Having modelled with some of the worlds top modelling agencies (Storm Models, London and Wilhelmina, New York) I’ve seen first hand how the modelling world works. From being bullied prior to modelling, to body confidence issues through my years as a model. Now still modelling but with a focus on wellbeing as a personal trainer and yoga teacher, I’ve written an emotional and personal piece about finding my confidence in a model world. It’s something I’ve wanted to write forever, and I’m glad to finally be able to share it with you. If this goes even a small way to helping the models (and non models!) I know that are struggling to find their body confidence, then I’ve done my job. Read on to find out more….
It’s funny how we make assumptions about how people feel in their own body confidence and reasons for keeping fit. “This girls a model so she must be super full of herself”, “that girls skinny so she doesn’t need to workout”. Also how quick we are to compliment others on their bodies, but not our own. How we wish away our bodies in favour of another. Self esteem and body confidence aren’t generally something that come about easily in a world where we feel as though we’re forever being judged.
What I found helped me the most was realising that actually most of the judgement was actually through me on myself. We all have a habit of being pretty mean to ourselves. I began to learn that the less I cared about what others thought of me, the more I began to love the skin I was in. As a model and someone in the fitness industry I can happily say (most of the time) I have finally learned to love the body, and do you know what?…life feels a hell of a lot more fun as soon as I started doing that. Was the journey easy? Heck no. From childhood bullying to the scrutiny of the modelling world I had some truly impactful downs, ones that would haunt my confidence levels for years. Quite a fair few years down the line, I’m far from perfect but I can truly say I’m by happiest most confident self. Just as I am.
“Goofy” Bullied Kim
When I was 15 I got scouted for Models1 (one of London’s most established modeling agencies). Whilst shopping in Topshop a booker came up to me to discuss my potential to be a model. I thought they were talking to the friend I was with at first as it ‘surely couldn’t be me’. As a kid I was relentlessly bullied at school for having bad teeth (my teeth were big, gappy and stuck out terribly), my nickname was “goofy” or “goof troop”. My confidence and self esteem was pretty low (thank you 4 years of endless braces). Sure enough I went to the model test shoots (something they make new faces do to test the water with their ability to be in front of the camera), and with zero confidence struggled to make the cut for London’s elite modeling world. When I would have my photos taken I would hide behind whatever I could, slouching timidly, miserably struggling to hide my braces behind my lips, keeping them sealed as much as I could for dear life. With confidence at an all time low this came across in my pictures, and with that I left my modeling attempts to rest for a few more years. I happened to also be a complete tom boy at the time and generally hated the idea of the modeling attention anyway.
Many braces and many visits to the dentists later my teeth finaaaallllly became more “socially acceptable” (a mere 4 years of turmoil later). I went on to study at university and continued to be scouted by model agents. Eventually I made the realisation that when I finished uni I could go out and get “a real job”, do the 9-5 thing or maybe (just maybe) I could give this modeling thing a go. Sure enough I managed to get sign with Storm models (powerhouses of the modeling world). As my name started with a K I happily sidled up next to Kate Moss on the books. I started to slowly believe that maybe I could get used to the idea of being a model.
“Not Tall Enough, Too Wide in the Hips”
In my first week as a model I went into the agency, terrified of the group of bookers ready to analyse my every nook and cranny. I had the infamous “polaroids” taken (just you, no make up, in your underwear and heels posing – in my case trying feebly – to the camera and your booker behind the lens). I felt an enormous sense of judgement. Sure I loved to keep fit but my university days were filled with the usual boozing and junk food for fuel. My body didn’t have any real definition. I hadn’t really needed to answer to anybody about the state of how it looked.
All of a sudden I felt like I was in the firing line. As my booker noted my measurements for my portfolio she made the smallest remark (one of which she probably forgot from the minute she said it. One of which would forever serve to influence my self judgement. “Your hips are 37”, ideally they’ll be 36”.”…I was confused. How could I miraculously shave off an inch from my hips? My hips were my bones. That was my bodies make up. Another off the cuff comment came…”You’re actually pretty short for a model too, so we’re going to say you’re taller than you are to clients”. The self deprecation began. Any confidence I’d reestablished from university and from having my teeth straighten was now being torn to shreds. I got into a vicious cycle of comparison. I looked at other models bodies, meticulously comparing their sizing to mine. How toned they looked. How tall they looked. How “big” I looked, how “short” I felt. I know from an outsiders perspective it can appear crazy but I was more effected than I realised by this. To me, my confidence now in taters I was just a short, dumpy model with hideously large hips. It makes me so sad to think that I let these flippant comments go such a long way to beat me down. I not so lovingly termed my uni days my “Fappy” stage – one where I thought I was “fat” but “happy”. What was true, was that pre modeling I had found some source of contentment. I was happy in my skin. I didn’t feel the need to question my diet choices. I exercised because I loved the feeling of going for a run or hitting the gym. Not because I “had to” or because I hated my body.
The Going Get’s Tough
A year later I had changed my opinion of myself completely. I was in an unhealthy relationship with the gym. I had no real guidance or clue on how to train so I just throw myself into cardio. I still ate a fair amount of junk and blamed the gym for “not really working”. Then surrounded by models at castings I realised that we were all in the same boat. Each of us felt not good enough. Slowly the conversation turned to food. Uneducated, but wanting to do something to try and build our confidence, I along with many other girls restricted what I ate. I went through phases of cutting carbs, eating less, training more.
I remember one of my first shoots in Tenerife, I was with another model, we were both shooting swimwear. The other model happened to be much taller and of much slighter build to me. I felt embarrassed. I didn’t want to show my body. I waited as they picked who was going to shoot what outfit and prayed for mine to be the one piece to cover my hips and undefined tum. You can see from the picture, I had zero confidence. I was lost. I knew I had to have a good body but didn’t know how to feel confident with it. I didn’t know how to embrace what I had. Modelling meant that I had to gain confidence and be ok with the skin I was in. Easier said than done in an industry scrutinised for body image.
The life of a model for those fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to do it can be wonderful. You travel the world, meet amazing people, but it’s 100% not as glamorous as people expect it to be at all times. Much of the time is spent casting (auditioning) for shoots, doing test shoots to build your portfolio, and generally waiting for the call from your agent for job bookings. When those don’t come in, boredom strikes, you have way too much time to be with your own self deprecating thoughts. Why am I not getting booked? Is it my body? Should I change my hair? I dreaded going into the agency to have ever more polaroids taken – scared for what they might say next to me about the “state of my body”.
Although a rough ride, I continued to train at the gym. I continued to learn. I knew I had to have a good body but wanted a sustainable, healthy way to manage it rather than just beating myself up for how I looked. I began to exercise for the results and tone it gave my body, but also gained a new found confidence and happiness that came with that. I kept up my work at the gym. Always keeping athletic but not really knowing how to channel it. Getting the odd personal training session when I could afford it for new ideas for workouts.
Anyone who’s into fitness knows that you have to have a nutritious diet to complement your exercise regime. You can’t have one without the other. I have always loved food and cooking and loved fitness but didn’t always make the link between the two. A turning point for me was when I found James Duigan (founder of Bodyism) and his ‘Clean and Lean Cookbook‘. It made the food connection that I hadn’t been able to make before. Explaining why certain foods are better than others and how delicious and nutritious healthy food can be. That sparked my love of cooking great tasting food, that is healthy but doesn’t feel like your restricting yourself. I believe for a sustainable diet that’s the key; finding something that works and not feeling like your always prohibiting certain foods. I am a huge foodie, I describe myself as a professional eater! – so this was a way I could see working for me and my body.
The Move to NYC
Making a career out of fitness didn’t really come until later on when my partner and I moved to New York. He had to move for work and I could get a New York based agent for my modelling. Three years of living there later, it was truly a life shaping experience. It came with a lot of crap, read: more scrutiny from the wrong kind of agents (pre Wilhelmina), more competition, more comparison, the rise of social media and a need to build my modeling career from scratch in a notoriously harsh city. However, later came my perfect fit. I changed my New York agent to Wilhelmina. Something which would forever change my future.
I didn’t realise at the time just how incredible the fitness scene was in NY (not to mention the endless healthy food options). I would spend my days at castings, jobs, running around Central Park or down the gym. It was at the gym that I found my mentor Sean Aqareva (a former boxer). I would take his boot camp, resistance and boxing classes. I loved the way he pushed us to our limit and would make the workouts so fun and varied each time. Spending increasing amounts of time at the gym and in class I began to feel the pull of fitness as a career. Fitness had always been a constant in my life and it was time for me to connect the dots. I thought I love doing this, I love the feeling and confidence it brings me and I would love to be able to bring that feeling to other people. This lead me to gain my fitness instructing certification with AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) so I could teach exercise classes.
The Fitness Model
Wilhelmina models have a fitness division within the agency. With my interest in the fitness scene ever increasing, I approached the head booker Topher Des Pris about modeling for the fitness board. I was fortunate enough that he put faith in me as a fitness model. He could see that I already worked hard on my body, I promised him it wasn’t just a passing phase, that I had a genuine interest in fitness as a career. He told me it was going to be a hard nut to crack as a newby in the industry but that he would support me. I made it my mission to make him proud. I am eternally grateful for his support throughout my time in New York. Wilhelmina fitness has some of the greatest fitness models I have ever seen. As I got more settled into life in New York and the fitness scene I realised the very models I went up against in my castings for jobs were my idols and inspiration. Their bodies, their dedication, their passion, their ability to teach and train clients who so loved to train with them. It was then that I really became passionate about my career path.
I studied hard for my NASM (National Academy of Sport Medicine) Personal Training certification. All the while I was modelling, spending time in Australia, London, as well as a lot of time in our New York home. Wilhelmina bought modelling jobs for big fitness brands like Nike, New Balance and Asics. When I got my first appearance for Women’s Health I was over the moon as its something I had always read and dreamt about modelling for. Jobs for Nike also made me giddy with excitement. Finally, all my hard work at the gym had been noticed and I was doing something I adored. My confidence lifted. Don’t get me wrong New Yorkers are another breed of fit, but I liked the inspiration. It gave me the passion to train consistently and eat well.
New York was an incredible learning curve. I was undoubtedly addicted to fitness and the results it gave me. I “HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) my body into oblivion (sometimes twice a day),and kindled a love of yoga but was always entirely trying to do too much to compensate for my spare time I had between modeling work. Later rather than sooner, I really learned what it was to listen to my body. Overtraining took its toll on my body. I got injured. My body was stressed. I missed home. I was lonely. The comparison cycle ever worsening. My training week consisted of 6-7 days a week of workouts, little rest. I set up my blog and posted about all the hottest workouts I tried, my life was now fitness.
Somewhere along the line (again it took a while), I began to love my body for what it could achieve in the gym or running races. I listened when it told me to rest. I rehabed injuries. I started to find tremendous strength in achieving performance driven results at the gym vs aesthetics. I could deadlift. I could squat. I started to try working on my pull ups, run long distance running races. I realised my body was strong. It could do incredible things. No matter how many inches my hips were. No matter if I had a six pack. Or if I was 5ft 7”. I was 5ft 7” of athleticism. I was 5ft 7” of strength. I began to build my confidence that way. I’d love when men asked me if I wanted help with my suitcase – thinking “I could deadlift you mate, let me help you with YOUR suitcase”.
My 1st Health & Fitness Cover August 2016
Spreading Confidence to Other Models
I was happier. I was enjoying going to the gym rather than going to punish my body. The confidence showed and I began to pick up more and more fitness modeling work. Model friends began to pick up on my new found body confidence. I was embracing my body for what it was and what it could do. They asked me to train them, to show them what to do at the gym. Many asking “how they could be as skinny as this model”. One day I was walking with my friend Tessa (also a model) and I simply said to her; “It’s not about being someone else, about trying to be skinny, it’s about doing the best with what we’re given.” I inadvertently came out with my Personal Training business and blog name when I told her you just need to “Tone What You Own”. I came up with the name out of a want for people to be happy with the body they are in. To know they don’t have to change anything about themselves but they can tone and tailor what they have. Every body is incredible and I want people to see the power of their wonderful body at its best. That it’s not just about looking great but much more about feeling great.
The Move Home
We ended up leaving New York for my partners work, something that was tough but necessary. I began to cultivate my fitness business back home in England. I continued to model, but soon left Storm in the search for an agent that “got me” as a fitness personality and model. I joined W Model Management (then W Athletic) who brought copious fitness work to the table. I was embracing me for me. What I loved. I began personal training, teaching classes and realised how much I truly loved helping people. People were surprised at how “tiny but mighty” I was in my strength. The “sweet little blonde chick” teaching class wasn’t quite as “easy” and fluffy as they predicted (unfortunately for them!) I found strength and power in embracing my body for what it was, regardless of what anyone else thought.
One summer I booked my favourite job to date my John Frieda campaign, shot by the prestigious Rankin Productions team. It was all about the common misconceptions people have about women (and perhaps blondes) being weak. They filmed me boxing and training to show quite the opposite. They allowed me to voice my training values. I felt on top of the world. I must admit the Colgate job felt pretty darn good too, take that mean bullies 😉
This is Me
Nowadays I spend my time modeling, blogging, teaching and training people all over the world. I have a passion for getting people in the outdoors (climbing or doing yoga if it’s anything to do with me!). I couldn’t be more passionate about getting people to feel incredible in the skin they’re in. The best versions of themselves. I feel (mostly) happy in my skin (we all have our good and bad days). I train with purpose. I’m waaaay kinder to my body. I don’t just smack it around mindlessly at the gym. I train to be strong, but also practice yoga to listen to what my body and mind needs. I listen when it speaks to me. I know that junk food makes me feel like crap – not for how it effects my body in looks, but how lethargic it makes me feel. So when I can I nourish it with what it needs but have found balance. 80% of the time I eat well, 20% I go a little wild, and don’t beat myself up for it. Knowing full well I generally take good care of my body. I fuel my body to be strong. I’m not always great at slowing down, but I acknowledge that I need to and try my best.
Finding Your You
Do you know what the best thing of all is? I haven’t weighed myself or measured my hip size in years. I love that I have womanly curves. I take pride in my body. I love what I can do with it. Whether that be scaling a rock face rock climbing, surfing an epic wave or nailing that yoga posture I’ve been working towards for so long. There is tremendous strength to be had in loving your body. A life spent picking holes in a body that does the most incredible things for us and that we take for granted is a life wasted. Find your you. Find your happiness. Find a way that works for you. There’s no point forcing yourself to do things you don’t enjoy. Do you love Pilates? Do that? Never tried yoga? Give it a go. You never know what you might end up loving!
If you’ve made it this far in my post then I am super grateful to you. I know its a long and deep and meaningful one. But it’s something I’m truly passionate about. If this post has made any difference to someone struggling with self esteem, finding their body confidence and finding what makes their body and soul speak then I’m one happy Kim.
I would so love to hear from you. If you have any questions, or can relate at all please do get in touch.
When all else fails I always find belting out “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman helps a lot!
Sending health, happiness and a tonne of love!
Till next time,