Former model faced unrealistic body standards: “Days would pass without eating a single thing just to meet my weight goal”

I felt a sudden urge to go to the hospital. This began my road to recovery, but healing never came easy. The world of fashion includes a dark, inhumane side which we rarely dissect as a society. I aim to change that. 

  • 8 months ago
  • October 11, 2023
5 min read
Juan Manuel Arancibia began modelling at 18 years old. He quickly triumphed in the world of fashion, eventually walking for prestigious brands such as Dior. Throughout his journey, he struggled a lot with body image issues and various addictions and eating disorders. After he reached a low point in his life, he sought medical treatment at a rehab facility, which saved his life. Today, at 33 years old, he’s stepped away from the catwalks to continue his studies, leading a healthier, happier life.
Fashion models often face explicit demands to lose weight or maintain an extremely low body weight. These demands frequently come from agents and designers, who emphasize that a very thin body is both the key to getting hired and essential for fitting into the tiny sizes typically provided for runway shows. A number of recent studies have found increases in anorexia and bulimia among men. One quarter of all those who suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, are men, up from 15 percent in 1990, according to a Harvard University study.

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — By the time I began modeling in Europe for brands like Christian Dior, I had plummeted into a battle with anorexia and addiction. At parties and events, I did drugs to keep up with those in my social circles and to avoid the feelings that came with the strain of my everyday life. Imposing insecurities plagued me.

Coming into my career as a model, I weighed 65 kilos (143 pounds), but those involved wanted me to lose weight before fashion shows. The pressure began to overwhelm me, and I turned to laxatives, diuretics, and sniffing fat burners through my nose to get by. Days would pass without eating a single thing just to meet my weight goal. I put forth enormous effort to hide my addictions. Meanwhile, I was dying inside.

Related: Influencer opens up about anorexia, eating disorder recovery (orato.world)

Fashion model spirals into addiction and anorexia: hitting rock bottom

My addictions and behaviors rapidly took over my life, and I felt like a drowning man, looking up from underneath the water, yet unable to reach the surface. Facing my problems and seeking help seemed impossible. On the day of a fashion show, as I waited for the procession to begin, I barely had the energy to stand. My stomach turned in knots as anxiety and stress consumed every cell inside my body.

Sometimes, during those processions, I went into convulsions which terrified me. Throughout my young life, I grappled with low self-esteem and body dysmorphia. Nothing I ever achieved as a model satisfied me or resolved those issues. As an 18-year-old working the runway, I slowly felt my body slipping away from me, but refused to admit I hit rock bottom until it was nearly too late.

One day, as I struggled to get out of bed, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I no longer recognized my own image staring back at me. I looked frail and empty. A sadness spoke through my gaze and my heart shattered. I stood up slowly, still staring at my reflection in the mirror, thinking, “My body no longer belongs to me.”

I felt a sudden urge to go to the hospital. This began my road to recovery, but healing never came easy. The world of fashion includes a dark, inhumane side which we rarely dissect as a society. I aim to change that. 

A willingness arose inside of me, to be kinder to myself and to unlearn my negative habits

I spent the next two years in a treatment clinic for people with addictions and eating disorders. Rehab completely transformed my entire life. Each day in recovery, my eyes opened a little wider to the harm these behaviors delivered upon my body, my life, and those around me. Through the programs and daily activities of rehab, a new perspective of life began to form in my mind as my spirit lifted.

Soon, I could feel things falling into place. A willingness arose inside of me, to be kinder to myself and to unlearn my negative habits. As the days passed throughout those two years, I learned to enjoy food. With each bite, I nourished body and achieved something I once thought was impossible.

Related: Hope Virgo fought for her life; campaigns for eating disorder support – Orato

During this time, I made a conscious effort to stop comparing myself to others and focusing on these so-called “negative” parts of me. I watched as my true self emerged from the shadows of the false parts of me that became ravaged by addiction and insecurity.

I still struggle today, to detach myself from perceived criticism, but I am not the pale, sick teenager I saw in the mirror at the height of my modeling career. When I look back at how I treated that boy, an intense sadness fills my heart.

Through my words today, I hope others who suffer like I did – who base their worth on their image and achievement in a broken system – will seek help. If my testimony can motivate another human being to believe in and pursue a way out of this hole, to be kinder to themselves and change their lives, I will have achieved my greatest goal.

Fashion industry sets unrealistic body expectations on models

Taking a step away from the fashion industry in my recovery helped me immensely. It gave me a new lens on life because my world does not center around superficial, unrealistic standards anymore. I firmly believe fashion should convey wellness and happiness. It should never for a moment create and guard harsh social standards for appearance that alienate people from each other and from themselves.

Models are meant to sell clothing by showing confidence. Yet, behind many of the smiles you see in fashion, the person in front of you is dying to fit the molds placed upon. I look back at my role in this system and I perpetuated a lie to the audience. That act contributes to breeding further insecurity, tainting people’s lives.

Related: Clearing the fog of anorexia – Orato

These unrealistic expectations create hurdles in the fashion industry. Models do their best to fit the standards placed on them by those in charge. Too often, we starve ourselves to do it. I know; I lived it. Very rarely did I appeal to those hiring models unless I looked frighteningly thin in my photos.

Today, not only am I grateful to be alive, but I stand firm in my conviction that real beauty comes from being comfortable in your own skin.

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