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Beauty Starts When You Believe It

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is upon us. We chatted with Elise Wyatt (Zeta Gamma-Arkansas) about her challenges with body image. Before coming to college as a freshman, Elise took a gap year to pursue her dream of modeling in New York City and learned some tough lessons along the way. She shared with us how Kappa Delta gave her some much-needed confidence.

Kappa Delta Headquarters: What made you want to pursue modeling in New York City?

Elise Wyatt: I decided to take a gap year because I thought it would be fun to give modeling a chance, so I signed with a top-ten agency in New York during the fall semester of my senior year of high school. Before I left for NYC, I lost a lot of weight so I could participate in New York Fashion Week. I knew I needed to be skinny enough to compete with other models and be confident in my walk for the castings. I knew it was a competitive industry, but I was excited to take part in it.

KDHQ: What was your experience like?

EW: I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Getting to live in New York City and work with designers, makeup artists and photographers made it all worth it. Things took a negative turn once I gained an inch in my hips. That’s when I started to struggle. It’s crazy how vulnerable and dependent I was on how others perceived me. I wasn’t confident in myself, and it showed at the first sign of negativity I faced.

KDHQ: What was something about your time in the modeling industry that surprised you?

EW: The first agent I had in New York was very sweet and encouraging. Even when I gained an inch back in my hips after Fashion Week, she kindly suggested different diets to try to get back to ideal size.

A few months later, she took another job, and I was placed with a different agent. This woman had intimidated me since I came into the agency. It was the worst experience. I was anxious every time I met with her, and I hated talking to her.

One day, she took me into a room just the two of us and told me I was fat, I was ugly, I didn’t belong there, I wasn’t good enough, and I should think about doing other things with my life. It took all my strength not to cry during that meeting.

Once I left, I called my mom and bawled all the way home to my apartment. The next few days were miserable. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t eat; I was frozen in bed all day. I wallowed in self-pity and hated myself for how I looked.

I didn’t understand how someone could be so cruel, but I couldn’t help but believe what she said was true; I was fat, ugly and didn’t belong.

KDHQ: What about the modeling industry disappointed you?

EW: I began to feel negative about the modeling industry when I realized all I thought about was being “skinny enough.”  This industry celebrates women who become unnaturally skinny by whatever means possible. I remember during casting week leading up to NYFW, one of my model roommates fainted and collapsed onto the floor three times during the night because she hadn’t eaten anything in a while. She claimed to be “sick.” I really like that now the modeling industry is becoming more accepting of all sizes and think it is a good starting point for change in the modeling world.

KDHQ: How did the pressure to be a certain size in your industry affect your mental health?

EW: Honestly, I was miserable. I only saw the negative about myself and I was discouraged every day that I hadn’t dropped more inches. This mindset only led to more depressing and self-loathing thoughts.

KDHQ:  How would you define beauty now that you have come out of that experience?

EW: Confidence is beauty. Others can tell you that you are beautiful, but it isn’t until you are confident in yourself and believe you are beautiful that you start to feel it’s true. The women of Kappa Delta are encouraging, uplifting, strong and inspirational. Confidence is contagious, and when you are surrounded by women who constantly build each other up, it doesn’t take long before their confidence spreads to you. It meant a lot that KD accepted me how I am, faults and all, and they chose to love me and help me feel included in something bigger than myself. KD has helped me heal from my past.

KDHQ: What advice would you give other young women struggling with negative thinking and body image issues?

EW: Beauty doesn’t have a specific size, weight, facial feature, height, etc. Beauty starts when you look in the mirror and say, “I am beautiful,” and you believe it. Beauty comes from the inside and then shines outward for others to see.

For more information and resources on eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association website.