My self love journey was painful, and almost cost my life. But by sharing it, I hope I can help others
At nearly six feet tall, I always felt extra large in my country, Japan, and I was scouted on the streets of Tokyo to be a model when I was only 12. Like most kids of that age, I was more interested in my education, so I couldn’t take modelling seriously until I turned 16. My local agency said I was ‘too tall’ for the Japanese market, so I began walking for designers internationally.
I needed to speak English well, so I studied hard to get one of the top grades in my high school, which convinced my parents to let me go to Canada and study a year. There, I signed to a new agency and started to do photoshoots to build up my portfolio.
One day, when I went to the agency for measurements, my manager looked me up and down and flat out told me to lose about 10 lbs (4.5kg) as quickly as possible. Although I’m naturally slim, apparently I wasn’t thin enough for the catwalk. I suddenly felt extremely self-conscious about my weight, and insecure about not being “good” enough for the industry. I immediately went on an extreme diet where I allowed myself to eat only an apple and “salad”, (in other words, lettuce), each day.
A Terrible Regime
In addition to this crazy restrictive diet, every day after school, I would spend two hours on cardio machines and one hour swimming instead of having dinner. I lied to my host family that I had dinner with my friends every night.
I kept doing this for around a month and a half. Eventually, my stomach shrank and I could barely eat anything anyway. I lost over 15kg (33 lbs) and became physically and mentally ill. I was always cold when my friends were saying it was hot. I lost a lot of hair. My periods stopped. I felt like I was floating or in a dream-state when I walked down the street, but I also became easily irritable, frustrated and angry. Little things, like having to wait in a store queue, would set me off.
I didn’t want to admit how ill I felt, but one day, there was no choice. I was sent to the emergency room at my local hospital because I passed out. And no wonder: my heart rate was 38 bpm. The doctor told me that I was at risk of having a heart attack. He also told me that if I didn’t try to gain weight and get healthy, they would have to send me back home to Japan.
For me, that would mean the end of my budding career and studies, and I really didn’t want it to happen. I promised the doctor and teachers that I would try to gain weight. A teacher from my school came to the hospital and begged me to eat a few slices of apple, but I just couldn’t. Inside my twisted mind, I feared that would make me fat.
A Surprise Visit
My parents came to Canada to visit me. They were worried to death! But I was also worried about what they may do to me. Although I knew they just wanted me to get better, once again, I feared they would try to make me fat. They actually cooked my favourite meals for me in their hotel room, thinking maybe that’s what it would take to get me to eat something. Although I felt their love and support very deeply, I still didn’t want to eat.
After I got out of the hospital, I had to attend a clinic in Vancouver every weekend to record my weight and to make sure that I was gaining some. However, I still wasn’t eating enough, and I didn’t stop going to the gym, so I was actually still losing more weight. To avoid people noticing this, I made sure that I drank more than a litre of water before going to the clinic, so that my weight would be a bit heavier. I also gave out all the supplemental shakes and high calorie protein balls that I was obliged to eat by the clinic to homeless people. That’s how messed up my mind was from my eating disorder.
My final turning point was probably when I reached my lowest weight: 45.8kg (99 lbs). It’s terrifyingly low for a woman who stands 180 cm tall (5’11). I actually got scared when I saw that number. I felt so ridiculous about myself and very sorry for the people who loved and cared about me – and who were worried sick about my behaviour.
I was also sick of feeling cold and tired all the time. I was always so cold that I would have to wear two pairs of black thick tights underneath my jeans and three thermal vests underneath my sweaters. I was so exhausted every day that I would go to bed at 8pm – and this is at the age of 17, when I should have been out having fun with friends, or exploring the new country I had travelled to.
I suddenly desperately wanted to get better because I was not living my life or loving myself, and I didn’t want to waste my teenage years anymore. That’s when I finally realized that I needed to eat and get healthy again before it was “too late”.
The Road To Self Love
A recovery journey is never easy, and is different for everyone who has dealt with an eating disorder. Just as with other relationships in your life, trust is needed. In this case, I had to learn to trust myself to help myself recover from this mental illness. It’s very difficult for anorexics to do this; by nature, we are overly judgemental and self critical. But I will share three main things that helped me on my self love journey.
The first thing I did was choose a plant-based lifestyle. For some, I know the fact being vegan and cutting out foods that aren’t vegan is another way for them to feel “in control”. But this was different. Eliminating animals from my diet made me feel better about who I am as a person.
In my early recovery, I was still eating fish, as my mum – like most Japanese – didn’t really believe in the lifestyle (it is very rare to be vegan in Japan). But my portions were very small, especially of carbohydrates, because I was so afraid of eating any ‘fattening’ food. Once I realised that eliminating animals from my diet would help make the world a better place, I felt better about myself. I felt I was ‘deserving’ of food, for a change! I realised that our ‘human’ lives are not the only ones that matter, and I have the power to make animals’ lives better, too. My self-esteem further improved when I met so many like-minded people online and in real life. I felt so connected with them regardless of gender, age,or race. I felt I had found my place in the universe.
The second thing that helped me overcome my eating disorder was to practice gratitude. I have had a wonderful life, with wonderful parents and a lot of luck. But when I was younger, I felt that wasn’t good enough: I felt that I had to strive to be the best model, the best daughter, the best student. And in doing so, I overlooked all that was good in my life. Today, I have a specific way to practice gratitude: every morning, after doing yoga, I write down five things I’m grateful for on my journal. This helps me truly reflect on and appreciate my life, my loved ones, and who I am today.
Finally, changing my perspective helped me overcome my illness. Perspective is everything. For instance, in my early recovery, I used to hide and waste food because I wanted to look like I was eating enough. I thought food would was my enemy; something that would only make me fat. I took the true gift of food for granted. As soon as I tried to start seeing the same situation from another perspective, I recognised how extremely lucky I am to have access to food, especially good quality food, when one in seven people are starving in the world. I felt deeply ashamed for what I had done with these gifts from Mother Earth.
Since then, I abhor wasting food and appreciate every morsel I get to eat. Changing your perspective is a powerful way to overcome difficulties or hard times in life. You can actually start to see obstacles as opportunities to gain knowledge and experience, not as failures.
A New Life
Today, thanks to my self love journey, my life is completely different. I’m an ethical fashion model based in Paris, working for ethical fashion brands that help the environment, animals, and people. I do this because it reflects my ethics and beliefs. On my social media platforms, I share my self love journey to encourage others to love themselves, too. I’d like my story to be a reminder for people to realise the importance of loving themselves before work, fashion, or anything else. I believe the way you treat yourself affects how you treat others, and the planet, too
On my self love journey, I learned that ‘loving yourself’ doesn’t mean you have to like every single thing about who you are. We are all flawed, we all have a dark side. It’s called ‘being human’. And that’s fine! Be patient with yourself and most importantly, be kind to yourself, because you will never spend more time with anyone in this lifetime. You should be your own best friend. You should care for yourself, and accept yourself.
You are enough. You are worthy. And when you love yourself, you are always loved.
Follow Kiko on Instagram here.
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