I think the universe sent me model Iskra Lawrence for a reason. On the day we were scheduled to meet to chat about her new Aerie campaign, I was less than 24 hours away from heading to a beach reunion trip in Puerto Rico with a big group of friends who I hadn’t seen in over a year. And if I’m being totally honest, I hadn’t exactly been #feelinmyself in the weeks leading up to the vacation. I’ve struggled with body image and eating issues for pretty much of my entire life, and the thought of being in a bikini—knowing that my body had changed quite a bit since any of these people saw me—had started to breed a whole lot of nasty self-talk deep within my brain. So much so, that I was beginning to dread the vacation that I’d been looking forward to for a really, really long time.
Ahead of our interview, I spent hours looking at Lawrence’s Instagram feed (which, it’s worth noting, I’ve followed for a long time for a regular dose of body positivity, and would highly recommend) scrolling through photo after photo of her looking fierce AF on beaches all over the world. In every picture—whether she’s wearing lingerie eating a burger in the backseat of a car or sobbing in a selfie after a particularly trying day—she simply oozes confidence. And I wanted to know: How the heck does she do it?
Apparently, it wasn’t always as easy as she makes it look. “I think outwardly it might have appeared that I’ve been confident for quite a while, but insecurity, body image, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders are all things I struggled with,” she tells me. “For a long time I might have tried to fake it ’til I made it with my confidence, but deep down I hated so many things about myself and I was in a very negative space and I would measure every single part of my body.”
“Comparison was the thief of joy for me.”
But over the last few years, she says she’s started to shift her thinking toward positivity, instead. “Comparison was the thief of joy for me,” she says. “I’ve lost too much time trying to be something I never could be when I should have just been grateful of having this abled body, being able to wake up every morning with a roof over my head. And that’s how I came to grasp that those insecurities, and those things I was dealing with, were so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. And as a woman, the more that we’re held back by our insecurities, the more it’s stopping us from pushing forward, progressing, doing what you can do.”
As far as dealing with these insecurities when it comes time to pose for a bikini shot (or even just hit the beach in general) Lawrence has some powerful tools to help reframe any negative thinking that starts to creep in. “With swimwear, we think that we’re the only ones thinking these things like, ‘oh my gosh, look at my cellulite,’ or ‘look at my rolls coming over this’ or whatever it might be. But every single person on the beach is feeling exactly the same way, and they are more worried about themselves than worrying about what you’re looking like,” she says. “Instead of letting the thoughts of the insecurity consume you, change your outlook to try and think, ‘oh, the sand feels so nice’ or ‘the ocean smells so good’ or ‘I love listening to the waves.’ You’ve gotta take yourself out and control that narrative, and not let the insecurities and the worries and the self-doubt take over. Instead, be in the moment, be present.”
When I tell her how silly I feel for obsessing about my body image issues when, um, hello, I was going to be on a beach in 24 hours, she looks me dead in the eyes and says, “It’s not silly. It’s totally valid because everyone is feeling like that.”
She continues, “I have those kinds of inner voices and questions and self-doubt. That’s just human. But it’s how you deal with that, and how you keep the balance. If you’re angry disappointed, jealous, sad, you’ve got to accept those feelings and let those kinds of emotions flow through you so that they can pass on. Don’t let yourself feel bad about anything you’re feeling —it’s all valid.”
Cut to the next morning, when I land in Puerto Rico and it’s time to change into my bathing suit in the bathroom at the San Juan airport. “I feel like sh*t,” I started to say to my travel companion while I looked at myself in the mirror. But then, a switch flipped in my brain: “I feel like I cannot wait to jump in the ocean.”
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