How “Healthy is the New Skinny” is Transforming Our Idea of Beauty

Former plus size model Katie Willcox talks body image, social media, and how perfection is no more than a myth.

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The majority of us have felt self-conscious about our bodies at some point or another. We’re our harshest critics, often comparing our physical features to those of the women we see on Instagram, TV, or in advertisements. Specific figures and body types are glamorized, while others are completely left out of mainstream media.

But there’s a shift going on. While what we see in the media isn’t necessarily changing, our attitudes toward this influence are undergoing a wake-up call. Rather than let the media dictate how we feel about our bodies, some women are taking control of that industry, promoting self-love over self-criticism. Namely, Katie Willcox.

I was fortunate to speak with Katie on her business, body image, and understanding “beautiful.” When we settle in for our phone date, she’s at an indoor playground with her husband and ten-month-year-old daughter, True. Though we’re not face-to-face, I can tell Katie is full of smiles.

“It’s her first time around other kids her own age,” Katie tells me, referring to True. “So this is a riot.”

Motherhood is just one of Katie’s callings. The former plus-size model is now the CEO and founder of the social movement, Healthy is the New Skinny, and Natural Models, a burgeoning modeling agency that encourages women to be at a natural and healthy weight. Founded in 2011, Healthy is The New Skinny originated as an online blog, and part of Katie’s desire to change the way our society frames beauty. It has since transformed into a powerful social media campaign promoting positive self-image and lifestyles for women all over the world.

“Everyone likes to think of body image in terms of physical attributes,” Katie tells me. “But we’re not focusing on our sense of self or spirit. If instead we try to think, “Who am I?”, that changes things.”

Katie started asking these big questions when she was well-established in her modeling career. Her clients loved her fuller, 14-size frame (the sample size for most plus-size models), but Katie wanted to lose weight as a part of her mission to feel healthier. When she went down to a size 10, her clients started dropping her. To continue getting work, she aimed to lose more weight, allowing her to fit into a “women’s” category of modeling, where size 6 is considered the norm.

“I was basically starving myself,” She says, going on to tell a story of how she bought a diet meal-delivery service. She was hungry all the time, cranky, and frustrated. Her breaking point came when she was licking frosting off a baking pan when making cupcakes for a friend. Food, weight, and calories had become an obsession—one that was polluting her quality of life.

“I had one of those epiphanies,” Katie says. “We’re conditioned to chase these superficial ideas, and then you get there and realize it’s empty. It made me realize that’s not where you find your fulfillment or happiness.”

Katie, like many, was stuck in a circle that promoted smallness, and it was making her miserable. And since this was such a huge part of her profession, she wasn’t sure if she should stay or go.

“I told my husband what I was feeling, and he said, ‘Well, you can either quit or you can change it,’” Katie reveals. Looking at where she is now, it’s clear which path she took.

 Reconstructing the Influence

Katie took control by deciding to create her own content. In her own process to change her body image, she asked: Am I doing this to be healthy, or to be skinny? She garnered that same message into her business endeavors. Rather than let the media and Instagram decide how she would feel about her body, she began to reframe her mental dialogue. Part of this, Katie says, is recognizing when you’re being tricked by the media. Awareness is key. 

“We have to look at the big picture,” Katie says. “How are we being influenced? The bodies in social media culture tell us that our source of value is our physical appearance. It’s not about who has a good message, it’s all about who has the photos that get numbers.”

The more authentic and conscious you are, it helps you navigate through all the stuff you don’t need.

Katie was determined to make her social media presence, and those of her business ventures, as genuine as possible. She also encourages only following influencers who promote positive messages, as who we support also affects our society’s values.

By developing awareness over our input and output of media, we’re better able to tap into how we actually feel. This sense of self, Katie says, helps use wade through any advertisements that would otherwise make us feel bad. 

Perfection is Procrastination 

Katie notes there’s another area that needs transparency—female entrepreneurship. As the CEO of two companies, she’s well-versed in the hardships that come from building a business from the ground up.

“The hardest part is to keep going,” Katie says. “You’re not going to make money for the first couple of years. Keep your head down and focus on your tasks for the day. It can be lonely, and I think women should expect that. You might lose friends. It’s not glamorous. If you’re able to make it work, you’re able to have a lot of freedoms that helps you live a really awesome lifestyle.”

Her other piece of advice? Don’t wait for something to be perfect to start. By waiting for the “ideal circumstances” to start a new business venture or creative project, we’re letting fear and perfection dictate our decision making.

“Start something,” Katie says. “The only place it can go is up. If you never launch it, it can’t grow.”

Perhaps the “perfection” we see within the media creates unhealthy professional standards for us as well. While it might be tempting to hold off onto a creative or business endeavor until everything is “just right,” that mindset stalls us from ever starting. Perfection isn’t a realistic goal. 

Because what is perfect? Certainly not life. It’s messy, exciting, complicated, and full of surprises—and the same can be said for our bodies. We all come in different shapes, colors, and sizes. It’s in these moments of difference and authenticity where we truly find the definition of beauty.

For more on Katie, check out Healthy is the New Skinny, and her modeling agency Natural Models

Amanda Kohr is the editor at Wanderlust. You can find her exploring new highways, drinking diner coffee, and on Instagram