This week I had the honor of interviewing Katie Reed, a former model turned yoga instructor (and our newest contributor) with an inspirational story behind her transformation. So often we worry ourselves with the struggles of the world and neglect our personal battles, especially those that no one else can see. At the end of the day we are only as strong as our character. Meet Katie:
Tell me about your modeling days. When did you get your start?
I’m from Arizona, and I started modeling when I was 15. At first I would just have friends take photos of me around Tucson, it wasn’t the best quality but it was a start. Then I started working with some professional photographers as I built my portfolio, but the photos still weren’t up to par for the industry. I sent out my portfolio all over Arizona, but I didn’t receive any responses. I was discouraged but not ready to give up on my dream. So I went to the source: I moved to LA and started working with some real talent. Soon I signed with an agency as a plus-size model and began doing commercial and lifestyle campaigns. I shot for Forever 21 and went to casting calls for Target and other similar jobs. But I wanted more.
What did you want?
High fashion. That was the big dream, to work with the top designers in the industry. I wrote a letter to my agency requesting a move to high fashion and away from commercial modeling. Their response was no. They said that, while I had the height (I’m 5’10”) and the right face (blonde hair, blue eyes), only models sizes 0-2 were getting booked. I was heartbroken. But, this was my dream. I was that girl, whose bedroom walls were covered in collages of fashion magazine cutouts, hoping to be one of those girls one day.
It sounds like the roadblock you faced was pretty cut and dry: size 2 or you’re out. What did you do?
I continued modeling for the lifestyle gigs, but kept my focus on my goal and what it would take to get me there: losing weight. I started exercising more and counting calories. It didn’t take long before my life revolved around this pattern. I’d work out all day, eat broccoli, work out again, then take a nap because I was exhausted and had no energy left. It got worse. I would actually choose to stand instead of sitting whenever I could, because I knew it burned more calories. I stopped going out at night because the later I stayed up, the more aware I was that I was hungry; if I was sleeping I was safe. Then I stopped socializing altogether because it threatened my dieting routine. I closed myself off from everybody and became completely disconnected emotionally. I was depressed. My life had spun out of control and I knew it. And all the while I was still going to shoots and getting pinched and pulled here and there because my body wasn’t right. I had to quit.
That sounds horrific. How did you get out?
At first I wasn’t sure what I had to fall back on. I was never interested in college when I was younger because I had this idea in my mind that college = cubicle. If an education meant a “real job” indoors behind a desk all day then I wanted nothing to do with it. But through my work as a model I realized how valuable an education was, that if for some reason I lost everything – my family, my job, my home – I could still fall back on a degree. My body wasn’t my roadblock to success; it was my lack of education. So I moved back to Arizona and attended Northern Arizona University. I wanted to study athletic training and had this vision of myself working in the NFL, hoping to be one of the only women to do so. While I studied I worked clinical hours with the athletes on the school’s teams; but I soon found out that this wasn’t a good fit for me. First of all, the hours were never ending – I was on-call 24/7 on top of being a full time student, and these athletes were only at the college level! They were another aspect I had an issue with.
Because they constantly needed care?
No, because they were athletes – privileged kids on scholarships whose injuries were completely sports-related. As I learned more about the anatomy of the human body and witnessed how it heals, I realized that I needed to be helping people who were actually in need of healing, like trauma patients or those living in impoverished conditions without access to proper medicine and healthcare. So I switched my focus to public health, which is what I’m working on now.
It sounds like the transformation from model to student/health advocate was successful. So how does yoga come into play with your story? Have you always been a yogi?
Ha, no actually, and it’s funny, before I did yoga I used to kind of make fun of it, especially the whole “Ohm” thing. I didn’t get it and it seemed goofy. But I had 3 credits to fill one semester and there was a yoga class being offered through the school so I signed up. At that time I also had so much going on in my mind. I was filled with regret about my past, I was anxious about my future, and I was never in the present moment. Then I went to yoga class and for the first time in as long as I could remember I was able to let go and focus on the now. I had never felt like that before. I was anxiety free. It was very grounding and I immediately fell in love with yoga.
But when you left the studio, did any of that past regret come back?
As I continued to practice I began to see a disconnect between modeling and the real world, and how yoga was the opposite of that. With modeling the attention was always on external beauty, never what was going on within. Sure, it was flattering when people would compliment my photos; everyone wants to hear that they are beautiful. But with the flattery came scrutiny, and not even just about weight. You become hyperconscious of hair and eye color, of face shape, all while tugging at your skin. When others devalue you, you start to lose your self-value. You lose the ability to have compassion and the other qualities that don’t show up on camera. Your values shift completely…
…And with yoga?
With yoga, where I once used to congratulate myself on losing weight, I now feel grateful towards my body, and find gratitude in its existence as is. Ohm, the thing I used to make fun of, is now the thing I cherish most. I’ve realized the true purpose of my body and what it is supposed to do – and it is NOT supposed to starve itself. I realized that I am who I am, and I’m not skinny. Now I’m one with who I am. I practice every day to remind myself how fundamental this concept is. I also found a sense of community, belonging, and acceptance with yoga that had been missing from my life for so long.
Yoga is a very holistic approach to health. A holistic lifestyle also incorporates sustainability – in a health sense and in a sense of the world outside our bodies. How does your practice of yoga connect you to the world, especially the “eco world?”
I’ve learned that yoga makes me happy. If you’re not happy with yourself, you can’t help anyone else, you just can’t. You have to help yourself first before you help others. It’s not selfish it just won’t work any other way. When you are happy with yourself, you develop qualities like compassion. Your self-worth and your intelligence allow you to be a good person, and then you can help others. I teach outdoor yoga every Sunday and help others see the benefits it brings. My classes are donation based and all proceeds go to Flagstaff EcoRanch, a nonprofit organization for sustainable agriculture.
So now that you’ve come to accept your body and its limitations, do you still model?
Since I left I’ve done one shoot. But it was a shoot for me. I went out to the mountains with a friend of mine who is a photographer and he shot me doing yoga poses on the cliffs. I wanted these photos done because they represent my body in its natural, healthy form, my hair in its natural color, and my overall appearance exactly as I want it to be. The photos aren’t for anyone else or promoting anything except my body and my health.
What’s your take away message from your experience?
The best quality to have is compassion. When you find this within yourself, and you are able to embrace it and nurture it, the rest takes care of itself. You have become a better person. I found my compassion and I am grateful to have discovered this. The most beautiful parts of you shouldn’t be anything visible from the surface.
Look for upcoming posts from Katie on yoga, health, and embracing life.