The numbers here are the standard measurements that a model above 5 ft. 9 inches tall must maintain in order to work in the fashion industry. The taller you are, the higher of a measurement you can get away with.
I’m Kaitlyn and I’m the marketing coordinator (among other various creative roles) at Be Free Revolution. I started modeling when I was 16 which eventually led to spending a summer in LA. After graduation, it was off to Milan, Italy before returning home for the holidays. What started out as a means to travel the world, over time turned into an obsession.
At 5 ft 11 inches, I could get by having 35 inch hips; however, it was unnatural for my body type and required extreme dieting and extreme exercise multiple times a day. Being measured frequently takes its toll on you and the side effects for me, as well as other girls, some close to me, were stress, depression and starvation to name a few.
While living in Italy I was psychologically healthy but as soon as I returned home, I suffered from severe body image issues and depression due to various external stressors. A tiny weight gain would send me into a downward spiral every single time. I was,upset and angry at myself all the time. I felt like I would be better – healthier once I got away again, but I couldn’t leave for my next modeling destination without maintaining those ideal measurements – making me feel overwhelmingly trapped.
Modeling seemed like my only identity, it consumed me, but by industry standards, I have merely dabbled in it. For a long time, it’s all anyone talked to me about simply because they were excited for me. It all seems so glamorous to the outside world, but most people never see the other side. When people ask, you can’t just tell them that you have to lose 2 inches before you can leave again, because that would send them into an uproar about how ridiculous it is that someone who is already “so thin” would have to lose weight (especially down here in the South where we like butter on everything and biscuits and gravy).
On first appearance I had nothing wrong with me, but on the inside, I was a mess and hurting deeply. I’ll never forget the day in January when my dad made me emerge from my room to tell me he and my mom thought I needed to get away – to take a break from it all. So I packed a suitcase, bought a one way ticket to Arizona and lived with my cousin who has always acted as more of a big sister to me. During my time in Arizona, I decided I would take a break from modeling and go back to school, which ultimately would change my life.
Images from a few shoots from over the years
Photos I took of Sedona (above) and The Grand Canyon in Arizona
My point in all this is not to blame the fashion industry or say that anyone who is skinny is unhealthy or has an eating disorder. In fact, I think the fashion industry’s marketing and media stems directly from consumerism, and simply want to acknowledge the fact that an eating disorder or any psychological disorder for that matter can affect anyone. So why do we comply to society’s standards despite the fact that we are taught in the Bible that we are all made in God’s image and that true beauty comes from within? Well, I honestly have no idea. We obviously do though, because millions of people are affected by eating disorders every year in the United States alone. Studies have shown that all genders, races, and socio-economic classes are affected as well. Moral of the story, eating disorders don’t discriminate, and they don’t always fit the anorexia or bulimia “picture” either. There are many more general eating disorders that show various symptoms and sometimes cross between one category to another. This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and obviously I’m passionate about awareness and prevention of these debilitating diseases. But what does that have to do with Be Free Revolution? Well, a lot actually.
After spending time in Arizona, I came home to Memphis and went back to school. Art school. And with the same perfectionist attitude that I took on while modeling that land-slided into self-image problems, I wholeheartedly threw myself into my projects and photography series thinking I had the creative process all figured out and that through my classes I was going to make amazing art. Yeah right. It took 3.5 years of hard work, tears, no sleep, a lot of dark room chemicals, a lot of time in the digital print lab, and a WHOLE lot of questions, and eventually some amazing results for me to realize that great art is far more about the person and the story behind it, than the final project. Don’t get me wrong, the final piece has to be really good, but if the concept isn’t equally as good, well my friends lets just say the critique process can be pretty grueling.
Amidst all this I also realized that you don’t just magically recover from emotional and psychological hurt over night. Nope. Not that simple. 4 years later and all of that emotion was just now being released into a series I named “Intimate.” Essentially I began creating abstract images of both horses and people exploring relationships, and in a way, I was also re-creating the beautiful landscapes of Arizona that had been a refuge to me….It took me 6 months to realize that though. The whole time the relationships between the people, the animal and the surrounding world was what I was concentrating on never knowing that, quite literally, the relationships between myself and these people, these animals and the intimacy throughout this creative process involved was therapeutic to me. It wasn’t until all of the images were printed, matted and ready for display and I was writing my artist statement that I realized this series had far more of my heart and soul invested in it than anything I could ever imagine.
Some of the photos from the Intimate series that have been featured in Memphis galleries.
When I returned home, I also started coaching a high school cross country team. In my time with them, I found this extremely intense desire for them to recognize how amazing they each are, how vital each one of them is to the team dynamic, and this huge passion for them to find self-worth. It broke my heart to hear the girls talk about how their muscles, that were a sign of their strength and ability to run long distances, made their legs look fat. I struggled to make them see that being strong is a beautiful thing, despite what society may tell them. I struggled internally as they talked about how much weight they would gain as soon as season was over. It was so incredibly hard for me to watch their performance suffer, because they couldn’t bring themselves to eat enough calories throughout the day. Sometimes, the only thing I could do is be there for them and believe in them.
These stories cut deep in my heart, and I still worry about each of the runners I have coached over the past few years even if they have graduated. And it’s not just the girls. It’s the boys too. All of this ultimately got me exploring the idea of art therapy, which ironically had been introduced to me while I was living in Milan.
THEN, amidst ALL of that, I decided to go on a mission trip, and I casually mentioned my interest in art therapy to co-founder of BFR, Britney. In typical Britney fashion, she told me the following Monday that she wanted me to design an Art Intensive for the kids at the schools in Kenya where we were going this summer. She believed strongly in art’s ability to heal and wanted to give these kids a chance to experience that. Many of these kids are orphans and all of them have a hard background. The kids that would be entered for the Art Intensive were mostly older kids. Teenagers. The age group that I am most drawn to and most passionate about. My mind was racing. And then, again in typical Britney fashion, after giving me this large task she walked out the door, leaving me standing there speechless, overwhelmed and extremely humbled.
There were a thousand thoughts going through my head that day. The most prominent was that I had never developed an entire art curriculum before much less for a group of kids that I had never met, half a world away. But again, I threw myself into it heart and soul, because I knew how much art had done for me and my battle with self image. We planned and we wrote lessons and pulled samples of art and created projects, and when we got there….it was nothing like I expected, and didn’t go anything like I had planned. But the look on those kids faces when we gave them their sketch books, pencils and charcoal…I can’t even explain it. I shared my story with them about how art transformed me – my story that seemed kind of silly in the grand scheme of things, but they listened and soaked it all in. I told them how art healed me from the inside out….and still is. And if I conveyed the overall power and capability and positive effect that self expression has to even just one of them in that classroom, well, I had done my job. They got to keep their sketch books, and they continued to work in them until the next team arrived. The transformation in both their work and concepts was unbelievable. Kids who had never held a paintbrush before discovered talents they never knew they had.
I travelled all the way to Kenya and right there in front of me, every single one of my world’s collided. My body image issues led me to art, and through that God spoke to me. And then He spoke to me again at cross country practice, and again at the BFR office, and He REALLY spoke to me in Kenya when all those passion’s slammed into each other creating the most overwhelmingly beautiful experience as I shared my story with all those kids, and I encouraged them to tell there’s. That experience then led to another art series and another process, in which I learned more about society, different cultures and that whether or not we want to believe it we are all more alike than we may think. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Tennessee, Kenya, or the North Pole, we’re all God’s people wired to think and feel and struggle and create and grow, and we are all created in HIS image.
At times in Kenya, there was nothing to be said while we were creating, but there was a mutual understanding and acceptance in each other’s presence. The capacity and power of each relationship was inexplicable, and as I shared my life with them via art and we saw through the same lens, the relationships grew to be real and authentic in a very short amount of time. These kids felt empowered through a new opportunity, and I felt humbled to be able to share my journey and my passion with them. There, halfway around the world, with people I didn’t know just days before, I lost sense of all time, and there was a sense of familiarity between one another along with a profound universal freedom.
So, in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I’m sharing my story, and it’s a hard one for me to share. But the important part is not the self-image issue, because everyone has their own struggles. The important part is the story, the process and the journey God uses to ignite these huge burning passions in you. It’s not any coincidence that all of my worlds collided and it’s no coincidence that there were people in multiple areas of my life encouraging me to speak up about my experience, because it really was important. People would say, “I think you’re doing a great disservice to not only yourself, but the rest of the world by not sharing.” People pushed me creatively and encouraged me to be vulnerable for the sake of my art and for the sake of myself. Without that, I never would have discovered how much was still locked up inside of me and never would have been able to share with a group of teenagers how God uses our passions and gifts to not only speak to us, but heal us, and encourage us to keep going, and ultimately to mold us into the ultimate self He wants us to be. So, with that being said, share your story. Everybody has one. And it is important.