National Eating Disorders Association
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Discovering My Inner Beauty in Recovery

Lauren O'Leary

When I think back to my high school years, it was a series of rituals. The same foods, the same habits, the same clothes; everything was a routine because in my mind, that’s when things were in control. The truth is, I was anything BUT in control. 

My eating disorder started in high school. I began restricting my diet and exercising a lot. I was never bullied or picked on; in fact, it was the opposite. I was popular, I had a ton of friends, played sports and the piano, and got good grades. But as soon as I started receiving praise from my friends and elders about my slimmer appearance, the cycle began. I became obsessed with restrictive eating, and in my mind, I never looked good because “good” wasn't perfect. What I wanted was perfection. 

My parents put me in in the hospital my sophomore year of high school and after that, I never went back. I had a tutor at home and I was in and out of school doing college courses because of my good grades. At the same time, I started modeling and immediately following high school, I moved to New York. 

As you can imagine, the pressure to look a certain way and stay specific size was crucial to my job, so I spent most of my time in avoidance of food and being consumed with ways to stay thin and beautiful. It had been four years since my last period, I was losing hair, getting dizzy, and collapsing from exhaustion. I finally got to a point several years later when I realized how miserable I was and I knew something had to change. I moved back home to Minnesota. 

At first, leaving modeling and New York was a huge relief. I was sick and tired of trying to be perfect all the time and live up to the high physical beauty standards I had set for myself. But, instead of working on myself, I became more careless and avoided the problems I had with food and my self esteem. I was in a relationship and I lived in a beautiful home, I started my own business, we had a cat and a dog, my family lived close by—everything that you’d think would sound picture perfect, wasn’t. Deep down I knew how unhappy I was with myself. I longed for the life I had always dreamed of in New York and wished I could live that life without an eating disorder. 

Finally, I reached my breaking point and I knew things needed to change again. I knew I needed to focus on me. I needed to try to chase my goals and dream, and work on my body image issues. The only answer was to put myself right back in New York and face my fears and insecurities. 

At the beginning of this year, I took on my greatest challenge, which has turned out to be my greatest accomplishment: I got back in front of the camera. I allowed someone to photograph me. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal to some of you but for me, it was. For years, I was afraid to see myself in front of the camera again...I had that "teenage girl" stuck in my head: a thin yet unhealthy version of myself.

And five months after being photographed, I got an offer from an agency to start modeling again as a curve model. At this point in my life, I am the most comfortable in my own skin that I have ever been. I no longer feel trapped by the idea of perfection and consumed by thoughts of calories and restriction. Every day, I try to focus on being healthy and striving for the best version of myself I can be. 

I have become passionate about trying to teach others how to love and value themselves and how to see their inner beauty. I work in an industry that is all about outer beauty; however, for me, I look at this as an amazing opportunity to touch the heart and lives of others. I want to continue to spread the message that great rewards come from taking risks, facing your fears, and learning to love yourself. 

Lauren is a makeup artist and model based in New York City. She is passionate about beauty, making amazing connections with individuals she meets, and spreading the message of how powerful it is to learn to love yourself.