Trapped in a never-ending cycle of dieting, purging and bulimia, model and former Miss Universe Australia Olivia Molly Rogers has become “addicted” to weight loss.
After a few months of trying to balance my studies, my part-time job, and my fledgling modeling career, I could tell things were starting to slip through the cracks.
Most of the casting calls I had attended so far had led to nothing or unpaid work.
By this point, I had already spent over $ 1,500 on photos, presentation cards, website placement, and training. This type of investment was a lot for a college student. As I thought about it, the agency reached out to me again to convince me that I had the potential to do so much more than the modeling scene in Adelaide or even Sydney.
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They told me I could spend six weeks in Japan and earn $ 20,000. At just 19, that amount of money (and the chance to go to a list destination) seemed outrageous (it still is now), incredible, and something I was willing to work for.
Tell me more.
I collected the information surrounding Japan like a mistletoe bird collects twigs and animal hair for its nest: with thoughtfulness, speed and passion.
Honey, we’ll just need to get your measurements down a bit.
OK, so they wanted me to lose weight.
The extra pounds from my travels hadn’t been that hard to pack. Surely a few more would not be so difficult.
When the week of the reunion in Japan went by, I knew I was not doing well. I was too thin. My skin, eyes, hair, and nails were dull, brittle, and lifeless. I haven’t had a period for two months.
My hair was falling out and there was no sparkle in my eyes. The irony was that I had done all of these diets and exercises to be “better” and “more” beautiful, but ended up making myself look worse.
Feeling flat and depressed which was the opposite of how I imagined walking into the room to meet the Japan team, I arrived at the agency the same day and couldn’t wait to hear that I was beautiful, perfect, and exactly what Japan Tracks needed.
Even in my fragile state, I imagined myself jumping up and down and making a series of party calls once I heard the news.
My agency told me to wear something to show off my body, so I wore a tank top, jeans and heels. Because I had indeed gone below the necessary measurements for Japan, everything was too big.
My once tight jeans were loose and even my bra was too big. I looked like a lollipop.
In less than five minutes, I said hello, turned around and then left without any kind of nod or smile.
A few days later, I received an email: âI’m sorry, Olivia. You are not what they are looking for right now.
It took me a long course of antibiotics to feel stronger and begin my recovery. I figured that since I had now removed what I thought was the cause of my eating disorder – modeling – that would solve everything.
When I resumed eating regular meals, my body, still trying to get out of starvation mode, was storing everything, which meant that I gained some weight very quickly.
In the first month, I increased one clothing size. And then a few months later, I got back up.
It didn’t help that my part-time job was in a fashion store. The manager often tried to force me to become a model for them. She started telling me to ride a bike to lose weight. It triggered me so much.
I was trying to get better, but at the same time I was wondering if I should start dieting again. Then I remembered an old habit: purging.
Being able to take out what I had put on made me feel comfortable. So I wasn’t so afraid of food anymore because I knew I could purge myself afterwards. Unfortunately, what I was doing was really damaging my body.
I became physically dependent on laxatives to the point that I couldn’t go to the bathroom without them. My stomach was still rumbling. As my tummy issues got worse, I started to hate myself for taking [the laxatives].
Every time I bought them, I said to myself: what are you doing?
I couldn’t stop. It was like a constraint. I hid them in a deep pocket of my purse so that Mom couldn’t find them.
I was too ashamed to go talk to a professional about it. I did not want to raise such an important issue. In the years that followed I went through periods where I would stop taking them and throwing them away, but it was extremely difficult to break the habit and I kept coming back to them.
I felt so stupid that I couldn’t control this, and I was so angry with myself.
The most absurd part is that even after five years of messy eating, I felt like I wasn’t skinny enough to admit that I had been bulimic and abused laxatives for half a decade.
I was also terrified of quitting because I kept thinking: I’m not even skinny, what if I stop?
At 24, I was in my last year of college [studying speech pathology] and I was so into an eating disorder that I never imagined I could be cured. But then something changed.
I started doing labs in places like stroke rehabilitation clinics, cleft clinics, and daycares. I felt fulfilled and had a purpose.
Yes, it was hard to see adults collapsing and children with cleft palates struggling to eat, but knowing that I had the tools and resources to help them brought joy I had never felt in modeling.
One of my clients had undergone seven major surgeries to repair her cleft palate and she was only 11 years old.
It scared him to eat. Whenever we talked about eating and food I felt really horrible and ashamed because my own fear of food and bulimia made me feel so hypocritical.
Worse yet, parents told me their kids were inspired by me and wanted to be like me.
I thought: no, they wouldn’t if they really knew …
For the first time, I really wanted to change. I think the other part of my motivation to get better was the fear of getting caught.
I knew I had a problem and needed to fix it, but I was struggling to get my behavior to match my thoughts.
You can’t just turn that voice off.
With everything becoming too much, I finally made the decision to end my unhealthy habits. I know recovery is not easy, and I also know in hindsight that I should have sought help much sooner than I did.
It would have helped me not only to have more practical tips for recovery, but also not to feel so alone on my road to recovery. Relapsing on my own was so difficult, I wish I had talked about it sooner.
It took me over a year to stop my behavior, but the mental health issues (my depression and anxiety) had been there for much longer. I just had to keep focusing on the end goal, which was to improve myself.
It took me a few more years (and possibly therapy) before I was finally convinced I was okay.
Today I am happy and healthy, both mentally and physically. I sometimes have damaging thoughts, but I have ways to overcome them and coping strategies that I use.
I love to cook and eat, and I don’t deprive myself of what I love. I exercise regularly and love it. I’m kind to myself and most importantly after years of abuse I’ve learned to be kind to my body.
For a long time, I was hesitant to use terms like âeating disorderâ, âbulimiaâ and ârecoveryâ because it forced me to take ownership of the situation. I tended to say, âI struggled with my weight because of the modeling.
Putting it that way allowed me to shift the blame. It wasn’t my fault, it was the modeling fault. But the more I learn about eating disorders, the more I think my experience would have happened with or without modeling.
I was addicted to controlling my weight and the first step in recovery was to embrace it.
This is an edited clip from Find Your Light by Olivia Molly Rogers (Echo Publishing, $ 34.99), released Tuesday.
It’s time to change the conversation
Have you ever noticed how much we comment on someone’s appearance? Have you lost weight?
My God, you look great! You look really healthy. That last comment doesn’t seem like a trigger, but trust me, it is.
âYou look healthyâ is a compliment that is actually quite difficult to swallow. I want to point this out because you never really know if someone is suffering or not having an eating disorder or have poor body image.
The best way to comment on someone’s weight is not to. Instead, try these compliments: you shine; you seem really happy; I love your outfit; or I like to see you smile.
If you or someone you know needs help or support with an eating disorder or body image concerns, please call the Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline at 1-800-334-673 or visit butterfly.org.au.
Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the Beyondblue Helpdesk – 1300 22 46 36 or via Beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3:00 p.m.-12: 00 p.m. AEST) or e-mail response.
You can also call BodyMatters Australasia on (02) 9908 3833 or visit their website for other bodymatters.com.au resources. Calls to Lifeline (lifeline.org.au) can also be made to 13 11 14 or by SMS 0477 13 11 14.
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