Emme, the first plus-size supermodel, is one of the most iconic women in fashion history. But to many women who grew up seeing her in magazines (or on shows like Fashion Emergency), she was even more. Emme projected an image of unshakeable confidence and poise. As a non-skinny woman in a sea of ‘90s, Kate Moss-style thinness, she seemed unbothered by being “different.” More than that, she seemed to relish her size and shape. But as I learned from her piece below, the truth behind that glowing confidence is a complicated one. In this letter to her younger self, she tells a story many of us will recognize. (And if you’re someone who needs support for an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.) I am thrilled, honored, and thankful to share it on The Anti-Diet Project. — KM
This is a letter is a long time coming. It nags at me every day, when I chat with my 15-year-old daughter. I watch her sorting out the business of becoming a woman, absorbing the world’s messages about what that means, looking at herself through the lens of media, celebrity, and yes, her mother, too, and wondering to herself how she measures up. I want, so badly, to find the words to free her from all that comparison and worry, because I know that struggle all too well.
And then I think of you, my teenaged self, lying on your bedroom floor, tearfully wrenching yourself into a pair of Calvin Klein jeans — the ones from that Brooke Shields ad — willing them to fit and knowing they never will. Because you are not Brooke Shields. And the sooner you know that, the sooner your life as Emme will begin. What magic words could I say to convince you to get up off the floor?
Things weren’t easy in that house, I know. Your mother always on a diet, and your stepfather, obsessed with controlling his weight — and yours. In his disordered eating, he was struggling with the wounds of his own childhood, inflicting his suffering on those around him too. That’s how it works with bullies. They’ve been hurt, so they hurt others. But how could you know that then? All you knew was that, in the eyes of those who should have loved you unconditionally, your body was unacceptable.
At school, things were different. There, your body wasn’t “fat,” but strong and capable. You were an athlete, excelling at sports. You became a star rower and eventually would go to Syracuse University on a full athletic scholarship. Even then, you could not see your body for the incredible asset it was.
And no one else could see the truth either. Your coaches applauded your strength and ability, urging you to hone it — but inside you still carried those lessons learned at home. You didn’t want to be stronger; you wanted to be small. You guzzled diet soda and carefully calculated the calories of each …