How Modeling Took a Toll on My Mental Health

Read this reflective narrative about loving your body and taking care of your mental health.

When Makaela started modeling at twelve, she was hopeful for her career ahead. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it was her dream. As she saw her mental health decline, however, she realized some dreams are not worth the cost. Here’s what she learned from four years in the industry.

Every model has a different story to tell about their experience in the modeling industry. But all models can agree on one thing: modeling is tough work

When I was sixteen, a modeling agency told me I needed to lose fifteen pounds — and they had to be lost within one month. You could still see my ribcage without me “sucking in.” But in modeling, you have to fit into a sample size (0, 2, 4, or God forbid a 6) or else you are considered “plus-size.” Thankfully, the industry has started to improve since I was a part of it, but the mental toll it took on me still remains a decade later. 

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My parents asked me if modeling was something I really wanted to do because we knew it would come with a cost.

People’s words will tear you down because they’re judging everything about your body.

If you want a job, be prepared to compete against 100+ other models. 

You’ll have to balance this and your studies — and school comes first. 

Your looks will be your everything

But modeling was my dream. At soccer games, my teammates’ parents would say I looked like I was posing while standing in the goal. Strangers at the mall would ask my mom if I modeled. Some would say I looked like Brooke Shields in “Blue Lagoon” and a younger Cindy Crawford at times. I knew I would have to have thick skin for this profession, but I also knew I would regret it if I didn’t try.

I entered the industry when I was 12 years old. For two years, I built up my portfolio; it included high-res pictures from various photoshoots. On my comp card for go-sees, my measurements were displayed: chest, waist, hips, height, shoe size, and weight. My brown hair and blue eyes were desirable in the industry. And although I was 12, I looked like I was 24 and was considered an “editorial model.” 

After my portfolio was created, different agencies would start having me go to casting calls and signing me with magazines, runway shows, and more. There were high hopes for my future — so I thought. Promises were made, but rarely kept. 

I went to one photoshoot where none of the clothes fit me, even though I was a size two. My mom and I stayed in a flea-infested house (yes, you read that right) in California for a week while I had a photoshoot almost every day. My hair had been pulled out and fried numerous times so we could get the “right look” for a hairstyle in a shoot. I felt like I was important as a model, yet invisible as a person. 

For another shoot, I woke up at 4 a.m. to get ready for hair and makeup. I was going to have an eight-page spread in a European magazine at just 12 years old. (I was constantly reminded that I beat a 26-year-old to be in this magazine.) As I was getting into one outfit with an especially tight belt, I started seeing fuzzy shapes and spots across my vision. I hadn’t eaten or drank anything all day. I shared with my mom, who I was lucky to have as my manager, that I felt faint. The photographer overheard and immediately stopped the photoshoot and told my mom to take his car to get me a big meal, candy, anything to help me. All that time in front of the camera — and this was the first time I felt truly seen.

Yes, I made a dream come true at a very young age. However, I believed my body was the only thing that mattered. No one seemed to care about my overall well-being. No one asked how I was doing. No one checked to make sure I had something to eat or drink (with the exception of my mom and the photographer) — I was worried I’d develop an eating disorder if this “lifestyle” continued. My mental health? It was down the drain. But I kept that hidden very well. 

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Flashback to when I had to lose those 15 pounds. I was shooting baskets outside to work on my form for the upcoming basketball season. My mom walked out and asked me if I had weighed myself to see if I made any progress. “Tell them I quit, Mom.” She asked if I was sure about my decision because of how hard I worked — it was my dream, after all. But I had a gut feeling my future self would somehow thank 16-year-old me. 

Today, I am able to lift heavy weights, play sports, build muscle tone, and eat whatever I please. I couldn’t do any of those if I stayed in modeling, as I was specifically told not to in order to keep weight off. There are still bad days when I look in the mirror and have body dysmorphia because my subconscious believes I should be a sample size. But I remind myself what my body has taken me through: endometriosis, sports injuries, and illnesses. But most importantly, my body has taken me through life

It’s been a long journey to get my mental health in check. Every effort has added up over the years. I have had healthy conversations with family and friends about commenting on my body or others’. And this year, I have been working on a daily basis to put myself first. Speaking with my therapist every month. Practicing self-care. Being kind to my body and loving every inch of it. Exercising to be healthy and grow muscle. 

Every night before I get into bed, I look in my full length mirror, hug my body, and say the following: “Thank you for carrying me through life. Thank you for being uniquely you. You are healthy, you are beautiful, and you are loved. Thank you for being my temple. Thank you for loving me everyday, especially on the days I did not love you back.” 

I am strong and healthy. I haven’t stepped on the scale in years and I don’t plan to anytime soon because my mental health is in a good place. I still model on the side today, posing for the camera with local photographers. But I’m doing the shoots on my terms. And if I am happy with who I am and love what I see in the mirror, then that’s all I need. I don’t need someone’s opinion on my body. I’m embracing my body and giving myself modeling never could: grace.

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