The Founder of Natural Models LA & Healthy Is the New Skinny, Katie Willcox is an expert on all things self-love & female empowerment.
Before we dive into this, we have to tell you that this is probably our favorite post to date. As we shared in our previous blog post, one of our huge initiatives that we are launching is to focus on the overall well-being of tall women & girls, including their self-esteem and confidence. And so to get us off on the right foot, we thought there was no better person to spend some time speaking with than Katie Willcox, founder of Natural Models LA and Healthy Is the New Skinny, not to mention overall woman extraordinaire. Without question, this was one of the most impactful conversations that we’ve ever had. We promised to only take ten minutes of her time on the phone and that quickly became sixty. An hour with her and we fell in love. Her perspective and insight is thought-provoking and inspiring, and seriously we could have chatted with her all day. Katie is hilarious, sassy, brilliant and compassionate – truly the perfect mix for someone responsible for turning the fashion industry on its head. Her experience as a plus size model in the industry prompted her to launch a different kind of modeling agency, where natural beauty is the focus, not the specific size of your waistline. Can we get an AMEN?! In addition, she launched Healthy Is the New Skinny, a company through which she conducts workshops and retreats dedicated to educating girls and women on the harmful effects of trying to achieve society’s standard of beauty. Instead of pushing yourself to achieve the perfect selfie, she provides the tools and knowledge for girls to achieve true and genuine happiness from within. With that as her background, we couldn’t wait to dive in and pick her brain on all of these topics as they relate to tall girls and women.
Alli: We’ve read quite a bit about how your time in the modeling industry served as your motivation for launching Natural Models LA & Healthy Is the New Skinny, but we were curious if there was a specific incident or comment that stuck out above others as the catalyst for launching these companies and initiatives?
Katie: Oh there’s so many times, especially back when I was starting because no one even knew what plus size modeling was. And if you mentioned that you were doing it, it was embarrassing because that’s our society’s perception of being overweight. And as a teenager, well, of course that’s embarrassing because it’s like “Oh I’m not a model….I’m a fat model.” Going to shoots, it was very much the same attitude of “It’s just a plus model.” You didn’t get the same cute outfits, you didn’t get the same hair and makeup production, it was more like, “Yeah, just stand in here real quick and shoot this.” There were times I would come in and people would say the craziest things. One time, this makeup artist said, “Oh thank God it’s you, I saw that we had a plus model and I was like, ‘UGH, what fat cow are we going to have to shoot today. But you aren’t even plus!’” It just makes you feel so insecure. There was another time I was shooting for one of the teen magazines, I think it was one of my first magazine shoots, and they were shooting bras on different sizes. I got to the shoot, and I was all excited, and I was sitting there chatting with them and after awhile, someone said, “Ugh, this girl is late!” And they didn’t realize that I was actually the model and had been sitting there with them for thirty minutes. They are so used to only seeing one type of model.
When I met my husband, I met him at my biggest size but he thought I was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. He was the one who taught me that not all guys want a tiny and petite girl. He’s super active and fit and likes to be outside a lot, which is very different than how I grew up. It was a change in lifestyle of being outside and being more active. I started losing weight. I lost 40 pounds just naturally and I was feeling really good. But then I lost all of my modeling jobs except for one client because I was too skinny. I went into my agency and they told me I was too small for plus size, so I asked what size I would need to be to do regular modeling. And they said that I would have to get my hips down to 35”. But I figured I would give it a shot in a “healthy” way. So I started working out two hours a day, doing workout classes and doing a meal delivery program. I got down to a size 6, I was the smallest I had ever been in my life and my hips were still a 37”. But it was bone. I looked gaunt and I totally took it too far, it was too small for my frame. Yet I still couldn’t even get close to what was expected of me. And all the girls in the industry are doing this to themselves, for what?! In hopes that someone will choose them? It’s just STUPID. So I had a talk with my husband and said, ‘I’m QUITTING! Forget these people, I’m over them.” But he’s always the voice of reason and he said, ‘Well I agree, it is stupid, but if you quit, who’s gonna change it? You can quit, but you could always make it better.” I didn’t even think of doing the agency yet, I just started talking about the body image stuff at schools. But at the same time, I saw the industry going this way, yet none of the big agencies cared about this division, so I thought, “Well, what if we are the ones who care about it? Let’s treat them better and pay them better than the big agencies.” When we started in 2011, there were two clients in LA and now there are hundreds.
Amy: One of the biggest challenges for tall women are the comments that we receive from the public daily. While many are probably well-intended, some are not so thoughtful and it’s a lot of unwanted attention that tall women aren’t seeking. How do you coach women to handle these situations in the moment?
Katie: One of the things that we do at our body image workshops is ask people that. We hear a lot of that kind of talk, whether it’s comments that people make to you or comments/thoughts that you make to yourself. But it’s actually something that you have to practice. If you think about it, no one ever asks you how you would respond in a given situation like that. So we put people in a situation and make them think about it. In our sessions, we throw out a comment like, ‘Oh, that girl is too big to be wearing those shorts.” And then we ask, “What would you say to that?” And it’s fascinating because women are so unsure and so uncomfortable that they even have to say anything to me, and it’s a fake scenario! So in that situation, let’s come up with one or two things you can respond with because you know that it’s going to be said to you a thousand more times. Then when it happens, it’s an auto thing, you feel secure and comfortable about it. But you have to make it a common practice, otherwise it’s not something that you will be conscious of. One time, I was wearing heels and this guy came into the office and I stood up to introduce myself and he goes, “WOW, you’re a big girl!” And I said, “Well, if by big, you mean super vibrant, intelligent and amazing, then yes!” I just put it right back on him and it was funny because then everyone laughed at him. But then he learned how rude that was. I also realize that’s my personality, so I would encourage people to be aware of their personality type and work on responses that make them feel okay and comfortable. Practice it and journal it. And you can also speak out when it’s directed at other people, too – it’s empowering.
Alli: You have a beautiful daughter, who no doubt has to impact you additionally in many ways. How do you plan to instill confidence and a positive body image for her as she grows up?
Katie: I think the most important thing is leading by example. I can tell her all the positive quotes I want, but at the end of the day she is going to look at what I do and say and the energy that I have about myself. There’s all kinds of communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Even how I carry myself, so even if I don’t say something, if I feel and act disgusted with my body, she can pick up on that. She can’t even speak yet, but we communicate fully. I think understanding that instead of focusing on how you are going to do that for her to instead focus on doing that for yourself. Because that will change it for your kids. And it takes the pressure off. It is all learned behavior. One of the things I show in my workshops are these YouTube videos of kids and they are asking strangers on the internet if they are pretty or ugly. It’s heartbreaking and everyone cries watching it. But why do they want to know that? Because that dictates where their value is in our society, especially our social media culture. There’s a video of a 6-year-old, with cartoons blaring in the background, but she’s talking about how all the kids at school call her ugly. And then there’s a video of a 2-year-old giving herself love and affirmations. And it’s adorable. But the takeaway is that self-loathing is learned. So, it’s not so much about teaching kids how to love themselves. They already know how to love themselves, they already know how to do that. It’s more about protecting their spirit. As a mom, I make sure that I always keep a home environment that is safe and welcoming where she’s always able to be herself. Knowing that in our home, she’ll always be accepted no matter what she looks like and who she decides to love. She can always be herself in our home. And that’s really all we can do because we can’t control our culture.
Amy: There are so many people who look to you as their role model for self-love and empowerment and you’re a great example of leading by example. But we are all human and everyone still has bad days. How do you pick yourself up and reset during one of those days?
Katie: Everyone has those days, and I always practice what I preach. If I’m having a bad day, I’m very aware that I can choose to feel differently. It’s very interesting because people say, “Ugh I feel fat” – but fat isn’t a feeling. So you have to peel back the onion to understand what’s driving those insecurities. But the thing that sucks about being aware is you know you can call your own bulls**t. It’s more about “Ugh, I’m in a bad mood, I know I’m in a bad mood, I can change this.” That’s life, not every day is great and I always know tomorrow is a new day. But with body positivity, it’s never going to be that you love everything about yourself all the time. Those are false messages to be portraying. You are an evolving human being, and you are living in an environment that’s not open to it. We’ve never seen such a huge jump in technology and evolution from our grandparents’ generation to ours, so of course we are going to have some challenges in dealing with this new way of living. We have to acknowledge and ask what can we do to create that safer environment for yourself. And when you are having those bad days, be accountable and honest to what the real issues are that are making you feel that way. You have to build a better relationship with yourself that’s based on honesty and respect. It’s a much better way than just focusing on your body.
We love, love, love her feedback and answers and think it’s ALL applicable to a lot of the journey we face as tall women. It’s so easy for us to be frustrated by the unwanted attention that we receive for the extra inches that we have, but yet we really aren’t the only ones who deal with this nuisance. She gave a perfect example of a situation that happens frequently, but has nothing to do with height. It’s a good reminder to focus on who you are as a person and drown out the noise. You can’t control what people say, but you sure can control how you let it affect you.
Given how we felt after only a quick hour with her, we can only imagine how motivated and inspired women are after attending one of her workshops or retreats. In fact, if you are in the LA area or can get there – you MUST attend her upcoming Wanderlust event in Hollywood on February 18th. We actually wish we could make it because we would love to further the conversation. We promise you that you will leave energized, refreshed and ready to tackle the world. The topic will be how generational programming is preventing us from thriving as modern day women. Check out this link for more details: https://www.healthyisthenewskinny.com/wanderlust/.
Thanks for reading, we hope you took as much from her answers as we did!
Amy & Alli