I’ve never been the biggest fan of yoga. Over the years I’ve given it a handful of tries but never had the patience for it—I’m just more of a cardio person.
My colleague, Katie Reed, resisted it for other reasons—mostly preconceived notions. While never having tried it, she saw the whole subculture of “om” to be pretty goofy.
She didn’t get it.
Then, out of left field, she became a yoga instructor.
I wrote to Katie, asking her what caused the 180, how she went from being a person who laughed at the yogis to becoming one full time.
You’ll never believe what she told me:
I’m so glad you asked me about my newfound passion for yoga because it stems from a dark place, one that was at first painful to revisit but is now crucial to share. Because where I was before yoga, before I discovered my inner beauty, was in a world where the only thing I had to offer was on the outside.
It’s a world so many, especially girls, are stuck in. I truly hope my story can pull them out before it’s too late. I know I made it out just in time.
I’ll start with my teenage years. I was that girl who would plaster her bedroom walls, not with boy bands or movie posters, but with cover girls. Girls who had the perfect bodies—just enough curves to look alluring but still stick thin, with heart shaped faces and high cheekbones, glossy hair and flawless skin.
But most importantly, thin.
No cellulite, no love handles, no imperfections.
The high fashion ads were alluring to me in an artistic way. And they all featured these Amazonian women with alien-like faces and bent bodies. I wanted to create images like the art that had inspired me.
So I started modeling.
At first it was just fooling around in front of the camera. I had a few friends who had a knack for photography and the Arizona landscape in my backyard served as the perfect backdrop. But the results, though much appreciated, were amateur.
I couldn’t land a gig for the life of me and I saw my dreams quickly slipping away.
But I was determined and those girls on my wall staring back at me every day kept me going. I bit the bullet and made the big move to LA where the modeling industry was thriving and I had a better shot at making a real portfolio.
And then it happened.
Professional photographers wanted to meet with me and take my picture. I can’t begin to tell you how that felt.
With a solid portfolio in hand I started going to casting calls and before I knew it I was signed to a top agency. I was a size 10 at the time and the agency told me I was their new plus-size model. I’d never thought of myself as tiny, but, I’ll admit, I was a little shocked that 10 was considered plus-size.
But I pushed those thoughts aside and focused on the good: I was finally a model!
Commercial work wasn’t hard to find and I booked gigs with Forever 21, Torrid, and similar companies. It was hard work but I still felt like I wasn’t reaching my full potential.
When I dreamt of being a model, I had one kind of model in mind: high fashion.
To me, that was making it big.
So far the risks I’d taken in my career had come with rewards so I saw no reason to stop there. I expressed my ambition to collaborate with high fashion designers to my agent and was immediately shot down.
While they agreed that my face and height were right, they simply said they were only booking size 0 and 2, no exceptions.
I was heartbroken.
But my spirit was still alive and I wasn’t going to stop at the first roadblock I encountered. I decided I would do whatever it took—I’d lose the weight that was holding me back.
I started by counting calories. Whenever I’d eat, I’d follow it with exercise.
It wasn’t long before I was consumed by this lifestyle.
I’m talking every day wake up, exercising, eating some broccoli, exercising, napping, repeating. I napped all the time because I literally didn’t have the energy to stay awake. I would stand instead of sitting—it burned more calories.
I would turn down plans with friends at night—I knew we’d be out late and my hunger would creep up; if I was sleeping I’d be safe.
Soon it felt like the only safe place was my house, where I could control everything. I became withdrawn and lonely.
Soon it turned to depression.
All the while I was fluctuating from a size six to a two to a 12 and back down to a six—in the matter of weeks, even days. And every shoot, no matter what size I was, consisted of being pinched and poked and told my body still wasn’t right. It was an utter nightmare and I didn’t know how to escape.
Exhausted, sick, and disheartened I took a step back to think about my life, in the long run.
What if my dream of becoming a fashion model just wasn’t possible? What did I have to fall back on? The truth was, not much.
I’d focused all of my time and energy, for years, on this one goal and I’d pushed all others aside.
It dawned on me how limited my education was. How would I get any other job, all I knew was modeling?
I realized that education was something I needed in my life.
So I stopped modeling and went back to school. At first I went to a community college in my hometown while I figured out exactly what it was I wanted to focus on.
I’d always been fascinated by the human body, how connected our anatomy is, in a scientific sense. I landed on public health—I wanted to make it possible for those without access to proper medical care to be cared for.
My first semester after transferring to Northern Arizona University I had a gap in my schedule and needed to fulfill a few more credits. After comparing the classes available with my daily routine I saw that there was a yoga class offered by the school that fit nicely in between my other classes. Y
ou know me—yoga? No thanks.
But I needed the credits and thought, hey while I’m turning one new leaf, why not another, and enrolled. That first class changed my life.
For the first time, ever, I actually stopped the chaos in my head—the regrets, the fears—and just sat in the present moment.
My mind was completely clear and it was pure bliss.
I left class that day feeling like a new person. The next class, I felt it in my body.
I mean I felt every single cell in my body come alive and move with me as I changed poses. Suddenly I had so much appreciation for my limbs and how they folded and stretched, how strong and supportive they were. I felt like one whole being.
With every class I gained more and more gratitude for my body and its capabilities.
I realized that there was a depth to me that I had never channeled: my soul.
And I was surrounded by a community of people who felt the exact same phenomenon. I was alive for the first time, and I was happy.
With modeling, there was no feeling of belonging. It was all about sizing up and competing, about personal triumphs—and temporary ones at that. I was taught that physical features were everything—my outer beauty was my key to success. Even if I was dying on the inside, it didn’t matter as long as the look was right.
With yoga, I realized that true beauty is the ability to have compassion and gratitude.
To attain happiness, or at least acceptance and peace. Suddenly, my inner beauty started to radiate through my pores and my outer beauty was a reflection of it.
I used to laugh at the “om”—now, I swear, I live by it.
I practice every day and now teach once a week. My gratitude for yoga, and more importantly toward myself and my body, has never been stronger.
I’ve modeled once since leaving the industry but it wasn’t for an agency or a campaign. It was for me. I wanted to document myself in my natural state, because that was me at my happiest and I wanted to remember that transformation forever.
So my take away message for you—whether you want to give yoga another shot or not—is to look within yourself to find your beauty, not in the mirror.
How do you treat others?
How do you care for yourself?
Do you know what it means to empathize, to love, and to be grateful?
If so, then you are more beautiful than any lens can capture, and you’ll have that beauty for life.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Allison Beauregard
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photos: Used with permission by Cody Lee Hanson