How Autumn Richardson Ditched Her Modeling Dreams & Regained Her Confidence
Talk to someone who’s currently working in the modeling industry, and they’ll assure you that they eat whatever they want, work out occasionally, and that life is all around grand.
But talk to an ex-model, and you’ll get a different story.
Autumn Richardson is no exception. She recently began sharing her story about her struggle with an eating disorder on social media and explaining why it led her to ditch her dreams of being a super model.
We spoke to Autumn about the ups and downs of being an aspiring model and how being rejected from NYC agencies were a wake up call to her mental and physical health.
I never thought the photo on the left would be my “before” picture. Before I realized I was under eating & over exercising. Before I realized that I was not meant to be a fashion model. Before I started to feed my body more, rest more, love myself more. This is a 40lb difference. The physical transformation it’s self is substantial. But the mental growth is what is astonishing. I would be lying if I said the extra fat didn’t bother me, that I completely accept my body for how it looks right now. The girl on the left would literally die if she saw me now. Her life revolved around working out, eating “clean” and looking as physically small as possible. But I now know that, that was NOT healthy. Measuring your waist every single day, weighing yourself every single day, working out every single day, abusing yourself mentally every single day- is not healthy. Letting your physical appearance define your worth is not healthy. Teaching other people to live a life consumed with vanity is not healthy. The girl on the left was not healthy. I remember how pleased I was when I took that photo. I was so proud of my hard work, my discipline. Completely consumed with myself, feeding my ego but abandoning my soul. I was so lost. So naive. I’ve grown so much. There is no beauty in manipulating your body past its natural capability. I was sick. I had a mental illness. There is nothing glamorous or beautiful about a sick girl achieving a “perfect” body. There is beauty in healing. There is beauty in sharing. In growing, in loving, in accepting. I work everyday on loving myself. I’m accepting myself for exactly where I am right now. I know that I am healing & I am listening to my soul. To that little voice that says “rest.” That says “eat.” She speaks so kindly with so much love & compassion. She is so gentle. She talks to me like you would talk to a child. Arms open wide ready to comfort me and offer never ending support. And patience, she is so patient. She reminds me that I am so much more than my physical appearance. That I am her. ✨I have a YouTube video up on dealing w/my 40LB weight gain. Share it with anyone who needs to see it. Link in my bio You are so beautiful
Can you talk a bit about why you first wanted to become a model?
I was always the tallest kid in my class throughout elementary school. “You have the longest legs I’ve ever seen,” is a phrase I’ve heard ever since I turned 13 years old. Everyone I knew encouraged me to be a model, and I was intrigued.
I looked up to Kate Upton, with her beautiful Sports Illustrated swim covers. I had always been a “ham,” or that’s what my family characterized me as. I did some acting at our community Play House when I was younger, and always loved being in front of a camera. When I was 15 I watched the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for the first time and I fell in love. I wanted that. I could see myself on the runway and I decided right then I would make it happen. I would be a model.
I live in a small town in west Texas and the nearest modeling agencies are in Dallas, a five hour drive. My mom and dad took me to an agency (I only visited one) and they offered me a contract that day. The first thing my agent told me was that I needed to lose 5-10 pounds. My body was “Kate Upton-y” as my mom would say. Long skinny legs, a flat butt, larger breasts, and a healthy amount of belly fat. I was not overweight in the slightest. I was also super confident with myself at this time, and did not realize that there could be anything wrong with my body. I did not lose weight and my agent never tried to get me jobs.
What happened that led to you developing an eating disorder?
Being so far away from my agency, I really did not give too much mind to my modeling career. I was in high school and pretty preoccupied. When my agent told me the reason I was not getting any modeling jobs is because I was “too big.”
I panicked. I felt destroyed. I automatically Googled “how to lose weight.” An article promoting a 1,200-calorie [a day] diet and daily five mile runs was the first thing I clicked on. I began doing everything I could to lose weight. I never looked at food or myself in the same way after that day.
When did you start to realize you might have an unhealthy attitude towards food and exercise?
It was always on the back of my mind. But I had convinced myself that I was fine. I didn’t starve myself, so I thought my obsession with working out and eating clean was normal.
It wasn’t until six months ago, when I was in NYC pursing my modeling career head on. I was stressed out like crazy. I had been rejected from several agencies before taking off to the city, and my self-esteem was at an all time low. I was exhausted, mentally and physically.
Right before I decided to come home, I was stress eating peanut butter from the jar, crying, hating myself. Trying to decide how I was going to repent my peanut butter sins. What form of exercises would be the best punishment?
I got up, looked at myself in the mirror, and said, “I have a problem.”
Can you talk about some of the unhealthy habits you were exhibiting?
I exercised two times a day very intensely, on top of doing yoga and going for walks. I was constantly anxious about when I would be able to work out, it was on my mind all day. I also cut carbs out of my diet, and ate basically nothing but protein and vegetables. I measured my waist three times a day and compared it to other models. I was really sick.
Do you think you would have suffered from an eating disorder if it hadn’t been for the industry?
I honestly don’t know. I want to say no, because I was so confident before I began modeling…but, with social media shoving perfect and unrealistic, bodies down our throats day in and day out, it is hard to have a good relationship with yourself.
Can you talk a bit about how you first decided to stop being a model and why?
I was visiting an agency in NYC with my mother agent, and she told me all new models had to “pay their dues.” I automatically got a pit in my stomach. I was tired of worrying about my body. I was tired of comparison. I was tired of not being able to eat what I wanted without feeling extreme anxiety and guilt. I was tired of working out two times a day seven days a week. I realized modeling was not going to help me be the person I wanted to be.
How has transitioning to a vegan lifestyle helped you with this transition? Would you recommend it to other girls trying to recover from an eating disorder?
I found a purpose outside of myself with veganism, and it changed my life. I was eating low-carb when I was modeling, so coming to veganism was paradise. I started eating unlimited carbs, and man did my body need them. Knowing that the way I am eating is the best thing I can do for suffering animals, our environment, and other people makes it easier to accept my weight gain. I definitely recommend veganism to anyone who is ready to recover from their eating disorder (as long as you are also in it for the ethical reasons and not too focused in an extreme way on the health benefits).
You recently spoke out about your weight gain in recovery. Can you talk a little bit about this?
I’ve gained 40 pounds. I was 105 pounds at my lowest weight, I am 5’9. I weigh about 145 pounds right now, which is a normal and completely healthy weight for a women my height and age. Gaining so much weight so fast was, and still is, a mental battle. I have stretch marks, I had to buy a whole new wardrobe, I went up seven sizes, it was tough. As time passes I’m feeling more and more comfortable and confident in my body. I know that this is a vital part of my eating disorder recovery, I am healing. I don’t miss how I used to be. I love food. I feel mentally and physically better than I have in years. I am finally living again.
Do you have any advice for other girls currently going through changes in their body?
If you are recovering from an eating disorder, know that you are not alone. Gaining weight can be hard, but your body does not define you. This physical body is so impermanent. Do whatever it is that makes your soul dance. Spend less time worrying about your body and more time loving the life you have. You cannot avoid the weight gain, but you can choose how you deal with it. Accept it. Accept that where you’re at now is a result of what you’ve been through, but know that it’s temporary. Life goes on, focus on the present moment as much as possible. Do things that make you happy as much as possible.
What are some tools that you used to help yourself to love your body throughout these changes?
Finding body positive accounts on Instagram was a huge help. Seeing women of all sizes love and accept themselves made me want to love and accept myself too. Doing yoga to heal my internal wounds helped a lot, as well as journaling. I keep a “Self Love Diary” where I write down things I love about myself and my life. Showing gratitude is one of the best things you can do to feel good. No matter what you are going through, there is always something to be grateful for.
Do you have anything else you would like to say to other girls who are currently suffering from similar periods of transition, or who are either in the throes of or trying to recover from eating issue?
You are beautiful. Your health and happiness are so much more important than any physical standard. Push through those negative thoughts. What’s helped me the most is devoting all of my time to doing things I love. When you take your attention away from your body, you realize that your weight is not a problem. I am having so much fun now, way more than I even knew was possible. There are so many women out there who understand you. You are not alone. You are so loved. You will get through this.
Any exciting projects you are currently working on?
I have so many amazing videos coming to my YouTube soon, full of body positivity and diversity. I am so excited for the direction my channel is moving. I also plan to release a ton of “My Shine Says Nothing About Yours!” tees on my Depop shop. Every shirt is hand printed by me and completely unique. These shirts are meant to remind the person wearing them, and everyone who sees them, of our own unique beauty.