Sacrificing Health to Be a Model

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Kiko Hirakawa

I have always read about models who suffer from eating disorders, but I didn’t expect I would be one of them.

I became a model when I was scouted on the streets of Tokyo at the age of 12. After my parents and I had a proper chat with the agency, my parents allowed me to sign up with the agency only under the condition that I continue my studies and succeed in school.

At 16, I knew I wanted to learn English so that I could work as an international model. My agent at the time informed me that I was getting too tall for the Japanese market as a model and  advised me to explore the international modeling world. Therefore, I decided to join a language exchange program offered by my high school to study abroad in Canada for one year.

When I was in Canada, I got signed to a leading modeling agency and started my career as an international model. One day, my manager told me that I needed to lose a certain amount of weight to achieve the look of the “perfect model”. They recommended that I get plastic surgery for my nose and to lose weight. At the age of 17, I didn’t want to get plastic surgeries but I knew I could lose weight.

Since that day, I became very critical of myself, went on an extreme diet, over-exercised, and didn’t eat enough despite the fact that I was already naturally slim. As a result, I started struggling with anorexia. I was then hospitalized due to a low heart rate. This period of my life was quite challenging, not only physically, but also mentally.

Looking back at those days, not only did I have an eating disorder, but I also lost myself completely.

I was no longer social. I just wanted to be who the modeling industry wanted me to be, which  became a great recipe for severe anorexia and unhappiness. For me, overcoming this mental illness started with admitting that I had a problem with eating first. After this awareness, I  started eating again and also learned to love and be kind to myself. This became a journey where I found myself again.

People always ask how I recovered. It had a lot to do with gratitude for food and life in general. I took many things I had access to, including wonderful food, for granted. This is why to this day, I practice gratitude every single day to remind myself of what I already have.

Today, I love using my voice to make a difference. I advocate for models who are encouraged to sacrifice their health to become successful.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to take care of yourself and make peace with yourself. I believe that when you make peace with yourself, you make peace with the world. I’m happy and very grateful that I can still work as a model who brings awareness into the industry. I hope that my story will keep inspiring others to be a bit kinder to themselves today and that the kindness spreads to the world. If you are reading this, I hope you know that you are enough ❤️

Kiko is a model, entrepreneur, and founder of an ethical model agency. She is also an anorexia survivor and uses her voice for positive change through her work and platform @kiko.sunflower. Kiko is also an advocate for model rights and ethical & sustainable fashion.