Kyira: "So you got a chance to see the project from the behind the scenes aspect when we did the event at Winedown a couple of months ago and then have been able to watch it expand and evolve since that time. What ultimately led you to decide you wanted to be a part of it?"
Caitlin: “It’s very empowering seeing a campaign that basically gives you the freedom to say what beauty is to you. Its not like a typical campaign in that it says ‘This is what our mission statement is' or ‘This is what we are going to do' with specific tracks everyone has to go down. The #ReclaimBeauty project is literally each individual person reclaiming the word beauty and expressing what it means to them - expressing their journey and where they have come from. And that is something that has resonated with me since I heard about it because it has been a lifelong journey to get to a place where I am today with my body and the definition of beauty and how I apply that to myself."
Kyira: "That just makes me feel so warm because that is the only goal I had going into this - to create something where everybody felt like they co-own this project and that we are co-creating the path where each person gets to decide whatever is important for them to move forward in their own journey without a path pre-paved for them. Thank you for saying that - it really means a lot."
Caitlin: "Of course."
Kyira: "So, you just mentioned that you have been on a lifelong journey with understanding what beauty means to you. How do you think culture has played into that for you - either general culture, family, the town you grew up in, or any aspect in which you see culture?"
Caitlin: “I think a lot of what I see is definitely echoed in the gender roles that we got boxed into, you know, the gender stereotypes. We still have it where women are supposed to be what society has defined as beautiful - and we are held to a certain standard where, for example, even to be a plus size model, you still have to be something like a size 6. I am biased, as a woman, where I do think it impacts women a bit more, seeing these impossible beauty standards. I mean there are models that are starving themselves, that are ill, that are pushing so hard just to fit into this societal norm and you know, how did we get here? I mean you see across different generations how the evolution of what is beautiful for women has changed and now, to be a woman and even growing up and going through middle school, which is always a very traumatic time…"
Kyira: (laughter) “Yeah for sure."
Caitlin: “… For me, just to be so nervous with all of these other girls who were around me and wearing different clothes than I was or dressing a certain way, who were doing different things or had different body types. I have always been the really tall girl who stood out so it was very hard for me to accept that I have curves and that I am not the same size as everyone else and to believe that is okay. And now, it is so scary to see these young girls who feel they have to fit that mold, who try so hard to be in that mold."
Kyira: “I know."
Caitlin: "And that's where it comes into play that I think we have to start advocating for these young girls, especially in middle school and high school. Because here I am, a 23 year old woman who truly loves her body and everything it can do but when I was 15 or 16, I hated my body. I hated the skin that I was in. I felt constantly judged - objectified. I felt that I had to be within a certain height and weight range. And especially coming from a dance background, I was always the odd ball out because I was extra tall but I had curves. So it wasn’t like 'Ooo, look at this really tall ballerina who is a rail', its 'Look at this tall ballerina…hmmm…what can we do with her? She is a little bigger than our other girls.' And to me, it definitely carried over and was something that I always had in the back of my head where I never necessarily strived to be different or better but I fixated on it and wondered, why is it that a 5’11” woman who is a size 4 gets treated a different way than a 5’11” woman who is a size 14? It should not come down to size. It should not come down to numbers. What it should come down to is that you should be comfortable in your skin and you should be somewhat healthy - getting at least the bare minimum nutrients essential for your body."
Kyira: “I like that you just said somewhat healthy...” (laughter) “…I mean because healthy looks different for everybody."
Caitlin: “I mean I just ate a whole personal pizza today for lunch…(laughter)...but I had a smoothie for breakfast. You know, I am getting my vitamins, I am working out. I am just doing what I can. I mean, ah…yeah…(pause)…honestly, I have stopped reading magazines because it gets to a point where I don’t want to see the articles anymore. I can see that the industry is starting to recognize this is an issue and watch the verbiage changing and the way they write stories change. But it is still not enough. And I know change is a slow-going process. With any other activist-type movement, you know, it takes time but I can’t wait, I mean I hope I will be alive when we get to the point where it does not mean anything what size you are."
Kyira: “Yeah, I was reading something that says it can take 50 years for a movement to make change but I feel like a big part of that is that people try to get too big too quickly then things fizzle out or lose momentum. And there is this piece of maybe, if instead of a massively marketed movement we just keep having conversations like this and connecting one on one, we can have this ripple effect and can keep talking about it in a way that instills deeper buy in and evokes real change where maybe we don’t have to wait 50 years, but only 30 or 40. Where we can see changes happening but in a way that are long-lasting and supported, not energized and then died out. Because you are right, people are seeing the problems, they are aware of the problem. But we need to do something beyond just deciding to take models who now aren’t just size 0 or 2, but a 4. We need to change the entire platform and way we think about it and I agree, I think in a way where size doesn’t play a role."
Caitlin: “And its even more frustrating because it has taken girls who have committed suicide after being bullied for their size for people to finally be like 'Oh, this is an issue'. Well, no shit. You know, a girl shouldn’t have had to feel so desperate to the point of wanting to end her own life. You know, that's at the heart of it. That's the message."
Kyira: “The first person that I met with tonight talked about that - losing her 14 year old cousin to suicide as a result of her depression and battle with body image. And she said that while their family is all really close and were there, reaching out to her cousin, they weren’t the people she needed at that time. And the problem is, there are too few of the 'right people’ out there where, on any given day, you know you have a tribe you can call on. Th process of finding that can be all but impossible. What would you say has been the hardest part for you in turning that corner where now, as you said, at 23 you truly love your body?"
Caitlin: “So, for me, my journey is a little rocky in that I have always struggled with being slightly overweight. When I was getting ready to leave for college, I went in to see the doctor just to check in. And I thought I was fine. You know I had always been active, involved in sports, etc. and while I had trickled down my activity a bit towards the end of high school I didn’t think much of it. But when I went in for my physical, my doctor told me that per my height and weight I was considered obese. That really resonated with me from a health standpoint because, you know, I just hadn’t thought about it ever getting to that point. I was shocked and then to know that binging had really led me to this point and I just….ugh...after hearing that, I kicked it into high gear. I am very close with my grandma and I talked to her about it and she said, ‘Well I have been on Weight Watchers before and I will support you and help pay for it if this is something that you would like to do’. And so I did and within the first year I lost 55 lbs. And it was amazing, it felt great and led me to a lifelong love of running but I still wasn’t happy. It was a lot of very surface level satisfaction. I thought things like 'Oh, look at how thin I am now' or Look how good I look in pictures'. But it wasn’t that I was comfortable in my body, it was just that I started to think superficially like 'Oh now I can look at my Instagram posts and I look so happy and thin'. It wasn’t a feeling of being comfortable or loving my body. And so over time it wasn’t enough. It was very much a surface level feeling, very…uh…ugh I can’t think of the word…not transparent…it’s going to drive me nuts…"
Caitlin: “Kind of…(pause)...ugh anyways…eventually I just stopped. I stopped restricting myself so much, I became a bit more carefree and I mean, the weight came back but today, actually very very recently when I went to the Lollapalooza music festival, I did something that I never would have done before. I wore a bralette and high-waisted pants and I was in love with my body. I was dancing and I was happy and celebrating with my best friend in the world. I was truly at peace and I have never felt so proud of myself in my entire life."
Kyira: “That is so beautiful."
Caitlin: “And then I started thinking about all of the things I have accomplished and I mean, I do aerial yoga and I can twist myself into these moves and I have completed 7 half marathons and a triathlon and THIS BODY has taken me through these experiences. And it doesn’t matter that my body is a size 14. It doesn’t matter that I am an XL on clothing rack. It matters that I have the determination. I have the passion. I have the will to do these things and my body takes me there. It starts with me and it ends with me and that was just so important and now, its like, what can I do to get out of my comfort zone? What can I do to fully embrace the woman that I am? And there are still pieces of me that are like “Okay, we do need to get back to a healthier weight zone but I am not going to restrict myself. I am not going to limit myself. It’s very important to realize you can have a fucking cupcake at the end of the day if you really want to because it is not going to matter. You still have time left on this planet, hopefully a lot of it if you are lucky enough. And it doesn’t help to fixate and dwell and beat yourself up over these little things and what your body is that is carrying you through this life. It’s just ridiculous."
Kyira: “It just make me think - I am such a visual person - as you are describing this that your body is your vehicle that takes you through these things. Almost this idea, like when you said you need to be somewhat healthy and then describing now that you want to take care of yourself - so you need to get an oil change, you need to replace your fluids, you know you need to perform the maintenance. But sometimes, you need to do donuts in the parking lot. It just feels like that notion that if you live the straight and narrow all of the time, you are not really living, you are just existing. And I think this idea is really a great segue into the last question I have for you which is how do you celebrate and nurture your beauty, especially in those little day to day moments where you start to feel any form of self doubt creeping back up again?"
Caitlin: “I just remind myself of the things that my body has accomplished. Like, I saved all of my racing bibs from all of the races I have done. I have all of the medals, the picture, the memories. If I ever have a moment where I am staring at my legs and my cellulite is showing or something like that I truly don’t give a shit anymore because I remember how my body has taken me so many miles throughout this Earth and I have completed so many dance recitals and so many other accomplishments where it is so much more than the superficial. It’s still hard. I mean I definitely still have moments of self doubt but now, I look in the mirror and I tell myself I am proud and I am happy. Because honestly, this is it. You don’t get another body. "
Caitlin: “And like I said earlier, to waste time to try and fix it or make it into something it will never be is silly. That is time spent that could be with friends or learning a new craft. It’s just this is a part of life and its hard to accept but when you get there, its worth it."
Kyira: “And I think, I was talking to somebody recently and they said ‘I just feel like you do so much. How do you take on so much?’ And its interesting because I usually don’t say this out loud but all I think is that it is a direct result of going into recovery from my eating disorder. I mean I would spend hours writing, rewriting, planning, pre-planning, self loathing, second guessing…did I have 17 1/2 or 18 pistachios?…it was ridiculous. I mean all of this time spent and the yardstick moves constantly, there is no end goal you get to where you say, ‘And now I am done.' No matter where your starting point is, you cannot ever find an end point. So I think it’s exactly what you are saying - getting comfortable telling yourself that you have absolutely no control over what your life will ultimately lead to or how long you have on this Earth and you didn’t have control over the body that you got but you can choose to take your time and celebrate it, like you said, doing things that make you happy and fulfilled and celebrating what your body can do. It’s amazing. Thank you so much for being here and being a part of this project."
Caitlin: “Absolutely, it is an honor."