FEATURE IMAGE: KENZA FORTIN VIA MODELS1
Model Kenza Fortin, signed with Models 1, is speaking up about her experience with eating disorders to help create an open and honest conversation surrounding beauty and body image. We sat down with Fortin to hear about her modelling journey so far, her relationship with beauty and her experience with an eating disorder.
So how did you get into modelling? And what was it like to begin with?
I got scouted for the first time on Instagram at the age of fifteen. It was exciting! I knew I could model because I had been told I could, but I would have never submitted my photos to any agencies on my own. I had heard many stories of girls getting scouted on the streets and it was the beginning of online scouting, so I knew there was a greater chance that I could be scouted. At the time, I was more into singing but modelling soon became something I wanted to try, because why not? I thought it could be fun and people at school may find it cool. I’m glad I tried because even though it has not always been easy, I have met incredible people and it confirmed what I wanted to do in life that is, working as a creative in the fashion industry.
I had been scouted many times, each time things would not go further than a meeting at the agency or even some calls or messages. I was never told what was ‘wrong’ about me.
Before setting foot in the modelling world, I suffered from light eating disorders. I think it began with puberty, so around thirteen for me. My want to meet the industry standards brought my eating disorders to another level.
How did this early experience with your first modelling agency effect the way you saw yourself?
My first agent in Paris was a very nice man and was eager to help me get into the industry. I had gained weight as I was slowly recovering from my eating disorder, but I needed to lose it in order to sign with an agency. I tried but I was not capable of loosing weight anymore. That’s when I realised I how hard I had been with myself.
I slowly started to give up on modelling to mentally recover. So, signing with this agent allowed me to finally step foot in the modelling industry and realise I was not ready to give up my health for it.
A year and a half later, I was eighteen and healed. After thinking about it for some time, I decided I would send my digitals to Models1 as I knew they had different types of models. It was pretty straight forward, after a test shoot, they decided they would sign me.
As someone that struggled with an eating disorder in my teens too, I found it surprising when I realised, I had one – I thought it was completely normal to have this behaviour with food, particularly for a girl my age as each one of my friends spoke about food and eating in the same way! What was realising you had an eating disorder like for you?
My friends never found my behaviour with food normal.
I knew I was different, but I thought I was doing it for a good cause as it could lead me to become a model. So, it never occurred to me that it could be bad for my health.
I realised I had an eating disorder when I could not continue starving myself anymore. That is when my recovery started; something happened in my head and I could not continue to put myself through this. I still wanted to lose weight, I just couldn’t not eat. This was the worst mentally. I could not control myself anymore and went through bulimia.
How would you describe your relationship with food and your body now?
I now give my body what it asks for. I’ve learnt to listen to it. It has needs and wants. I do not refuse it anything.
Sometimes I feel like I need to eat less and sometimes to eat more and I do so. I used to think any bite of food I would bring to my mouth would make me gain weight. So eating was never a pleasing moment. I don’t get this thought anymore and its been almost two years now. I am proud of this.
Looking back I can’t remember if there was anything in particular that made me stop having an eating disorder, it seemed to just take a long time and that negative thinking can still creep up today! Do you think it was similar for you or was there something specific that helped you?
I completely agree. When I go out during Paris Fashion Week, I sometimes feel like I don’t belong there as I am not skinny like other girls. Then I tell myself that I have attractive features other than my appearance, that I look good the way I am and I ask myself if I would really like to meet this beauty standard and look like everyone else. No, I wouldn’t.
Things went the same way for me too. I think I can remember when I started to question my behaviour. When I was around seventeen or eighteen a guy I liked told me he was more into girls who looked healthy and even curvy. I still had (and have) dismorphobia and thought he would like me then. While I was actually very thin. I wasn’t going to change for him but he showed me that a curvy woman could be attractive which you would never think as someone who suffers from an eating disorder. We do not talk anymore, but if I ever see him again I’ll tell him he kind of changed my mind about beauty and helped me get out of the mental state I was in. Recovering from eating disorders definitely take time but being surrounded by positive thinking people helps even if you do not notice it.
It must be so amazing to be able to share your voice and experiences with something that so many women go through! How do you find modelling today?
Yes, it is!
I sometimes wonder if being honest would damage my potential career, but I do it for myself and chose to model the way I naturally am.
I hope, being part of change, that I can help women to accept themselves. I certainly think that I would not have been through all these years of body insecurity if there had been more diversity in the media, more representation of the women. The modelling industry is currently changing. Every country is different. In England, things are changing way faster than in France, that is a little more conservative for example. We must not forget that wanting to represent diversity is before anything else a commercial necessity and not necessarily an ethical project. Seeing more diversity will help, but I believe we have to speak out to convince other women that, as long as they are healthy, they are beautiful the way they are.
And finally, do you have any worlds of advice for any other young woman going through what you’ve been through?
Being aware of what you’re going through is the hardest and biggest step on the way to recovery, there is no magic recipe. It does not happen the same way for everyone. If you ever get a thought that what you’re doing to yourself is wrong, please hold onto that.
When I became aware I was sick, I thought I would never get out of it. Finally I did. However chasing self-confidence is a never ending quest.
So I would tell them, if they want it to end it will end. It takes time. It takes courage. And it takes Love.