Episode 14: Channeling Energy Toward Change: An Inspiring Conversation with Iskra Lawrence
[Bouncy theme music plays.]
Sam: Hey, I’m Sam!
Ashley: Hi, I’m Ashley and you’re listening to All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. We want to create a space for all bodies to come together authentically and purposefully to discuss various areas that impact us on a cultural and relational level.
Sam: We believe that all bodies and all foods are welcome, we would love for you to join us on this journey. Let’s learn together.
Ashley: Hello, everybody! Welcome back to another episode of All Bodies. All Foods. Ashley and Sam are here, and we have an incredibly special guest with us today.
Sam: We are so lucky to be sitting down with thee Iskra Lawrence, a mommy, entrepreneur, and champion for mental wellness and self-care. Iskra Lawrence has built an organic, devoted following of more than eight million across her social channels. She is the founder of the Self Funding Planner, a tool she created to help people invest in themselves and Saltair, a body care brand where everybody is welcome.
Ashley: And we could not be more thrilled to talk with you, Iskra, and connect and learn your story. And, just wanted to, off the bat, just thank you for being here—
Ashley: And thank you for being willing to share your story with us.
Iskra: Very grateful to be here, thank you for this space. We’ve got to have these conversations, it’s important. And I feel like I took some time off postpartum, but like, I really want to get back to being more active in this space.
Ashley: That’s awesome. Well, I would love if we could just kind of start out with a brief kind of, like, get to know you, Iskra. How did you find yourself in this space, in this space of advocacy and all of the different things that you’ve done? I mean, I feel like we have so many questions for you today, but I would love for you to just kind of give us a little bit of background first, if that’s okay.
Iskra: Yes, of course! So, I grew up in England, and I grew up in the middle of, in the middle of England. I kind of call it the Ohio of England.
Iskra: Just somewhere, like, in the middle. And it’s a place that was filled with my family, my dad’s one of 10. So, we all kind of were from this small town and for me, I’ve always had big ambitions and big dreams, and obviously watched lots of TV shows about America, and I loved singing, acting, dancing, you name it, like, I just loved performing and I loved art and I love fashion. And none of that stuff existed where I’m from, in that small town, so I always knew I had to get out somehow. So, when I was 12, I asked my mom, “Can I enter this modeling competition?” And she was so supportive! We took this hilarious photo shoot, her holding a fan and me next to my closet, thinking I’m a diva because I’ve watched all those America’s Next Top Model episodes. And I got into the finals, which obviously was very exciting. I got to take the train to London, and that was a very big deal. It was about two hours from my house to there, which in America might not sound a lot, but in England we don’t really travel long distances.
Iskra: So I, you know, basically got into the modeling industry by the age of 13, and I was on Models to Watch. So, at that point, what they’re doing is, they’re putting you on probation, they are measuring you—
Ashley: Oh, wow.
Iskra: They are testing you in photo shoots, and having you do mini runways to see if you’re confident enough, how you’re walking is. But most importantly, how you’re developing. Size wise, body wise.
Sam: Wow! So you were 13 when this was happening?
Iskra: Yes, yes.
Sam: Wow! No, I’m thinking to myself, “Thirteen, that’s right around the age of onset for eating disorders.”
Sam: It’s like prime time, like, puberty—
Ashley: Well, it’s when you’re completely, your body’s changing, you’re developing, all that is happening.
Iskra: You’re moving into high school, you know, it’s like, you’re really suddenly like, “Oh, I’m becoming a teenager. I’m figuring out, like, who I am.” And yeah, for me, I was thrust into this industry, by my own choice, you know. And like I said, we watched a lot of America’s Next Top Model, England’s Next Top Model, all of them. And so, my mom felt like she knew how to support me by listening to these extreme versions on these shows. Which now, we’re in a space where a lot of people are sharing stuff and we now see how toxic it was and how damaging it was to a lot of people’s self-esteem.
Ashley: Right, right.
Iskra: But at the time, it felt like this great advice, and you know, she would advocate for me weighing myself, only wearing black, you know, black clothes or certain clothes that make my body look a certain way, to cover up my breakouts and spots and, you know, just doing things that seemed to be what we needed to do to succeed in the modeling industry. And I say “we” because they were a huge part of that, they had to pay for the trains, they had to come with me for all the traveling. It was really a big commitment for us all for me to want this so much. And so, because so much was invested in it, they wanted it to work. And we all— the evidence showed, and every time I got measured, every time I was in a room and I looked at other models who I was, I don’t want to say competing against but you essentially are, because there’s a job, and you go for a casting, and you have a book, and the book has images of you, and sometimes they’ll just look at the book, open it and not even say anything to you, you just won’t be accepted. And so, the drive to figure out how to succeed in that is intense, and it’s the thinner you can be, the more likely you are to succeed. That was essentially what was taught and shown.
Iskra: And so, my version of success and this dream that I wanted, all I saw was these models that I idolized and wanted to be like and compared myself to. So obviously, I don’t know any healthy ways that you get to those unrealistic body standards. Especially when, my body type is naturally kind of pear shaped, hourglass, whatever you wanna call it. All my aunts grew up telling me: “You’ve got the curse of the Lawrence bum!” Like, it was a running joke, but they all had these pear-shaped big bums with, you know, thick legs. And a lot of them complain about having cankles, and it was really seen as like—they called it “The Curse.” They were like, “Well, just you wait, when you get older! You might be skinny now! Dut-dut-dut.” And so, I’m just, like, in fear of this. And of course, when I hit puberty, my hips do expand.
Iskra: And when I’m swimming less because I’m becoming a teenager, and I want to do the modeling, and I want to hang out with my friends, I’m not training and swimming five miles a day, every day, my body starts to get curvier, it starts to get larger. And so, I’m like, “How do I immediately take inches off my hips?” How does a 14, 15-year-old do that? Extreme dieting. And at that time, I’m sure you remember it like it was yesterday, it was very much Beyonce’s maple syrup and cayenne pepper lemonade diet. It was extreme—
Ashley: Oh, yeah.
Iskra: You know, it was extreme Atkins, it was all of those thing. And I— even though my parents obviously knew what I was striving for, at the same time, we had no education and no resources about eating disorders, or body dysmorphia. So, for me being 13, 14 15, getting in front of the mirror and literally pulling back my flesh, you know, wishing it would disappear, measuring to the half a centimeter my lower calf, upper calf, you know. It’s just, you know, and having the book and going back to it, and doing all things that we know are surefire signs that have something going on with your mental health and the relationship with your body.
Iskra: I had no idea. And I—and even though I guess they kind of saw what was happening, it also seemed to be constructive for the industry that I was going into, into almost like a necessity, right? “Oh, we’re just keeping on top of things and making sure that we’re thin enough so that the agencies will keep me signed.” And unfortunately I failed, and that’s how it felt, I failed because I was dropped, because my body did not fit in the sample size. And I went to numerous agencies, because I still am very confident, I have this self-confidence that my parents instilled. So, I kept on trying, and they would—one agency gave me a sheet of paper and they listed and marked and rated you out of 10 for everything, For your hair, one out of 10; for your skin, one out of 10; for your teeth, one out of 10. And again, you’re a 15-year-old, like!
Ashley: I was going to ask, are you 15, 16 here? When is all of this happening?
Iskra: Yeah, 15 when this is all happening.
Ashley: Oh, my goodness.
Sam: Like our, our judgmental voice isn’t strong enough at that point, then getting it from all directions! What was going through your head? Can you think back when you were a teen? Like what, what was that like for you emotionally?
Iskra: Yeah, it was, it just made me not feel good enough every single day. Every single day I woke up and I would just compare myself to, you know, the other Victoria’s Secret models and all those, you know, idols that I had, and I would take it out myself by restricting. And then obviously, you can only restrict for so long before you start getting lightheaded when you’re working out, dizzy, your mood swings, you’re just honestly not fun to be around.
Iskra: And then the pendulum swings, and then obviously you can binge on the things that you have been restricting, and the whole thing is just this cycle and it feels like you’ll never get out of it because you’re still not getting the results that you desire. So, that was my point. I was never thin enough for the industry and it got to the point where I was just super unhappy, and a girl came up to me one day, and we were doing this local little fashion show. So, I was still trying to model, I was just doing it in a very low kind of—I was at the top, I got signed by the best agency when I was 13, and then none of the top ones that were really well established wanted me. So, I had to kind of go back and humbly take the local agency that did, like. the local colleges Fashion Week and those types of things. But I still would rather do that than do nothing. So, I was there and one of the girls said, “Oh, have you heard about plus size modeling?” I was like, “What on earth is plus size modeling?” It had not been brought over to the UK yet. And she said, “Oh, yeah, apparently in New York.” So now I’m maybe like 17, “In New York there’s these plus size models!” So, I’m like, “Oh my goodness, tell me more!” So, I think I find these images of Robyn Lawley, and Tara Lynn, and Marquita and it just blows my mind. And I’m like, “These women are goddesses!” I’m like, “Okay, so there’s another way to do this.” So, I go and see if there’s any agencies that would sign plus size models in the UK. And they all said to me, when I went and saw them, that I was too small. They were like, “But you’re not plus size.”
Sam: I’m gasping over here because I’m thinking, everywhere you turn, you’re being told you’re not right. You’re not good enough.
Sam: Oh, my gosh.
Iskra: That’s how it felt. The extent of—when someone tells you that and it sinks in, I was like, “So I’m never going to be good enough.” That’s what I immediately thought. And then I was like, “So, I’ve changed and tried to be this version, and now you want me to gain weight to be this version.” And I was like, “I’m not going to change! I think it’s the industry that needs to change.”
Iskra: And obviously, it sounds like a big thing, like, how do you go about that? But I essentially started reaching out to clients directly. And it was maybe a little bit cheeky because I would kind of undercut agencies, because agencies take 20% off the client and 20% off the model.
Sam: Oh, wow.
Iskra: So that’s 40%, it’s a lot more than most people would imagine. So, I could take that 40% off and just go straight in and do the lower price. So, I was kind of like getting in there, I was doing a lot of networking online. And again, I’m still only like 18, 19 at this point. And I’m just really hungry for it and shooting with photographers all the time. And I was able to go back to one of the agencies that said no and say, “Hey, I actually have my own clients. I’ll give you 20% if you just let me be in your agency. I will outwork anyone, and trust me, I can do the job.”
Iskra: Because I was trying to educate people and the fact that, “How can there be these rigid standards of straight size?” That’s what we call it in their modern industry, “And plus size, when that’s not what your consumer looks like? Your consumer looks like me. Your consumer looks like you. Your consumer looks like everyone. So, for you to have these very tight margins of the models that you are allowed to sign, it doesn’t make any sense.” So, I did a lot of work kind of, like, pushing that narrative of educating brands as well, because it was really the brands who are in charge of who they book. So, if you get to the brands and you explain to them, “Your consumer looks like me, your consumer looks like more than just the models that you’re booking, so why not think outside the box and book someone like me or book someone else?” So, I built up that kind of client list. And then when I was about 19, 20—and at this point I’ve also gone and tried modeling in Turkey, I’ve been to Paris, I’ve been to Milan, I’ve done all those things, I’ve tried everything. I heard about this agency called Jag and the owner Gary, he did a lot of work trying to empower women. And his best friend growing up was six foot two, and she existed in a larger body, and he said, “I want women like my best friend to feel beautiful. And I want to create an agency that truly encompasses that beauty is more than a size.” So, I heard about him, and I knew he was coming to London to cast and I was like, “I have to get in with this agency.” And I feel like he was the first person who really got what my mission was, too. And the timing was all so symbolic because social media was just beginning.
Iskra: So, this whole journey that I was going on, I was able to share. So, I started showing pictures from behind the scenes, or showing pictures from my shoots and saying like, “I’m not retouching, because actually retouching doesn’t make me feel good about myself, because I’m comparing myself to this unrealistic standard. So, if I don’t feel good about this, you seeing these images can’t possibly feel good either.”
Iskra: So, I basically got this wonderful opportunity when social media was just starting to share the stories, share exactly what I was trying to accomplish in my career and with the industry, and simultaneously, I think people were just ready to hear that. They were ready to see a model, because even though I think we all knew, “I bet you models have some body image issues,” no one was really talking about it. I feel like a few things started to get talked about on America’s Next Top Model and those shows, but really there wasn’t individuals standing up and saying, “Well, actually, this is what I went through.”
Iskra: “This is how I feel, but I’m still a model and I’m still worthy to go after the career I want, I’m just not willing to sacrifice my own health anymore.” So, I would say that getting to this point, I navigated recovery just on my own. I didn’t really realize there was resources out there. I think I navigated it by transitioning that energy that was once purely focused on trying to be as thin as possible and doing whatever that took, even unhealthy ways, channeling it to instead changing the industry. Because, you know, you are very determined when you have an eating disorder, you are very focused, you know, it can be very overwhelming. And so how do you— that doesn’t just switch off overnight? How do you start kind of transitioning? And that’s how it felt, it felt like every time I, you know, stopped looking at the calories on the food packages I was eating, or stopped saying “I can’t eat there,” and putting it into this other box of, “But what I can do is, I can reach out to my client and maybe they’ve never booked someone my size.” So, I kind of like, I feel like I had these building blocks or had these walls around me, the walls of an eating disorder, and I was taking each block out and moving it into something productive. Like, that’s visually how I feel like I was constructing my recovery journey, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing or how to navigate it. And then what happened was, after being in a turbulent relationship with a boyfriend at the time, because I don’t think you can have an eating disorder and not have challenges in your relationship, because if it’s an isolating eating disorder and you’re not sharing what you’re going through, your partner is just going to be trying to figure out where your head’s at and what you’re going through. And if you don’t know, then it’s very hard to communicate that. So I—he unfortunately did use my disorder to manipulate me, and my insecurities to make me feel less than, to make me feel like I couldn’t be loved if I wasn’t with him. So, I stayed with him far too long, and I’m sure anyone listening to this can relate.
Iskra: Being in a toxic relationship for too long. And so, I managed—I found a friend, and she lived in London and I said—and we just built this bond, and she knew what I was going through, and she was just like, “You need to get out of that relationship. I think it will really help you with what you’re going through.” So, she said, “Why don’t you just come live with me? Come move in with me and my mom in London.” And luckily, again, I have the most supportive parents who let me do that.
Iskra: And she was, she was a lot of fun, and she freed me from just a lot of that, the heaviness, you know, and the overthinking, and the fear, and the anxiety. And she was like, “Let’s go party!” And we went out clubbing and partying like three nights a weeks, and we just laughed. And she introduced me to Louise Hay and Louise Hay affirmations. She introduced me to—kind of found my passion again for cooking, and food, and trying different recipes, and we did that together. And then after living with her, I moved in with another one of my friends, who is still one of my best friends to this day. And again, she was really passionate about nutrition and food in such a beautiful way, where there was no fear attached, just pure enjoyment and, like, the process of trying different foods, and trying different recipes. And that really helped me fall in love with food in just—
Iskra: Just such a peaceful way. And so, I feel like that time in London was, you know, absolutely transitional for me. And I’m very glad I didn’t move to New York until that, kind of, I was really strong in my recovery. Because when I moved to New York, I mean, it was intense!
Ashley: I can imagine.
Iskra: It’s an intense place. So, I moved to New York and my sole goal was working with Aerie because I saw, you know, what their mission was. And within six months, again, I just, like, begged my agency, I was like, “I have to get this audition with Aerie. That’s my dream.” And within six months I had the audition.
Iskra: Booked my first shoot with them. And I don’t want to say from there it, you know, changed everything, but it was very much—I got one foot in the door, and then I just went all in. I was doing meetups at stores, and they weren’t even involved in that, I was literally just telling people that follow me on social media, “Hey, meet me at this Aerie store,” you know, wearing all Aerie, just really just fully invested in that. And me and Aerie, simultaneously, we kept going viral together and we really grew this whole movement. And through that time and that discovery, and the more I built this community, the more I realized, you know, there is so much more to talk about when we’re talking about eating disorders. You know, obviously my experience was within the modeling industry, and I feel like even though other people haven’t been in the modeling industry, they still need to hear my story, they still need to have other people talk about what they’re going through. So, that’s when I started working with NEDA, and we created the NEDA Seal of Approval, and awarded it to brands or individuals who were creating a difference and truly being inclusive, and caring about what that meant. So, yeah, that’s—I feel like there’s still more to go on, right? Cause then—
Sam: Yeah, wow!
Ashley: That’s incredible!
Sam: What stands out to me so much, when you talked about your friendships, and I talk all the time about how we heal in connection. And what a beautiful story of your friends really exposing you to a healthier relationship with food, and rediscovering who you are, and feeling more authentic. I mean, that’s really what recovery is all about. And it was amazing that you were able to find that in your friendships!
Iskra: And none of them knew about eating disorders. You know, it wasn’t necessarily—they were just friends that cared and knew what was kind of best for me in that season.
Sam: Right, right. They knew what you needed.
Ashley: And I was gonna say, I love that even what you shared about as being a teenager, still like seeing some warped things, I think, and experiencing and knowing like, “I don’t know that this is healthy or helpful for me. I don’t think that this is the way that it, it needs to be or could be.” And so I love that you had that little bit of, kind of ego and confidence inside of you that could still say, “I recognize why the industry is telling me this and I don’t necessarily agree.” I love that you still have that voice in you, and still do. That’s amazing.
Iskra: I definitely want to give my parents credit for that. There’s been times even within the modeling industry with other opportunities or other scenarios where I’ve been placed in uncomfortable positions and I’ve had the confidence to say, “I’m not prepared to do that,” or “I’m uncomfortable,” or just exit myself. So, I think that that is really important. But when you’re in your eating disorder, you can feel lost. And that’s why it’s so hard to reach out and not just ask for help, but find a community. And we are in a beautiful place where you have this podcast, you have resources online, you have communities on social media, but that’s where we have to self-advocate, you know. It really is us that are our biggest cheerleaders and champions.
Iskra: And then you go and surround yourself with your community, who is hopefully going to also just uplift you and support you even more. But yeah, after all those years with Aerie and NEDA and doing that work and, really again, encouraging other brands to stop retouching, and being vocal, I then, during the pandemic—well, actually, before the pandemic, I found out I was pregnant. And it was the best surprise ever. And we had to shift our lives, you know, because this little person is now the center of everything. So, I ended up moving to Austin, Texas, from New York. I thought I was going to live in LA, I actually did buy a house and then realized we actually wanted to raise our family in Austin. So, I moved there and then, you know, about six weeks before I was going to give birth, the pandemic and the lockdown happened. So, that was so many life changes at once. It was a new state, it was having a baby, it was, you know, Aerie, the contract getting canceled because it was COVID. Like, everything that had been secure and familiar changed kind of all at once, which I think a lot of people, it was a lot of changes. Philip lost his job too, because there was no one touring and he works in the music industry. So, we were both kind of at home with a newborn. My parents couldn’t visit for a year and a half, his mom is older, and so we were very alone. But I will say, it brought us very, very, very close. And Sam’s listened to the Coupleish podcast, and she’s been on it, so—
Iskra: So, our bond is really, really strong. But, the thoughts start creeping back in.
Iskra: Because I stopped showering, you know, I stopped showering, I stopped getting dressed. I would just stay in my robe all day. I would, food wise, I wouldn’t say—it wasn’t triggering. It wasn’t—I wasn’t resorting back to my old behaviors, but I was not nourishing myself.
Iskra: It was just as if I’d kind of given up on myself, you know? I felt very lost and I just, yeah, those tools that I had in my toolbox, I couldn’t find them. And so, I think it was a dark time because I’m usually so positive and I know exactly how to, you know, uplift myself, and stay positive, and do my affirmations, and do things that, you know, are self-care for myself. And I just was like, “I’m trying to figure out how to stop this baby from crying, and I’ve had no sleep, and I’ve not been nourishing my body. I have no energy, and, you know, my milk supply dropped because I hadn’t been nourishing myself.” And you know, that’s one thing I actually messaged my friends, I was like, “Hey, do you mind messaging now and again and checking in if I’ve eaten today? Because, like, I’d really appreciate that.” So, I did have a couple of friends say, “Have you eaten today?” Like, “Make sure you’re prioritizing nourishment.” And so, in that mess, which I called myself a mess but it wasn’t—the rooms were a mess, the world was a bit chaotic. I had to try and find that peace again and that definitely came from my community, leaning on Philip, asking Phillip to give me 15 minutes every morning to shower. And honestly, that’s where the kind of, like, dream of Saltair came from, because I was like, “Oh, imagine if I had like a really beautiful, fun product that got me excited to shower.”
Iskra: Like, it’s something simple, but it’s like these five minutes that I get to reset myself, to have this escape. Sometimes I cry in the shower, sometimes I create ideas in the shower, sometimes I sing in the shower. And so, Saltair really came from that place of just like, “Maybe I can create these really beautiful, fun, experiential products that are sensorial and give you this spa-like experience. And just five minutes of tropical island in your shower for an accessible affordable price point. So, I started kind of working on that and simultaneously, again—I guess one of my strengths is, when the odds are stacked against me, I rebuild. You know, I think of a different route.
Iskra: So, I also created the Self Funding Planner, and I created the Self Funding Planner because, like I said, I felt like I lost my toolbox. I couldn’t figure out how to look after myself and I was like, “What if I had a daily plan, the way I could like journal, I could track my affirmations, how I’m feeling about myself. Make sure I’m getting my me time in. And, you know, I also included in the planner, like, pre-months and reflections every month. You could see, like, “How did I take care of myself this month? What did ‘I am enough’ mean this month?” Because that that was changing as well. What I needed, how I felt I needed to be supported. And so, yeah, I created the Self Funding Planner, again, so as much as it can be scary to feel lost and to feel like you’re feeling in your way again, especially if you have been through an eating disorder or mental health in the past, I really just see it as a reset. To prioritize, “Actually, these are things that would give me a lot of fulfillment and purpose, and I think could help other people, too.” And I think it did give me the ability to reset again, and be like, “Let’s come back to: What do I care about? What do I actually want to be building? How do I want to connect with other people?” And so, that is really how I got to where I am now. But at the same time, I want to keep bringing my eating disorder community with me, I want to keep connecting with people. And so that’s my mission really, is to continue building my brands, and continue being an advocate and being vocal about the things I care about.
Sam: Thank you so much!
Ashley: Iskra, yeah, thank you so much for sharing all of that!
Sam: I know! Especially, well, thank you for normalizing, for folks out there, how challenging the pandemic was for our mental health.
Sam: Especially if you have an eating disorder, there were so many things happening at that time,
Iskra: Oh, so many things.
Sam: The isolation, just the anxiety about getting sick, all of that. And there were so many people out there that I think were either experiencing a relapse, or depression, and all of—I mean, thank you so much just for normalizing it. And then sharing what worked for you, because in times of stress, and transition, and change, we do need to reset, and we need community, and we need support. I love that you asked your friends to check in on you.
Iskra: Yeah, I had to.
Sam: Just little things like that, yeah, can be so helpful. I’m curious, in which ways was Philip helpful to you and supportive to you during that time?
Iskra: Oh, my goodness. He is my rock and—
Sam: I know!
Iskra: He is so patient. So, there were times when I was getting frustrated, and then I would feel ugly from being frustrated with a newborn baby, or just with not being productive enough, and all these things. And he would just constantly reassure me that I was enough. And, you know, even silly things like my skin broke out, and I would never, if it wasn’t—I wasn’t going through all these other things, say, “Oh, like I feel disgusting, look at my skin, dut-dut-dah.” And he was like, “My love, like, you don’t good or bad skin, you have skin. And you’re beautiful either way.”
Sam: Oh, I love that!
Iskra: And I just— I know we kind of— I think because I talked to him so much about what I’ve been through, but he is very emotionally intelligent and I definitely do ask him for certain things, and we often feel like we tag team. And I’m like, “I need you right now, can you take over?” or “I’m gonna need this time to make for me.” And he is totally understanding, and I know that I’m very lucky and it’s not always like that, but we definitely built a foundation from day one where I said to him, “I’m not compromising the things I want for this relationship. I want you to be excited to come along with this journey with me. We’re going to go along together, but I’m not going to shrink myself to fit into, you know, what your idea of a relationship is.”
Iskra: It’s not—It might not sound nice to say, but we kind of both agreed. He was like, “Yeah, I know you don’t need me. I know you’re choosing me.” And so even though that might not sound nice, cause I know people sometimes think it’s a positive thing to say they’re needed, but for us, it was more like, “No, we’re really choosing each other.”
Ashley: Yeah! I think there’s so much power in that dynamic, Iskra. Like, choosing each other to be in relationship, and that really allows you to be you and him to be him. And that’s so important.
Iskra: And recovery taught me that I’m whole, you know? You know, that journey really taught me that I have everything I need to not only succeed but to have my happiness, and my well-being, and that I am really good at looking after myself. But what I will say is, when I had my child and it was a pandemic, I did need some help, you know? So, I think realizing you can be whole and you can also have to lean on people now and again, it doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you vulnerable in a bad way for people to take advantage. If you have the right people around you, it will actually make you stronger.
Ashley: So, Iskra, you’ve kind of touched on this, but I wanted to ask you a little bit about this from a mom-to-mom perspective.
Ashley: So, I have a one-year-old currently.
Iskra: Aww, congrats!
Ashley: Yeah, thank you! And congrats to you too! And you know, I’ve definitely, I know probably several of our listeners are parents as well, and it shifts, right? You’ve mentioned, like, the change of priority, like, your focus and world, everything shifts. Your body changes! And doing this also in the context of the pandemic, you know, as you mentioned already, just kind of added another layer of complexity and maybe challenge to it. But could you speak to, just a little bit, about how just things shift and how you were able to manage and accept even your body where it was after you had kiddo?
Iskra: I think I did a lot of discussion and research before I had my baby, understanding that if you are someone who’s had an eating disorder that thinks you could be triggered, or relapse, or you could be confused and could be scary to see your body kind of so out of your control. But I think what I found was, and I was shocked too because you just don’t know how you’re going to react. You can really equip yourself and, you know, have a community around you who are ready to support you. But I did not know what that was going to feel like, seeing my body shift, expand, change, grow, stretch, all of the things. And I felt really powerful, I felt really capable, and I think because of the previous work I’ve done, where I really view my body as just this vessel, it’s this gift that allows me to do so many things in life. That’s how I really was able to see it. I was like— and you know, I’m blessed that my best friend, she has been very open about her fertility journey, and as sad as it is knowing that she hasn’t been able to, it did make me appreciate it even more that, you know, we were able to have this natural birth. And so, I think that that gratitude is what I just clung to. Even with the changes of my body, I just really clung onto: “This is a privilege to be able to be pregnant. This is a privilege to have a safe birth. This is a privilege to have a newborn who is healthy.” And really clinging onto those affirmations and viewing this body is this home, and it gets to be home for two people for a while. What can I do to make sure that this is the most loving, welcoming home? And I will say, I have never nourished my body, mind, and soul more than when I was pregnant.
Iskra: I was like, “I am a goddess! I am going to take all these vitamins and minerals, and I’m going to move every day, and I’m going to do this.” Because I had a home birth, and I really wanted to— again, I’ve got a bit of a competitive nature, which did not serve the eating disorder well, but it did serve other things well. And I was like, “I’m gonna have this time birth, and I’m gonna be super strong and be able to do this.” And I think that that focus of the empowerment and, like, strength, and that accomplishment side of it, because my body was capable, took away from the fear side of things. Because I was like, “Well, I can choose to control what I can control. And I can’t control everything, but I can choose to control that I’m going to be my strongest self, that I’m going to my most nourished self, that I’m going to sleep, that I’m going to do all these things that I can control to create a wonderful environment. I can speak to myself nicely because my little one’s going to hear everything. I can ask Philip to help me with all those things.” So, I definitely feel like pregnancy was a beautiful experience. I didn’t know how it was going to go, but it was amazing. But like I said, postpartum was much harder, because I went in with the expectation, because my mom kept telling me I never cried—
Iskra: She was like, “You’ve never cried once!” And she goes, “And look at you and Philip, you’re both the most chill people. You’re going to have the most chill baby!” And sure enough…
Ashley: Oh, no!
Iskra: We did not get our child to sleep more than 45 minutes. Max 45 minutes in the night, sometimes 20 or 30. And it was, and he’s a very vocal guy!
Ashley: Very challenging.
Iskra: There was a lot of crying and screaming, and me and Phillip like sleep. We are not morning people, we are not middle of the night people. So that exhaustion, you know, I don’t think exhaustion and mental health are linked enough, but it is—
Iskra: Whew, I can’t—you can’t think straight, you’re not remembering things, you’re not remembering to nourish yourself. And so, that for me was a huge challenge with postpartum. And I do wish that my family could have been there, but they couldn’t because of the pandemic. And do I wish that maybe I would have been able to save up and afford a nanny or just someone to help to just— and there shouldn’t be any guilt in this, but just passing your baby to someone else, just for an hour so you can take a nap. You know, I think a lot of us during COVID were robbed of that help, because even though maybe there were people, are you going to invite someone that you don’t know from a different household into your house with a newborn?
Iskra: And especially the beginning of COVID, because I had him in April 2020, we locked down in March—
Ashley: Oh, man.
Iskra: It was the height of it. So, we were all worrying that we weren’t going to survive COVID.
Iskra: So, it was definitely isolating. And so, I think because that was so extreme, if we were blessed enough to have a second, I would be interested to see how I felt about myself in a different scenario. But I very much— I didn’t— I wasn’t scared about how my body had changed. I was very hyperaware of it.
Iskra: And I noticed that things, clothes didn’t fit me the same way as they did before. I noticed that because I lost that kind of sense of self and that motivation to move, and my food choices had changed, they were just purely convenient choices, I had less energy. My body was softer than it used to be stronger. And so, I was aware of these things, but in a healthy way. And I think this is why every season is different. I chose to just let those thoughts kind of just float away, because my main concern was to try and get this baby to stop crying.
Iskra: And to get sleep. And I feel like it’s taken a long time to get the sleep back, you know, and obviously work through having a baby and then a toddler. And I would say, about nine months was the time when I started to see clearly again, and do things for me, and prioritize me time, and movement, and even just social things. Again, it was in a pandemic so that was still tricky, but we were able to meet a few people outside, and mask up, or even just texting people back. You know, a lot of us have got left by the wayside, and I did lose a lot of friendships because I moved to a different state and had a baby. And it was a pandemic, so I feel like, you know, I made new friends, but I lost the majority of my previous friendship group because they lived in a different city. Most of them were single. I have a complete life shift in a completely different state during a pandemic. So, I know— you can’t— for a while I think I felt like I had failed, and I was like, “Oh, wow, I’m just not good at keeping friends.” But then I was like, “No, this is really extreme, and this idea of just getting back to normal, it’s going to take a really long time.”
Iskra: And I think as a mom, we do have to put ourselves out there, we do have to try and find other moms. Because if it is your body or if it is your baby, whatever you’re going through, I’m pretty sure you’re going to find a mom that’s going through it too, and just having that transparency and honesty and being able to be like, “Are you feeling this right now? Are you going through this?” “Yeah, of course!” Like, we all feel the mom guilt, or we all feel, you know, not strong or as fit as we used to and, you know, try and do those things together and build that back up.
Sam: Community, it’s so important.
Iskra: It is.
Sam: Yeah, community. I’m so curious, Iskra, you talk so much about affirmations. It seems like affirmations were a tool you used, that you picked up quite a bit. And, you know, I work with folks who have eating disorders, I’m a psychologist, and so oftentimes what I hear is that people are really— there’s some— there’s an unwillingness to try affirmations because they say, “Well, I’m not gonna believe it. Why am I going to look in the mirror and say something I don’t believe?” And I’m just so curious, what was your process like with affirmations? And what guidance would you give for any listeners out there who are like, “Well, that’s nice for Iskra, but I’m not doing that.”
Iskra: Yeah. I mean, I was a naysayer 100%.
Iskra: I read a Louise Hay book for the first time and I kind of laughed it off. I was like, “How is that going to do anything?” I think it has to be intentional. And it’s a tricky thing to switch on and off, but I think you get to the point where it’s like, “Why wouldn’t I believe that this could work?” You know, like, “Where’s that stoppage?” And I probably shouldn’t recommend it, but I will say me and my friend, we watched The Secret, you know, that movie that has vision boarding and, I don’t know, I was—her and her mom were really all about it, and I think it’s because her mom was, and it obviously then infiltrated my friend, and then I saw them and I was like, ‘Well, why don’t I just try it, like, really take it in.” And it takes a long time, you’re not going to say an affirmation and then suddenly, you know, love yourself. And you have to start off with affirmations that speak to you. Mine was just, “I am enough,” which is actually then— and I didn’t know this at the time, but that’s NEDA’s affirmation saying as well.
Iskra: I didn’t know that at the time, but “I’m enough” really helped me just establish—and maybe don’t call it an affirmation then, you know, just call it, like, a reassuring phrase. I think, obviously, affirmations feel wishy washy to people, or if they’re not a spiritual person and they’ve only seen it on more spiritual accounts, or whatever expectation you have, it’s more just finding something that resonates, that if you could actually keep saying that to yourself, and eventually believe it, it could help you. Like, that’s, like, just really thinking over step by step, thinking, “What is it that I feel, or I feel like if I believed this or could do this, then it would help me in multiple different ways in my life.” Okay, so my phrase was “I am enough,” for some people it might be: “I am capable.” Maybe they feel like they fail at things. Maybe they feel like they’re failing at their eating disorder, maybe they feel like they’re failing in their relationships or at work. Maybe the “I am capable” is the phrase you need, and maybe don’t call it an affirmation, you know? Have it as a little note in your phone, maybe have it pop up as an alarm on your screen every morning, and just let it be the phrase that takes you through the day where you can just go: “Yeah, I’m capable. Okay, I’m capable.” It doesn’t have to be this whole big, you know, transformational moment. It could— it’s a small token of deciding: “This is what I’m going to choose to have as my narrative today.” And I think a lot of it, as well, has to start neutrally. I think those big phrases, “I love myself, I embrace my body,” you know, “These stretch marks are fantastic,” or whatever it might be, that might be too much. Just really break it down and be neutral about your body and just how you feel about yourself in general. Like, “I’m feeling okay. I’m feeling okay.” You know?
Sam: I love it.
Iskra: “I’m feeling at peace today.” Like, really breaking down something that feels a lot more tangible for you. Be inspired by what other people do, but find something that really resonates with you. And why not try it? Why not have that be the first thing you say to yourself every morning?
Ashley: Right, right.
Iskra: It really is, with any type of recovery, with any type of self-growth journey, you’re just prioritizing you, and what feels good, and trying different things. You’re going to try a bunch of different things that will and won’t work for you, but really give them a try, because you’re worth it. You’re worth trying.
Sam: I love it. Thank you so much, Iskra.
Ashley: Yeah, thank you. I’m so excited for our listeners to have the opportunity to hear from you and hear you speak. And I know you’ve traveled, I know, like, you know, we’ve talked about your work with NEDA, National Eating Disorder Association. I know you’ve traveled across the country and spoken at different schools, and multiple events, and just even your— I just want to say this again, I’m so appreciative of the initiative that you take to not touch up your photos on media, you know. And I just, I just think all that you have to share, one, is incredible, and two, I think it’s just amazing information for our listeners out there to take back with them.
Iskra: Yay! Well, I’m very grateful to have been on and have this time to connect with you and everyone that’s listening. And yeah, I can’t wait to see what your reactions are, if you have more comments, you know, please drop them down, let us know. Let’s start a conversation. We’re all here to support you.
Sam: Thank you for listening to All Bodies. All Foods., and thank you to our listeners for joining this episode, this very inspirational episode with Iskra. If you liked this episode, please show your support by subscribing, rating, leaving a review, sharing with others. And if you want more, you can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok @RenfrewCenter. For free education, events, trainings, webinars, resources, and blogs, head over to our website RenfrewCenter.com. And if you have comments or questions you’d like us to answer in a future episode, be sure to email them to [email protected] See you next time!
Ashley: Thanks, bye!
Ashley: Thank you for listening with us today on All Bodies. All Foods. presented by The Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders.
Sam: We’re looking forward to you joining us next time as we continue these conversations.
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