#beauty

My Response To Being Publicly Body Shamed

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Heather Hazzan Photography

Would you put on a bathing suit, walk into a corporate office, stand under horrific fluorescent lighting, be filmed on a camera phone and broadcast on a major news organization’s Facebook Live feed in front of more than 50,000 viewers?

That’s exactly what I recently did. I work as a “plus-size” model (I’m a size 12) in New York City, and was hired by a swimsuit client to model the latest swim trends for summer alongside a size 2 swimsuit model. The point was to show different styles on different body types.

Live viewers, of course, were able to ask questions and make comments. Out of about 400 comments, 395 of them were nice, some even extremely kind and body positive, yet I found myself focusing on the few comments that were mean-spirited.

One man said I needed a gym membership.

Another man proclaimed, “No fat chicks.”

Another viewer, also a man, questioned how I was a swimsuit model.

I can’t say I was shocked people could be so cruel, but I found it interesting that the ONLY negative comments came from men. Women in the chat were very complimentary, some even elated to see someone with their body type modeling swimsuits so they could see what it would actually look like on them, and even told the authors of the rude comments to, “Be nice, and try doing what she’s doing!”

I’m not saying these comments didn’t affect me at all, because for a few hours, I did think about them, and even found myself questioning my weight.

I knew I had a choice. I could choose to internalize these few, isolated hateful comments and feel victimized and horrible about my body, or I could choose to be the victor and speak openly about my experience in the hope of encouraging others to embrace their bodies, whatever the shape or size, and honor it with daily acts of self care like exercise, meditation and clean eating. When I think of everything my body does for me day in and day out, I am filled with such a sense of gratitude and all I can say is, “Thank you.”

The shame of not fitting into society’s itsy-bitsy standard of beauty has been replaced by the grace of self-acceptance, and knowledge that I am so much more than what I look like in a swimsuit, especially in poor lighting.

This body-shaming experience isn’t just about me. I am a grown woman in my 30s who chooses to put myself out there and work as a model. I can handle it.

But what about all the young girls and women in the world who are my size or bigger (which is the majority of the population), who see and hear women’s bodies being criticized in this way? That’s what I have a problem with.

The message is you are not beautiful, worthy or good enough unless you are a size 2 or look really skinny in a swimsuit. Heck, even size zero supermodels like Chrissy Teigen have spoken publicly about being body-shamed and called “fat.”

Here’s what I know for sure:

What people say about you has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. Case in point: The man who said, “No fat chicks,” weighs no less than 400 pounds. Yes, I clicked on his comment and looked at his Facebook page.

I have compassion for this man. He was talking to himself. His self-hatred could be SO DEEP that he took the time to make a mean comment about a woman he does not know. A comment attacking a woman’s body.

I send this man love. He is in pain. He does not know me. He doesn’t know I have “big thighs” because I am built like my 6’5″ athletic father. He doesn’t know I swam competitively for 17 years and can leg press 245 pounds.

He doesn’t know I recently lost two dear friends to suicide, and sometimes when the pain is too great, I deal with it by over-eating, something it seems he can relate to.

When I went to work that day, I focused on making the suits look lovely and comfortable. When I watch the video, all I see is a woman glowing from the inside out, smiling so bright and having fun. That’s what beauty is to me. Self-confidence and owning who you are and where you are (weight fluctuations and all), is drop-dead gorgeous to me. Nothing is sexier than being kind to others.

While some of the comments weren’t pleasant to read, I saw this as an important opportunity to heal and grow, and acknowledge the times when I have not been kind to myself or my body. The times I used to think my body’s appearance defined my self worth instead of who I am on the inside. The times I compared myself to the size zero models standing next to me, and felt uncomfortable being the “big girl” on set, questioning why I, too, could not have their “perfect” body type. The times I chose to over-indulge with food and alcohol, and then be mad at my body for not looking and performing a certain way. I, too, have been guilty of dishing out some pretty harsh criticism.

My behavior and my thoughts about my body are really the only ones that matter.

For the record, I do have a gym membership, two of them actually. I train three to four times a week, and my trainer tells me I’m far and away his strongest female client. No, I’m not the skinniest girl at the gym or on set, but I’m fit, healthy, and most importantly, I’m kind-hearted, supportive of others and happy.

 

I Was 28 When I Found Out That I Had Skin Cancer. Here’s What It Taught Me

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Like many people, I grew up loving the sun, beach and being outdoors. I craved that feeling of being warmed by the sun and having it bronze my fair skin. As a teen, I never thought basking in the sun and tanning my skin could be so destructive. When I was younger, it was all about just being tan. For me, that meant not always wearing sunscreen. Little did I know how stupid I was being.

There is a very unsexy side of sunbathing and tanning beds. And I can tell you firsthand that not caring for your skin is a big mistake. I hope that you can learn from my lesson rather than go through it yourself.

My countless hours in the sun, many of which were unprotected, caught up with me eventually. What’s crazy, too, is that I didn’t even realize it at first. I had this dry, red, scaly patch on my forehead. Even though the spot had been developing for years, I didn’t think anything of it. I thought it was just from touching my face or adjusting my hair. I kept it hidden under makeup and would just go about my day. Then I was home over Thanksgiving with my family and wearing no makeup.

My brother, a physician, said, “What is that on your forehead?” I remember him examining me like doctors do, and he said very seriously, “I think you have skin cancer.” With a bit of attitude I said, “I don’t have skin cancer!”

I then went to my dermatologist the following week to find out for sure. They took a biopsy, and sure enough, I had skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma). I couldn’t believe it. I thought that only happened to people who were much older than me. I definitely was not prepared to have my head sliced open and cancer taken out of my face.

A week later, my dermatologist, Dr. Jaffe, performed Mohs surgery to remove the cancer. My forehead was cut open about the size of a quarter to remove the tumor. He told me that it was imperative that I had it taken care of right away.

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Riverchase Dermatology, Naples, Florida

Dr. Jaffe said that the jury is out on whether my skin cancer was due to sun exposure at a young age, a burn, or just chronic sun exposure over a number of years that made me predisposed. He performs about 10 Mohs surgeries a day and told me that this specialized treatment offers the highest cure rate but only if detected and treated early. His patients are normally in their mid-60s. I was 28.

The good news is that skin cancer is preventable and curable when caught early. Of course, we all want to be outside and enjoying ourselves, but you have to be smart about the exposure you get.

So, let me be your lesson. Don’t wait until you have skin cancer before you protect yourself and wear sunblock. Do it now!

I don’t like the scar on my forehead for vanity reasons and because I get my picture taken and appear on TV for a living. Sometimes, photographers ask me if I got into an accident and bumped my head because I have so much scar tissue in the area where I had surgery. Other people tell me they can’t even see it. On the flip side, my scar represents what I went through and definitely keeps me in check. Every day when I look in the mirror, it’s a reminder to put on my sunscreen.

I don’t want to scare people. I want to inspire them. Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing in the sun and limiting your exposure to the sun isn’t scary. It’s smart. It’s responsible. I wasn’t smart or responsible in the sun growing up. I hope others can learn from my mistakes and be inspired to protect their skin, make regular appointments with their doctors, and stay healthy.

Even if just one person benefits from reading my story, it makes my headaches from nerve damage during surgery and my scar worth it. I wish I could have read a story like this when I was a teenager. It probably would have hit home a lot harder than just my mother saying, “Wear your sunscreen.”

To help prevent skin cancer, take the following precautions:

Wear chemical-free sunblock containing zinc and titanium every day.
Wear a hat and protective clothing.
Avoid being outside during peak sun hours.
Seek shade if possible.
Get an annual skin check by a dermatologist.
Remember not to be afraid to go to the doctor if you notice something changing on your skin or that a mole has grown or changed in color. The sooner you see a doctor, the less likely it will be bad news.

Story originally published on mindbodygreen.com

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