Thoughts, Encouragement, Inspiration, Products, Style, & More from Makeup Artist Lauren O'Leary…
Most people wouldn’t know this from meeting me today, but I am a recovering anorexic. I am by no means proud in anyway to say that. It’s actually the opposite, I am disgusted and saddened that it was an illness that consumed my mind for many years. I even hesitated using that word “anorexia” in the title for this confession but I figured that it would capture the most people’s attention. It’s true, it’s honest, it’s real and it’s part of my story.
My hopes and goals in writing about this today are to inspire some of you who may be struggling with whatever you are going through, whether that is an eating disorder, being insecure in who you are or any other battle you are dealing with in your life, we all have them. I also want to clear up any possible misconceptions you have heard about eating disorders. My other personal goal is to truly confess and free myself as a sort of healing process. I have never written fully about my experience or confessed publicly that this is something I battled. Today, I woke up and felt it necessary to do this in order to free myself and move forward in my life. I had always known I wanted to write about my experience but never felt it was the right time until this moment.
I have come a long way, and I can honestly say that I am really proud that I have survived what I went through to get to where I am at now.
Let’s start from the beginning. I first started feeling insecure about my body in middle school. I think I was in 6th or 7th grade. I was very athletic, and fit… I was always in wonderful shape because I played a ton of sports and had a very sporty and popular group of friends. Looking back, I had absolutely NOTHING to be insecure about. I remember I started getting comments as I got into puberty from boys about my “GB”, ghetto booty. Ha-ha. It’s funny thinking back and looking at pictures because I really didn’t have much of anything… I guess I was just more hourglass shaped than maybe some of the other girls, and always tended to have a little extra in the “booty” department. I have more of a pear shape, and any extra goes to my hips and butt. :) Anyway, to make a long story short… I think that is where it began. I started feeling insecure.
From there, I started getting interested in fitness and health around 7th or 8th grade…(I was 13). I read a ton about nutrition, and fitness and started eating really clean and healthy and cut out a lot of sugar and processed foods out of my diet. I worked out like normal, but because I made these changes I started losing some weight and getting really trim. I would get comments constantly from peers and by 9th grade, my first year of high school, I looked really thin and loved all the attention I was getting. It was then that what had started as a way to just get healthy became my everyday obsession and consumed my mind at all times.
In the beginning, it was not that I felt like I needed to lose weight. I just wanted to be healthy and I was fascinated by nutrition and even started thinking about being a nutritionist when I grew up. But, I think once I realized that being really thin and looking the way I did got me attention, I become obsessed. And, I was in HIGH SCHOOL. That is often the time everyone is the most insecure and trying to figure out who they are. I felt on top of the world for a while. I had a ton of attention from boys, and all the girls would ask me about what I ate, my clothes, hair and makeup…it all became about my physical appearance. I knew I was pretty (I was always told that), but I didn’t BELIEVE I was beautiful. I started to identify myself based on my physical appearance instead of the person I was inside.
Naturally, my parents saw what was going on and they started to get concerned in my 9th grade year. I was 15. I remember going for a walk with my mom one day, and her telling me that they were going to admit me into Methodist Hospital into the “EDU” Eating Disorder Unit. Side note, at this time, this was the same floor that they kept the mentally ill patients on, the ones who were suicidal. But now looking back, I understand why they put the two together…both are disorders of the mind.
When my mom told me the news, as sick and twisted as this sounds, I remember feeling happy in a way, naïve of what would actually come. I didn’t think I had a problem because I felt like I was in control of it. I just looked at it as a vacation from high school for a while, and I liked the idea of that. But, I had NO idea what was to come and the long journey this would lead to and the devastation and confusion it caused for my friends and family. I was so selfish at this time, it was ALL about me and I didn’t consider how this could affect others around me.
Being in the hospital for an eating disorder was one of the scariest and worst experiences I have ever been through. It was not as I thought, it was 100 times worse. It was terrifying as a 15-year-old girl. I kept a journal while I was there and wrote about how lonely and scary it was being away from my parents for the first time. I felt like I was with a bunch of sick and crazy people and thought I was the only person without a problem because I still felt like I was IN CONTROL. But, I wasn’t and everyone else knew this except me. We had to eat 6 times a day and were watched intently at each meal, unable to leave until you had finished everything. And, they didn’t care what you liked and didn’t like, you had to eat what you were given. As a child and still to this day, I hardly ever eat meat…and I remember days that seemed like torture when I had to eat a beef chimichanga, a hamburger, or a tuna fish sandwich; I thought I was going to die. Ha-ha. I was picked and prodded several times a day to check my blood, and heart rate. A nurse would stand outside the shower to make sure you didn’t harm yourself and we were watched like hawks when we slept too. A nurse would come in a couple times during the night to make sure we were all still breathing. And, I remember trying to drink gallons of water before my weigh-ins to make it look like I had gained weight. I could write a whole book on my experience in the EDU. I have crazy stories.
Soon my inpatient treatment became outpatient treatment and my mom would have to drive me to the hospital everyday like a day care and drop me off and then pick me back up after dinner. I saw psychiatrists and psychologists and wasn’t allowed anything but very moderate exercise. We would have weigh-ins daily…and everything was calculated and monitored by a doctor. But, I still didn’t think I had a problem and actually picked up silly tricks and tips on how to cut and burn calories from other girls and boys in the unit. Finally, I think my parents gave up on the hospital treatment, and I came back home and got a tutor instead of going back to high school because of the shame and embarrassment I felt.
At this point, I had lost a lot of contact with all my friends; I had no social life…I was just trying to get through each day. Mealtimes were hard, homework was hard, physical activity was hard; everything except sleep was difficult for me. It all was just a stupid game at the time. I didn’t KNOW I had a serious problem. But, it controlled my entire life and had robbed me of all the joys that high school can bring and those precious years with friends. I never went to prom, and I don’t remember going to any parties, I stayed at home a lot of the time. I quit all my sports, stopped playing the piano, which had always been a natural talent but since I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t do it.
When I was 16, I started modeling. I joined agencies in Minneapolis and started booking jobs and making my own money. It was also around this time that I started realizing I wanted to be in New York City. I had taken a trip out there and fell in LOVE with it. It became my goal and dream to live in New York. So, I made it my mission to get out there after I finished high school. I did post secondary and took college classes, graduated, and moved to New York when I was 18 and immediately started modeling with an agency there. It was a very exciting time in my life. I was SO motivated and driven and New York City had captured my heart. I was so in love with the energy it gave me, and the drive and determination I felt when I was there. I did some really incredible things at a young age, modeled for book covers, print ads, fashion shows, showrooms, was in a few movies, and had TV appearances. It was all really exciting.
But, what I haven’t mentioned is that I was still crazy obsessed with my body image and how I looked and being in the modeling industry wasn’t helping me. I should rewind and mention that when I was 17, almost all my hair fell out…I had to cut off my long hair and start over so it didn’t look so thin. Some of the other things that were happening to my body at this time was I was developing osteoporosis, the doctors told me I HAD to start eating more or I would have major bone loss. I had lost my period and was told that it may never come back and I may never be able to have children. There were several other disturbing and gross complications that come along with an eating disorder that I will not go into at this time. But, even after EVERYTHING I had been through at this point, I did not feel like I wanted to get better. I was on a high and I didn’t want to lose that; after all it was how I identified myself, it was WHO I felt like I was at that time. I loved being known for the way I looked and would get comments from people daily. It was sick and terrible. The days I wouldn’t get compliments on my appearance I felt I had no value because I was so used to hearing it everyday. Most people that knew me in my modeling years didn’t know how bad it really was. They might have been suspicious being that I hardly ever ate anything, couldn’t concentrate longer than 2 minutes, was always freezing cold, would collapse in the middle of the street for no apparent reason and had no social life.
There’s so much more I want to write about in regards to New York but I’ll save that for another time. With as many amazing things that happened there, it was still really hard for me. After 3 years, and moving 8 times, I came to the realization that if I didn’t leave the city, try to start again somewhere new, remove myself from modeling, I couldn’t fully recover or heal. I was drained, exhausted and wanted more out of life. So, I came back to Minnesota (where my family was) and went back to school, stopped modeling and made it my mission to try to discover more about who I was and focus less on the way I looked. I just got to a point where I had “had enough”. I was too tired to keep “trying to be perfect”; I had spent 6 or 7 years of my life in this bubble of trying live up to a certain ideal; and I was just exhausted.
I knew at that point that I had an eating disorder, and I knew I needed help. But, it took that long to admit that to myself. I didn’t know how to get over it; I just knew that leaving New York and modeling at that time was the best thing for me. And, truthfully…I was scared. There were several days that I remember praying to God asking him to please help me get through the day, to please wake me up in the morning, hoping I wouldn’t die in my sleep without my family close by. My hair was falling out, I was really weak and tired all the time, and I STILL didn’t have my period. After about 5 years of not getting my period, I started worrying that I would NEVER be able to have my own kids. I knew what was going on with my body wasn’t healthy, and I knew I had no choice but to get better. I was not going to let it defeat me; I was only 21 and I knew that I had a lot of amazing things ahead of me.
My life changed drastically after that point. I came home and started reading my bible daily, working out, eating healthy, praying a lot, asking God to help me discover what was my next chapter and my faith really grew. I went back to work as a makeup artist, grew and developed that passion for artistic expression. I kept a journal, started a blog and did many other artsy types of things including painting and photography, and started developing more of my passions.
It has been several years now, and a lot has happened… I went through a divorce last year, which has forced me to become more independent and self-reliant. I have been traveling a lot in the past 6 months. I’ve been back to New York, Chicago and Mexico for work; Hawaii for vacation and the most incredible doors have opened up for me through makeup artistry and I am still very passionate about what I do. It allows me to still be involved in beauty but stay open to other things and not be fixated on MY personal appearance but connect with other people and try to “lift them up”, bring light and love to their life, and try to help them discover beauty within themselves through the gift of artistic expression.
I can honestly say that at this point in my life I feel the best I ever have both mentally and physically. I have recently started doing hip hop dancing and boxing…and even though I know I’m not perfect, I’m content with knowing I’m never going to be. Now, I can say to myself, “that’s totally alright”. I try to focus more on being healthy and less on being perfect. I’ve learned more about LOVE than ever before in the past 7 months , both in loving others and loving yourself. I have taken more risks and let go of more fears in the past 7 months than I have in the past 7 years! There are still difficult days, many of them …and at times I still struggle with body image thoughts and concerns but it doesn’t consume my life anymore.
This has been something I’ve wanted to share for a long time, and always hesitated. I was concerned with letting this go, something I have held onto for years. I was scared that no man would ever want to be with me knowing I had struggled with this. But, I don’t care anymore because I respect myself enough to know that whoever I end up with should love me for me and not judge me based on my past. I am really proud of who I’ve become and what I’ve had to go through to get here. I wouldn’t be who I am today had I not of experienced these things I did. I just keep telling myself, I’ve come a LONG way and I have a LOT to be thankful for.
I don’t know what the future holds; a big city has been on my mind, New York in particular. I think I left a piece of myself there when I had to leave in order to find healing. For now, I am putting my trust in God, and what he has designed for my life. I am going to keep doing me. And, I know that everything is going to be ok.