Inner beauty: you can’t sell it, but it’s your most important feature. Every month on magazine covers, we buy into the promise of “ten steps to…” a better body, bank account, romance, and more, but we hardly focus on the one thing that really matters, which is our souls.
Real happiness is found on the inside. However, we rush off to the stores in an effort to buy our way to true bliss, and this is what keeps us perpetually trapped in the advertising illusion. Things are not bad, neither is wanting to be beautiful, but our minds, souls, and emotions are precious, and they make up the foundation to which all other forms of joy grow. If our minds are out of balance, then how can we expect to ever be truly happy? If we fail to nourish our souls first, then we will never see ourselves as truly beautiful, and we may constantly look to others to validate us.
In my memoir, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light, I talk about my life from the ages of two to twenty-seven, and how abuse and domestic violence distorted my self-image. Later, as a professional model, I carried a plethora of mental health issues with me, including eating disorders, BDD, and psychosis. I had little connection to my soul and inner voice because my identity was stolen from me as a child. Then, I saw firsthand how the photographers and agents changed my image to fit what they wanted, all to make a profit. And that’s all it has ever been about: money. Advertisers don’t think about, “Is this going to be good for consumers’ souls?” Because really, the majority of products are not. As a model on the other side, the business damaged me; it almost killed me. So take it from me: go down deep into your soul and find out who you really are. Speak loving, kind words to yourself, and do the same to your children because they become the way that you speak to them. Beauty is not bad, but it’s not everything. Real beauty comes from within.
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Darkness descends upon the room, signaling my arrival. Behind the curtain, I can feel my breath, waiting for permission to exhale. My knees quiver with apprehension as whispers drone from the crowd outside. From my spot behind the platform, I notice the flares from cameras and spotlights, like shooting stars in a strange, forsaken sky. I can already feel the eyes of the people as they stare at the empty runway, waiting for their goddesses to strut. My throat clenches and my mind empties—anxiety has taken control. What will they think of me?
There is no time to think; a lady dressed in black flies to my side and grabs my arm. Her face in a twisted panic, she begs me to step onto the stage. I agree, but deep within, I sense the devil laughing among the restless souls in the crowd, draped in a dark Armani suit.
I prance down the runway like a queen, my body dripping with jewels. Like a lioness, I sway from side to side, moving to entice all who look my way—I am the beast who no one can touch, and no one can tame. As I glance at the rows of curious faces, however, the darkness begins to take over. Before I know it, my worst nightmare has returned—the demons have revealed themselves, with their black eyes and mouths full of jagged teeth. I cannot escape them; they are my masters, and I am their slave.
Voices command me to keep moving. “Look forward bitch and keep walking. Don’t screw it up! They’re all going to laugh at you.” I force my head higher and put my shoulders back as I push through the noise and approach the end of the runway. As my feet carry me to the edge, I hear no sound, experience no sensation. Despite the music and commotion, I am lost in a dreamland. How long have I waited to arrive in this spectacular moment? I never imagined I would feel so numb, so vacant. Dozens of cameras pop and crackle as they capture the magnificent creature before them. I perform, but inside I feel trapped, imprisoned within my mind. I struggle to remember which turn I should take next, and instead act like the beautiful model I am supposed to be.
Stiffening my quivering thighs, I manage to hold my broken body up higher than before. I turn to leave and feel thousands of eyeballs latch onto my back—they’re all stabbing me with their eyes like butcher knives. My brain is on fire, but I continue to sashay down the runway like a glamorous mannequin. The masters hold tremendous power over me—they are my gods. Their convictions weigh upon my back until it begins to shatter. Whispers trickle into the air like a dark swarm of ghoulish obscurities, filled with gossip and mockery. As I turn around for my final pose, the whispers mutate into the buzzing of a million angry, swarming bees.
“NIKKI, NIKKI, NIKKI!”
Sweating, I look out into the crowd once more. I see nothing and can feel only the beating of my heart. Thoughts of my meaty thighs consume my mind, and distress blinds me. Flashbacks of my stomach bouncing under the sweltering lights drive me to the breaking point, and all at once I fear I might implode from insanity.
“Nikki! Nikki! You are unbelievable, just incredible, darling!”
A leggy model grabs my arm as I step off the stage. Thick adrenaline rushes through my veins.
“We were all watching you back here on the monitor, cheering you on the entire time! What are
you doing after the show? A bunch of us girls are going out to dinner and dancing.”
The tall, thin redhead joins me in a huddle by the exit. She watches my face, but her smile fades as she realizes that I have no interest in talking.
“Thanks, honestly it was nothing. I—I gotta go.”
I change into my clothes and slip out the side door before the designer can discover I’ve left. I stash the jeweled lingerie in my purse and call a cab. Inside the taxi, I replay the scenes over and over again; the memories are suffocating, far from the life I had always imagined. My moments of fame and brilliance are over. Who am I? I’m certainly not special, but a joke, a clothes hanger for everyone to admire and forget. My only happiness lies in destroying myself.
I slam the door of my apartment and run to the refrigerator to get my hands on anything that will quiet the painful memories; whatever will kill the maniacal voices . . . hell, will kill me too. Tearing open package after package of chips and cookies, I shove them into my mouth and fall onto the kitchen floor. After an hour of binging, my swollen stomach signals me to crawl into the bathroom and purge. I need to get rid of the voices, release the misery. Blood rushes to my head and my veins flood with adrenaline. The filth leaves my body in unforgiving streams of regret and terror. I want to look away as my eyes fill with tears, but the insanity demands my attention. “Look at it, you stupid whore. Get it out before it’s too late!” My body, throat and brain cry out in agony as I continue to purge and punch my stomach, each time harder than the last; as I do, scenes of the fashion show flash in front of me. I want to expel all of those memories out—I want to get the demons out. I stare at the vomit as it swirls in the toilet—this is my value, this I am sure of. Coughing and wheezing through each forceful push, I feel torn between feelings of vulgarity and relief as I watch every bit spew out of my aching mouth. Blinded by my tears, I clean up any clues and spray perfume to erase the memories. The voices are exhausting, but I can’t stop succumbing to their callings—at the end of it all, the sickness lets me know I’m alive.
I cleanse my stinging mouth, puffy face, and bloated body in the shower, asking a God I do not know to forgive me for the sins I have just committed. I run my hands over my soaking flesh and gasp for air. Already insanity is creeping back, taunting me to consume more food in isolation. I try to ignore the voices, but the obsession grows as I divert my attention to the mirror and brush my thinning hair. For a fleeting moment I recognize myself, but the demonic voices slither in and steal my sanity.
“You ugly monster, you call yourself a model? You’re not even attractive! You’re a worthless piece of shit; that’s what you are. You made a fool of yourself out there tonight. They were all laughing at you; everyone is always laughing at you!” I suddenly travel back to my childhood and my stepfather’s vitriolic insults. I wonder if I have ever been worthy of anything valuable in my life; if anything has ever been real. Despair slices away at my insides slowly, deeply.
My churning desire for food rises to a level beyond anything that I can handle, and my senses radiate with fire as the voices talk to me again, this time taking on a clever, tempting tone. “There’s all that delicious food in the kitchen, you know you can’t wait to get your fat hands on it. What’s the big deal? You’ll just get rid of it.” My heart races with excitement and fear as I think about the food; I cannot separate myself from my delirium any longer.
No amount of food is safe from my frenzy, and I choke on more fistfuls of cookies and cake. I am unrecognizable, a savage seeking to destroy herself. I crawl over to the bedroom and flick on the television as I continue to binge, but can hear no sound over the voices. “Finish your food
. . . now! It’s such a shame you can’t eat this for real, fat ass! If only you could . . . Hurry up and purge before it reaches your stomach!” The longer it takes to consume the enormous portions, the more I sweat, the harder my heart beats and the greater my stomach swells until it reaches a size I cannot bear. I can barely breathe, and I wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, spreading crumbs, grease, chicken bits, and sweets over my clothes and carpet. I sit in my shame and flip through the channels, stopping on an episode of The Nanny.
As I watch Fran’s smiling face, I feel sadness come over my body. I yearn to be with Momma, The Momma I once knew long ago. I ache for the day when we will be a happy, healthy family, but as the credits begin to roll, I feel the dream slipping away and fall into a deep sleep.
Suddenly, the evil voices interrupt my rest. “Wake up! Do you know what will happen if you fall asleep? You’ll fucking DIE; that’s what!” My stomach feels as if it’s ripping apart; I reach down and notice that the button and zipper on my pants have busted. “That’s because you’re FAT! FAT, FAT, FAT!”
I can’t handle the voices any longer. I want to bash my head on the wall and make them stop, but I grab a gallon of milk instead and begin chugging it as I approach the bathroom. I glance at myself in the mirror—my stomach is protruding, and my pants are hanging down around my calves. The milk is nauseating but comforting; my throat burns from the vomit, but I swallow more creamy liquid to control the heat. Blended concoctions of body fluids, food, and milk splash up from the toilet and hit me in the face, but I don’t care—I gladly accept the abuse. I flush, swallow, purge, repeat—until all evidence is gone.
My head pounds like a swarm of heavy-footed soldiers fighting for freedom in my brain, and I collapse on the ground, attempting to cry but unable to make a sound. All I can feel, smell, taste, and know is the putrid universe that traps me. I drag my body back to my bedroom and crash on my silky comforter, faint and unable to move. I open my eyes and for a moment gaze at my surroundings: a lavish apartment with all of the things money can buy. However, on closer inspection, it is evident that my luxurious surroundings are decaying; my velvet curtains remain shut at all times, and I shun anyone from entering, food from Casa Tua is scattered everywhere, and there is the faint smell of vomit in the air. Perhaps I could have a nice life, filled with real friends, love, and laughter; instead, I’m a prisoner in a glass cage, but I don’t want to break it—to do so will mean a death of some kind. I’m not ready to face that.
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Nikki DuBose is a former model turned author, speaker, and mental health advocate. She recently released her memoir, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light. In Washed Away, Nikki recounts her experiences navigating the dark side of the modeling industry, while battling abuse, addiction, and various mental health issues (sexual victimization, eating disorders, alcoholism, drugs, depression, suicide attempts, body dysmorphic disorder, PTSD, psychosis). She recently appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Network on the TD Jakes Show to speak about her recovery from Body Dysmorphic Disorder and eating disorders, and how the pressure to "fit into" the modeling industry nearly killed her.
“By my early twenties, I was modeling professionally and appeared on the covers of and in editorials for magazines such as Maxim, Glamour, Vogue, FHM, and Vanity Fair. But while my career was going exceptionally well, my private life was falling apart. My mental and emotional health were in shambles. I went from one extreme to the other to meet weight requirements for photo shoots, and quickly fell into anorexia nervosa. At times I struggled to survive, beginning to abuse diet pills as a way to achieve the figure that my agents were pushing me to have for fashion shoots,” says DuBose.
Because of the lack of laws and protections, models have long been subjected to sexual and financial abuse, bullying from agents, and have been pressured to lose so much weight that many have developed devastating, even fatal eating disorders.
Nikki’s recovery from a nearly lifelong struggle with PTSD, psychosis, addictions and eating disorders has left her with a passionate longing to help others who are also suffering. Although the modeling industry has made strides towards body diversity in the past couple of years, there is a lack of education and awareness surrounding eating disorders and other mental health issues. Washed Away: From Darkness to Light serves as a testimony to others to let them know that they are not alone in their fears, doubts, and frustrations, and that through recovery all things are possible.
"A compelling and educational read about the dark side of the fashion business and its effect on mental health. Nikki draws upon her experiences of overcoming a life-threatening eating disorder as she navigates through the industry, all while wrestling with a broken home life and struggling to discover her inner voice. Nikki's story is truly remarkable and will serve as a beacon to anyone who has ever doubted their own intrinsic value. I highly recommend Washed Away: From Darkness to Light.” - Brian Cuban, Attorney, Author (Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder), Activist
“I was truly amazed by her determination to live life. I saw a woman that had every reason to quit and remain silent, but she chose to break through every obstacle that challenged her. I am very grateful that she has taken on the challenge to not only speak about her experience, but to fight for change in laws that will empower children and survivors to protect themselves. We all need to learn from Nikki and use our voices to create positive change. It is no longer okay for the silence to outweigh the tough discussion. Ignorance will not stop child sex predators from harming our children.” - Matthew Sandusky, Founder & Executive
Director of Peaceful Hearts Foundation, Author (Undaunted: Breaking My Silence to Overcome the Trauma of Child Sexual Abuse), Speaker
“To endure what DuBose has within her first decade proves more than most could handle in a lifetime, yet she looks back at her life with grace and a rare honesty. As she takes us through the overly sexualized fashion industry as an international top model, she gives the no-holds barred account on mental illness, rape, and eating disorders that our society so desperately needs.” - Neesha Arter, Journalist & Author (Controlled)
"Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is an incredible story of one brave woman's perseverance in the face of daunting life circumstances. Nikki DuBose details her chilling experiences with an eating disorder, childhood sexual abuse, alcoholism and drug abuse - and how she found the strength to rise above and find recovery. This powerful read will inspire those in their own recovery journeys." - Kristina Saffran, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director at Project HEAL
About the Author:
Nikki lives in Los Angeles. She recently worked alongside Assembly member Marc Levine on California Assembly Bill 2539, which addressed the need for workplace protections and health standards in the modeling industry.
She is currently working on The Omnibus Child Victims Act, a bill that will help protect New York's children from the trauma of sexual abuse. “I was sexually abused by my mother and a male figure. In my book, I talk about how that led to mental illnesses, and my recovery from that, which is why this bill is so important to me,” says Nikki.
Nikki gives talks regularly on her recovery at universities and treatment centers. Her advocacy work and recovery story has been profiled on CBS Los Angeles, People, Vogue UK, Esquire, India Times, Inquisitr, and many others. She also writes extensively on mental health, political issues, and exposes the truth about the modeling industry on The Huffington Post, the National Eating Disorders Association, Eating Disorder Hope, Clinical Recovery Institute, and Recovery Warriors. She also recently contributed as an expert reviewer for Harvard University's STRIPED program (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders), helping craft their lesson for this new semester, which focuses on modeling and eating disorders.
To learn more, go to http://nikkidubose.com/
Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Fop6kvFZI8