Though Katie Halchishick is at the helm of the movement Healthy is the New Skinny (HNS), she wasn’t always at peace with her figure. Urged by modeling agents to gain weight, the now 26-year-old packed on the pounds in college to land gigs as a plus-size model. But the work stopped coming in altogether when she dropped a few sizes and was then pressured to lose even more weight.
Soon after, Halchishick realized that she –and every other woman out there– deserves better. As the founder of HNS, she’s hard at work spreading the message that the industry’s obsession with sample size leaves out an entire spectrum of bodies.
We chatted with Halchishick about how she put her body image issues to rest, ways to discuss eating disorders and what we can do to promote healthy body image on campus. Body love starts now!
What inspired you to start Healthy is the New Skinny?
“I began Healthy is the New Skinny because I was tired of seeing only one type of body used in advertising. There are so many beautiful women who think less of themselves because they don’t fit the super-skinny criteria that the media sets out for us. Prior to the creation of HNS, nobody talked about the fact that size dictates beauty in the fashion industry, and the effect that those images have on young women. I want to teach women of all ages to work to become the healthiest, happiest versions of themselves, and change the industry standards of beauty so that all body types are equally represented.”
What were your experiences dealing with low self-esteem and how did you get through it?
“Growing up, I always had confidence issues about my weight, and my self-esteem did not improve as a result of being in the modeling industry. I saw myself a certain way, and did not realize that other people saw me differently until I met my husband Bradford. He taught me how to love myself as I was, and see me how he saw me.”
Looking back, what advice would you give your teenage self?
“I would tell myself not to search out and pick apart flaws when I looked in the mirror, but rather, focus on the good aspects of my physical body and my inner beauty. I would tell myself not to wait for other people to see my potential, but instead to recognize it in myself, and maximize it to its fullest.”
How can young women combat the pressure to conform to a rigid definition of beauty?
“Comparing yourself to other women, particularly models and actresses used in advertisements, is a fruitless venture. As opposed to trying to alter yourself to fit that ideal, think about what makes you happy, and focus on that. Surround yourself with positive people, and positive images, and don’t let anybody tear you down or tell you that you aren’t good enough. If you decide to exercise and eat well, don’t do it to lose weight, do it to achieve a better state of health and fitness.”
When people are putting themselves down (ex: fat talk), how can you not engage in the conversation?
“As opposed to talking about all of the things you dislike about yourself, steer the conversation in a more positive direction. If your friend mentions how she hates her thighs, tell her that you think her legs are fantastic, or change the subject entirely. The less you talk about the things you dislike about yourself, the less negative and self-deprecating thoughts you will have.”
How can you stand up to people who put down others because of their bodies?
“Oftentimes, people put others down because they are secretly insecure about their own bodies. Ask them how they would feel if someone stood there and called out their flaws, because no matter what their response, they would definitely not feel positive about it. Another thing you can do if you don’t want to engage them outright is refuse to participate. When someone doesn’t have an audience for their negative comments, they will keep it to themselves.”
What steps can women take on campus to promote healthy body image?
“Start groups and clubs to spread the word that women shouldn’t strive to alter themselves in order to fit an unrealistic media image. Once young women start to realize the fact that the industry standards aren’t ordinary or easily attainable, they will be less likely to feel down about themselves for not fitting that beauty ideal. The most important message that our movement promotes is that size does not equal beauty.”
Do you believe that magazines and Photoshop have a direct influence on the way girls see their bodies?
“I believe that the less Photoshopped images there are, the more people will realize just how skewed the images that we see every day are. I was certainly influenced by pictures in magazines, and so were many of the women that I know. Perfected photos cause you to take a look at yourself, and wonder why you don’t look the way that other women do in advertisements. If magazines have the power to influence women who have matured into adulthood, then they definitely have an impact on how girls see themselves.”
How can young women avoid the urge to compare themselves to friends/siblings?
“Finding positive role models that have similar bodies is a great way to promote self-worth and acceptance. As opposed to looking at all of the qualities that you don’t have, and envy in others, focus on what you like about yourself, and all of the ways in which you are unique. If you blended in with everyone else, you would lose what makes you special.”
What would you tell young women who feel like they have no other way to lose weight than through unhealthy methods?
“Instead of thinking in terms of weight and size, set a goal of becoming healthier. Oftentimes, when you alter your eating habits to include better foods and increase your exercise, you lose weight in the process. It is hard to be patient, but that is the only way to achieve a better body without harming it in the process. If you resort to unhealthy means for weight loss, you often do long-term damage to your body, and it causes a lot of health problems in the future. Just know that you aren’t perfect, and there will always be days where you don’t feel confident about yourself, but remember the purpose of changing your eating habits and exercise. The purpose of Healthy is the New Skinny is to help you achieve a better state of physical and mental health, and improve your self-worth. Don’t make it about losing weight; make it your goal to be healthy.”
What can you do if you suspect that your friend has an eating disorder?
“Eating disorders are an extremely sensitive issue, so if you are beginning to suspect that someone close to you is suffering from one, approach it delicately. Ask them how they are feeling, find out what is happening in their lives that may be the cause of this behavior. If the truth does come out, the best thing that you can do is be supportive of them and encourage them to seek professional help. Tell them that you are concerned for their health, and that you want to be there for them in any way that you can. Having someone there for them that is understanding of their struggle often helps them to realize that they are loved and valued.”
What are some ways to start the conversation about eating disorders?
“I encourage women who have experience with eating disorders to come forward and share their stories. Eating disorders are surprisingly common, and when women who are struggling with them realize that they are not alone, it will help the healing process. Feeling like you have people who understand your struggle helps with the recovery process. Nobody should have to feel like they are alone in their struggle, and knowing that other people have been through the same thing and managed to recover gives you hope for your own future.”
If you’re naturally thin, how do you deal with people who think your body type is unhealthy?
“The best way to handle negative comments is to greet them with confidence and self-assurance. If you take pride in your body, there is nothing that anyone can say that will tear you down. Something that naturally thin women I have met do is greet those reactions and comments with a sense of humor. If you know that you are healthy and happy, your body shape and size is nobody’s business but your own.”
Get the latest news from HNS here, including information about Halchishick’s new LOVE Campaign.
Images courtesy of Katie Halchishick and Healthy is the New Skinny.