. We want to inspire girls to go on a journey to discover what is healthiest for them. We will be showing all size women on our site, not to prove anything to anyone, but simply to celebrate the female spirit.”


I’ve followed HNS for a long time now and although it makes me incredibly happy to witness its expansion, its success is pretty self explanatory. I’m so pleased to be able to share my interview with such an awe-inspiring lady.


Has low self-esteem or negative body image ever affected you? What helped you get through it to the happy and confident place you are now?

Yes, it has. At my heaviest size I felt trapped in my body because I didn’t know how to be healthy or what that even meant! I remember sitting and grabbing my stomach and looking in the mirror, feeling bad for myself. It’s a horrible place to be mentally and it wasn’t just one thing that really helped me to overcome it. I completely changed my life and flipped it upside down. I was living in NYC and was really unhappy there. I later moved to Los Angeles with my boyfriend and started to feel better. As a result, I wanted to be more active which also improved the way I felt. Things continued to be on the up as I made better choices with the kinds and quantities of food I was eating. It was a total lifestyle change that did it for me and it wasn’t an overnight transformation. It was a 10 year process to get to where I am now! I think the first step for girls and women who are in that negative head space is to begin to evaluate all the aspects of your life that are contributing to your negativity. We tend to start fixating on our bodies, thinking that if we are smaller that will rid us of all of our problems, which is a complete lie. We need to solve our problems by putting ourselves first and making our health and wellness a priority. To do so, you must examine your relationships, career, environment, family, friends, etc. to locate the things that cause you harm and make the necessary changes. As you remove the negative aspects of your life, you allow more room for positive ones to take their place. That is how you begin to, little by little, lift the negativity that is keeping you down, and set yourself free.


What inspired you to create Healthy is the New Skinny?

I see all the women who are suffering from low self esteem and body image issues and I am not willing to just accept that. We are literally wasting our talents, gifts, and purpose to try to look how other people say we should look. That is just unacceptable to me and HNS is my way of fighting back!


How would you sum up the message behind HNS in one sentence?

We are fighting back against the forces in our society that wish to keep girls and women small.


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Photo by Bradford Wilcox


 

What is your stance on the term “plus size”?

I don’t really have one. I don’t think of it as a derogatory term, just more of a category for purchasing clothing in the correct size. As for in the modelling industry, it is used for girls like me who don’t wear plus size clothing but we are plus size in comparison to straight size models. I think it’s a tough issue because in a supply and demand business you have to have categories in order to give clients what they are looking for. So, I understand it from the business perspective and in real life as well.


Some believe the media’s influence on women to be overestimated. Do you agree?

These are the people who are still brainwashed. Seriously. All you have to do is look at the Kylie Jenner lip challenge that caused thousands of kids to mutilate their faces because that is what the media told them to do. We are being conditioned daily by messaging that we store in our subconscious mind and advertisers know exactly what they are doing here. They make women believe there is something wrong with them so they can sell you the solution.


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Photo by Bradford Wilcox


You know from personal experience that “skinny shaming” is just as harmful as “fat shaming”. What would you like to see happen to open people’s minds about the existence of naturally slim – and healthy – women?

This is a great conversation to have. Not everything is fat or skinny shaming. I think many people often jump to that conclusion way too fast, especially when you are talking about facts. For example, we get accused of skinny shaming all the time because we talk about the harmful affects of setting standards for models that require them to be underweight. That is not shaming anyone, it’s a fact. The thing we do see is other women commenting things like, “She needs to eat a cheese burger.” and other rude and uncalled for things of that nature which is obvious bullying and shaming. When you talk about media manipulation and advertising, models and size has to be a part of the conversation and I think it’s important to understand that models themselves have zero say in any of it. Models do what they are told and that includes being the size they are told to be in order to work. Some models are naturally able to be the extreme sizes required of them or are capable of achieving such a look with very minimal effort. Many others however are not and have to take unhealthy drastic measures to meet them. Then, looking at the affect of the image being portrayed (again, not the model, the image of the model) is unhealthy for all women. The beauty ideal is also why we have body shaming in the first place. Everyone has been so personally affected by it that people feel they need to defend themselves and lash out at others as a way of feeling worthy. If all women were valued and represented in the media in a positive light, women could see that beauty has many forms. As long as we only praise one image as ideal all women will suffer.


How do you feel about Photoshop?

I went to school for art and so to me it’s pure creative magic! It’s like anything else though, when abused it is unhealthy. I think there should be limitations placed upon it, especially for beauty ads. These women look like wax people and they are selling pore cream, LOL, I think that is a topic of false advertising more than anything.


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Photo by Bradford Wilcox


The media and fashion industry have arguably made some notable accomplishments in recent years and diversity is beginning to shine through. What would you still like to see happen?

Models no matter what size we are, are not realistic. Yes all women are real, even models, but we are not realistic to all women. My frame is larger than a straight size model but my body and look is still not realistic to the general public to view and say, “Hey I can look like that!” The Aerie campaign is beautiful and the models they use are stunning, but they are still models at the end of the day. I regularly travel to High Schools and Colleges all the time and if we shot “real girls” in their lingerie unedited it wouldn’t look like the models in the #AerieReal ads. Models who are represening a curvy body type are being retouched as well as retouching thier own bodies so much that it is really misleading to real plus size women which could be harmful to thier body image as well. So we have made a little progress but I would like it to be more transparent. If companies and retailers want to advocate real bodies then they should use girls who aren’t professional models and if you claim to love your body, then post about it honestly and show what it really looks like to your followers! Overall, I think the biggest shift will be with models who are the in-between size beginning to work with companies as just a normal model instead of featured as a plus size model. That is the only thing that makes sense and I hope to see a lot more of that in the future. There is room for all shapes and sizes but it can’t be size 0-4 as the ideal and then basically everything else as plus size. That’s the mentality that created our body dysmorphic culture in the first place. We need an entire overhaul and I believe it will come from the public creating powerful content before the industry takes that leap.


What advice would you give to someone who idealises the imagery drip fed to us by the mainstream media and fashion industries?

I put it like this… I love the Harry Potter movies. I love the characters and the School, it’s such a visually pleasing thing to watch. To look at a magazine and feel upset that you don’t look like the girls within it is the equivalent of me being upset that I can’t go to school with Harry Potter. We really need to break this illusion down and expose it for what it is… smoke and mirrors. It’s not real and therefore why would you waste time wanting to be something that isn’t even real when you could enjoy being yourself. I want girls to know that they have been conditioned to believe that all they have to offer is the hotness of their body and how sexy they are to others. That is bullshit. Sure, others can find you beautiful and sexy but you are capable of so much more than that! It’s time for all of us to create the lives we want and we need to start by detaching from these ideas that have kept us small and searching for our value. You are lovable as you are now and when you realize that your life will change forever.


 

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HEALTHY IS THE NEW SKINNY

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About Leyah Shanks

Positive body image activist and advocate for mental health.

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