Multitasking seems to be the new normal for so many women. And for Katie H. Willcox, founder and CEO of both Natural Model Management and a body positive brand known as Healthy is the New Skinny, multitasking comes naturally as she quieted her 6-month-old daughter, True, during our phone conversation.
Willcox was in high spirits as she discussed what body positivity looks like for herself and her young daughter, the foundation of her companies, what feminism means to her and advice to college students.
Q: What is the background of Healthy is the New Skinny and how have people responded to your message of health?
A: Objectively thinking of a culture for women, if we change the goal of being skinny to the goal of being healthy, our thought patterns change drastically and it has a much more positive effect on not only our bodies, but also our sense of self. We struggle with so much because of the unattainable ideal that is keeping women small versus keeping women strong and empowered. If we can replace that unrealistic goal with one that is nourishing and healthy to our natural bodies all of us can win and all of us can be successful in that. It’s really cool to think that that many people are relating to the message and receiving something beneficial from it. When I started as a plus-size model at 17 and moved to New York for art school, [fashion] was this really self-deprecating weird culture that you never see in person.
Q: What is your personal experience with beauty standards that led you to challenge these unrealistic ideals?
A: When I went to college, I gained the freshman 25. I didn’t know how to cook and I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I stopped playing sports that I’d played my whole life. I was depressed. When your life changes so drastically and you’re trying to find yourself, it’s very difficult. Your health can suffer and then, when you stack on beauty ideals and expectations and guys and all of these things on top of it’s really like so much to handle for one person. Different actresses in the media that don’t look like the beauty ideal that are successful are always asked “how are you so confident?” and you’re like “that’s such a rude question?” it isn’t like they aren’t deserving of being confident but the public seems to say that ‘we don’t care that you’re talented. We’re just looking at the fact that you’re a size 8 and we can’t figure out how you’re here right now.’
Q: So how did you handle it?
A: It all was related to being human. I met my husband at my biggest size [size 14] actually, which is funny because I was like oh no one will like me, I’m overweight. And he [Bradford Willcox, photographer] was like ‘oh my gosh, you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.’ So we ended up talking one night and we’ve been together ever since. We’ve been together for 12 years. So he brought a lot of positive insight into the way I viewed myself and people. Through him, I reconnected with nature and others around me. As humans, we are conditioned through media manipulation to deny ourselves amazing things that contribute to happiness and to health and to wellness because we don’t feel like we’re deserving of it cause we don’t look or fit into society the way that we’re told we should.
Q: Is this media manipulation something we can control? If so, how have you learned to look past societal beauty expectations?
A: I always make sure to ask myself ‘what is our sense of self? Is it something that is natural to us or is it adapted by who we’re told we should be in our environment?’ And when it comes to body positivity, I reached a pinnacle of understanding that it really is simple when you realize you’re not your body. There’s no reason to sit and go ‘I need to sit and show that my stomach has a roll to tell people how much I love myself’ or ‘oh I need to post this underwear picture.’ [In] real life, you get to the point where you go, ‘I’m not my body, I’m an energy, I’m a being, and I’m here for a purpose that is much deeper than beauty.
Q: Can you expand more on that purpose?
A: Well, look at what just came out with the Sports Illustrated issue. All the different bodies and people are like ‘yay, this is such great progress for women.’ It’s cool for the models who have never had the opportunity, but if we step back and really objectively look at what the messaging is, girls with their butts in the air and their legs spread open, does it matter what size they are or are we still just identifying women’s beauty as something that is pleasing to men. And now all they can do is debate which size they would like to have sex with more. Now, there are going to be some people that say I’m slut shaming and I’m absolutely not slut shaming. I think that if you are comfortable doing that, that’s fine, and as models, I know all of these girls. I am happy for them for their careers. I’m just saying from my personal self, having a 5-month-old daughter, when I’m telling her ‘you are not your body’ and ‘I don’t want you to grow up with an unhealthy female sexuality’ and ‘I want you to own that and it to be for you’ and all these things that I’m preaching, I need to be responsible for her. If I want her to believe what I’m telling her I can’t help contradictory messaging that’s harmful to society as a whole.
Q: Do you see feminism as an integral part of your role in the public eye?
A: Personally, I think that the future isn’t just female. The future is a balance between male and female. We need both of their energies as they make the perfect yin and yang. Like we need both and so it should really be honoring the female energy and females in general as equals, working as a team. So, when it comes to men and women, we really think, ‘I have to look a certain way to have someone love me.’ I have to look this way to be successful. I have to look this way to, um, get attention, get validation and love and happiness and all the things we really want as people.
Q: What would be your advice to college students?
A: Start to analyze what you want. If it’s not the profession or the major that you’re in then you’re going to have to speak up and say that at some point. If it’s not the boyfriend that you have, if it’s not the school that you’re in, you have to start listening to that inner voice that is telling you that this isn’t right and you’re not happy. Instead of blaming your body, you have to identify the root of your self-loathing, because there’s all these other signals guiding you on what’s right and what’s not right by how you feel and we numb that and blame our bodies instead of going like, ‘why am I not happy right now and what’s the real reason for that?’ So, instead of waiting to fit the mold, change that mold for yourself.