Learning to love yourself, candidly and healthily

Through the Storm:

Learning to love yourself, candidly and healthily. 

Life is too short to be someone other than what’s already there, YOU.” 

Note to self- I decided to share this story to remind myself and others that true self love is a process of a journey. To acknowledge how far I’ve come in my self love journey, and to candidly share in hopes to encourage others to find peace within their own self love journeys. 

What I want people to take from this article is to learn to not be afraid to be fully open, honest, and raw with yourself. Life is too short to be someone other than what’s already there, YOU. 

“Wow”, I thought. That’s who I want to be, those magazine women are beautiful. 

I was in our town supermarket waiting in the checkout line with my mother. All the tabloids and magazines sitting perfectly on the shelves caught my eye. I began to flip through, and look at all the beautiful women that graced the pages of ELLE, Vogue, and Cosmopolitan. “Wow”, I thought. That’s who I want to be, those magazine women are beautiful. 

In 2010, I was scouted at a small shopping mall by a modeling scout. My mother was rather protective of me and skeptical, but she clearly saw that I had a passion for modeling. I would spend most of my nights watching America’s Next Top Model, reruns of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and Project Runway on school nights where my mother would let me stay up late. Seeing all those beautiful women and how they were treated made me feel so motivated to become that someday.  

I begged my mom to let me go to the open casting, which was only a few towns away from where we lived. After about an hour of me begging and her discussing with my father, she decided that she would let me attend the open casting with her. 

We showed up to a huge auditorium filled with countless faces of girls who were all hoping for a lucrative contract, including myself. When they finally called my name, I was extremely nervous but ready. I was clearly one of the youngest girls there, considering that I was only 12. The woman took some pictures of me, wrote my name and information down on some paper, and told me that she would get back to me within a few weeks. 

The phone rang one afternoon. And yes, I unfortunately got rejected because I was “too young”, since they were looking for older talent. Nevertheless, the sweet lady on the phone said that she would keep me in mind for the future for other opportunities that may come. But, I didn’t want to waste any time waiting.

3 years later, I had just turned 15. For a young teenager, my appearance looked a lot more mature for my age, I was 5’8”, dark brunette, and carried a slender build. Although I had some insecurities, just like any teenage girl would, I tried my hardest to mute them out to the best of my ability. 

“Do I really have a chance at looking like those women in the famous magazines?”

I got scouted by another agency. This time around, I was positive I would walk out with a contract. And, I did. I remember feeling on cloud nine when I saw how interested the agency’s CEO was with me. 

“Is this really happening?”

“Am I really a model now?”

“A legitimate signed model?”

“Do I really have a chance at looking like those women in the famous magazines?”

I can’t believe it. 

”I slowly began to change myself”

After about a year working as a model with my first agency, I decided to  terminate my contract early. Although I had a very positive experience, I felt as though there was more room to grow with my career. In early 2015, I signed with an agency in located in Boston, New York City, and Paris. I felt this agency had a lot more connections which would boost my career as a high fashion model. But becoming signed with a bigger agency, meant bigger insecurities, bigger expectations, and bigger pressures.

” I was so obsessed to the point where I would take multiple selfie‘s and videos of myself before walking out of the house, just to be sure everything looked perfect”

I slowly began to change myself, to meet my new agency’s requirements. Every girl that walked in and out of that agency looked almost flawless, and I also wanted to fit that flawless mold. I became obsessed with every move I made regarding my appearance. I was so obsessed to the point where I would take multiple selfie‘s and videos of myself before walking out of the house, just to be sure everything looked perfect. Counting calories, excessively working out, and spending hours looking at myself in the mirror were endless habits I grew accustomed to. 

” I noticed a few photographers that would alter images of me”

About three months in, I was now 105 pounds and platinum blonde. My appearance looked absolutely different than when I first started my modeling career, two years earlier. From photo shoot to photo shoot, I noticed a few photographers that would alter images of me, in a way where the images did not even look like me. At first, I did question this, but I decided to say nothing because I didn’t want to appear “difficult to work with”, so I kept my mouth shut. “I wonder if they do this with everyone?” I thought. 

”I felt as though I was just a name and a label, rather than a human.”

In late 2016, I decided to quit my modeling career all together. It was time for me to truly put myself first. I was so sick of being controlled and put in situations where I felt like I didn’t have a say in anything. I felt like my life was getting run by the industry, rather than myself. I felt as though I was just a name and a label, rather than a human. The second I made that decision, I saw myself going downhill. My self-confidence was little to none, and I felt like I made a big mistake leaving my modeling dreams behind. 

“Am I no longer beautiful?”

“Since I’m not a model anymore, are people going to think I’m unattractive?”

“Maybe I am ugly now?”

“Maybe I should’ve stayed?”

“Everyone considers these women beautiful, this is what I need to become.”

These are questions that went off in my head on the daily. I found myself constantly on Instagram, where photos of Facetune and other editing programs were growing very popular. I would scroll through Instagram and see images of beautiful women that looked absolutely perfect, without a flaw in sight. 

“Everyone considers these women beautiful, this is what I need to become.” I thought. 

I would compare myself every day, and every night. Flipping through photos of myself, and scrolling back to the photos of the Instagram women with perfect bodies and faces. This resulted to me photoshopping myself to match these standards. I would take images of myself, put them in Facetune, and make sure I photoshopped myself so well to look completely different as to who I was. 

This became a routine for four years. 

Yes, four years. 

”I wanted to change everything about me, my eye shape, my nose shape, my lip size, everything. I just wanted to forget about the old me.”

I wanted to change everything about me, my eye shape, my nose shape, my lip size, everything. I just wanted to forget about the old me. The girl with the almond shaped eyes, the slim structured nose and the defined European jawline. Gone.

”After years and years of photoshopping myself every day to meet societies beauty standards, I began to develop the illusion that the photoshopped version of myself was actually the real version of myself.”

After years and years of photoshopping myself every day to meet societies beauty standards, I began to develop the illusion that the photoshopped version of myself was actually the real version of myself. I went through hours daily of learning make up techniques on YouTube just to change myself in a way that could be physical. Not to mention, I changed my wardrobe, too. Out with the old, and in with the new I thought. 

It was late 2018. My Instagram became very popular, I had over 20,000 followers of women and men who fancied my photoshopped appearance. I woke up one morning, there were numerous photos of me tagged with another woman, our photos side by side in a collage. My direct messages were flooded. “What’s going on?” I thought. 

The media managed to compare my photoshopped photos to a famous model, who lived in Russia. The photoshopped version of myself did look extremely similar to her photos, to the point where it could be mistaken as identical. She had some fame, which was why the compared images went so viral. 

“CHEAP! WANNABE! FAKE!” some Russian users commented under my Instagram photos. And honestly, deep down, I agreed with these harsh comments. 

”Just as I thought things couldn’t get any worse, Russian media decided to contact me.”

Just as I thought things couldn’t get any worse, Russian media decided to contact me. They told me they wanted to do a small interview with me, just so I could give my side of the story since things had been so out of control. I agreed to do it, at this point I thought that if I spoke about things, the media and public would ease up with me and move on. 

Silly me to trust the media.

”They were trying to manipulate me by putting me in a bad/villain light”

The interview I gave was drastically changed. The media decided to label me as a “doppelgänger” and wrote that I didn’t “think much” of the Russian woman I was being compared to. They referred to me as “mysterious” and “strange”. From what I gathered from that single altered interview was that they were trying to manipulate me by putting me in a bad/villain light, which is what I didn’t want or expect. 

On Christmas Day, I woke up to multiple tabloids, and found my altered article to be published in Cosmopolitan. “What? Cosmopolitan?!” I exclaimed. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The initial article that I wrote with one small media company sold my story to 20 different magazines. 

Typical media. 

“Am I really going to be spending my whole life photoshopping myself to look completely different as to who I am?”

After a few months, the media thankfully decided to move on from the whole “doppelgänger” spasm. The popularity with me slowed down to a stop, and I felt as though I could finally breathe again. This was a turning point for me. I thought to myself, 

“Am I really going to be spending my whole life photoshopping myself to look completely different as to who I am?”

No. I am not. 

“But how will I reveal the real me when everyone fancies the photoshopped me?” 

When there’s a will, there’s a way. 

”I became afraid that people would judge me. People wouldn’t like me anymore. People wouldn’t think I’m beautiful anymore.”

It was a process for me. I looked back to the four years that I legitimately wasted on altering myself in hopes to please others and seem more attractive to the eye. I didn’t want to hide away anymore. I became afraid that people would judge me. People wouldn’t like me anymore. People wouldn’t think I’m beautiful anymore. And people would think that I deceived them knowing that the Instagram version of myself wasn’t the real deal. 

”I knew I needed to break away from this awful, toxic, and harmful habit and lifestyle.”

But, I wasn’t going to allow those fears to stop me. I knew I needed to break away from this awful, toxic, and harmful habit and lifestyle. If people judge me, people judge me. If people don’t want to be friends with me anymore, that’s OK. I need to do this for myself. I have to put myself first. I have to be ME. 

”It felt so good knowing that the real me was out there

In early 2020, I finally broke away. It was one of the most liberating feelings I’ve ever had. I felt a little naked and insecure, since I wasn’t using Facetune or any other altering programs anymore, but it felt so good knowing that the real me was out there, rather than a fake, false, and distorted version. All my friends were thankfully supportive and proud of me, which to this day I am extremely grateful for. Although I did lose a lot of my followers, and received some hate/confused messages, I decided to ignore and focus on the positivity of my new life. MY NEW LIFE AS, ME. 

It was like being reborn. This face that was hidden away all these years, even though I had it this whole time, felt brand new. I was actually noticing it, and embracing it.

While I was embracing this time being myself, I did notice a lot of comments under my photos. 

“Bella Hadid look alike.” 

“Oh my god, is that Bella?” 

“Wow how do you feel to be Bella’s twin?” 

”Then things took an ugly turn.”

Although I was familiar with Bella Hadid, since I’ve always been in tune to the fashion world, I didn’t really notice our similarities until multiple people started pointing it out. At first I thought it was funny, I even made a joke about it myself with my followers. Then things took an ugly turn.

“Is this really happening again?” I thought. 

Since my Instagram account had a somewhat large following still, there were again, a lot of comparison photos emerging. But instead of being compared to the Russian model, I was now being compared to, Bella Hadid. 

It was like a déjà vu moment.

“Is this really happening again?” I thought. 

”What about myself? What about Nikki? Am I not good enough”

I spent hours on Instagram just looking at all the tagged photos of myself and Bella. I was now being referred to as “Bella Hadid‘s twin” or “Bella Hadid’s doppelgänger”.

“What about myself?

“What about Nikki?”

“Am I not good enough? I have a name.”

That’s when I realized how shallow social media really worked. 

”I was receiving death threats

No matter who you are, no matter what you look like, you will always be compared. This time around, people were now comparing me to the World’s Scientifically Proven Most Beautiful Woman, and one of the Top Paid Supermodels in the world. And when you are called regularly the twin of the World’s Scientifically Proven Most Beautiful Woman and one of the Top Paid Supermodels in the world… people get angry. The amount of hatred I was receiving on the daily was so unhealthy. It scared me. I was receiving death threats, stalking incidents, and even hate accounts that were pretending to be me. 

”It was just unbearable”

It got to a level where it was just unbearable and I ended up leaving social media for a while to protect myself and my mental health.

”It made me feel as though the real me was never good enough.”

I was in a fragile state, being compared from woman to woman, it hurt me. It made me feel as though the real me was never good enough. People just wanted to see me as a replica of someone else, rather than who I really am. Is my appearance all that people care about?

IMAGE IS NOT EVERYTHING. 

”I am more than just a face, and I am more than just a body. I am a person. I have thoughts, I radiate energy, and I am gifted with a soul within me.”

Even though it made me so sad and disappointed to read all the concerns and comments regarding my appearance, I thought about my self worth. I am more than just a face, and I am more than just a body. I am a person. I have thoughts, I radiate energy, and I am gifted with a soul within me. Maybe it has been muted for years, but that does not define who. I am.

Because only I know who I truly am and what I have been through. I reminded myself. 

  1. PERFECTION DOES NOT EXIST, DO NOT TRY TO ACHIEVE IT. Everything on on social media, is not real. It mostly is a distortion and illusion.  

2. STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS. YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME. It is not possible to be born a different person, you are who you are and everyone is different. You do not need to be someone else to be happy, all you need is YOURSELF. 

3. AVOID THE THINGS THAT MAKE YOU COMPARE YOURSELF. Unfollow social media pages that you find yourself comparing yourself to. Weed out those in your life that put you down and bring out your insecurities. Leave a situation if you feel uncomfortable and people seem to want to change you.

4. DELETE THE APPS. Do yourself a favor, delete all those toxic and degrading altering apps. Facetune and Photoshop are not worth it. YOU are worth it.

5. YOU ONLY HAVE ONE LIFE. You really only have one chance. Don’t waste it away achieving on looking different to yourself. 

6. FOCUS ON YOUR MIND. Take time to really find things that you love to do, figure out your passions, and focus on what you put out, rather than what you take in.

7. TAKE SOME TIME OFF. It’s always a good idea to detach yourself from social media. Social media can be so overwhelming at times, take a break. You don’t need to be on it all the time. There is no need for it.

8. DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY. Attract things that empower you and make you feel happy. Relieve negative energy through passion and motivation. When your mind is happy, your mind is also healthy. 

”It was after I went through all of this when I found out that Body Dysmorphia was what I was struggling with all these years.”

I’ve had my own struggles and downs with Body Dysmorphia. It was after I went through all of this when I found out that Body Dysmorphia was what I was struggling with all these years. Body Dysmorphia is a very common thing, among both men and women. It can happen to anyone. Looking back now, it frustrates me that I spent almost half a decade of my life hiding my true self away, I never needed to photoshop ANYTHING about myself in the first place. But I think again, I have so many more years ahead of me of truly being myself. And I can’t wait. 

”I can say now, that I do truly love myself”

Beginning to love yourself is the beginning of a true and healthy life. 

I can say now, that I do truly love myself, in a way that I never thought I could. I made it through the storm. The storm of comparison, hatred, labels, opinions, and insecurity. But I did learn a lot. 

”I have learned that appearance isn’t valued, but rather my heart, my soul, my energy, and my mind IS.”

I have learned that appearance isn’t valued, but rather my heart, my soul, my energy, and my mind IS. People’s opinions and thoughts SHOULD NOT affect the way you see yourself. Your self image and your self worth should only be important to YOU. And P.S., those tabloids and magazines are NOT REAL, do not look up to them. 

Life goes on; there’s always a ray of  sunlight after any storm passes by. My ray of sunlight is finding myself and living as my true self, healthy and confidently. 

Please make a promise to yourself that regardless of any obstacle you might face or anyone that you might encounter, PLEASE ALWAYS STAY TRUE TO WHO YOU ARE.

That is REAL. And remember REAL, is BEAUTIFUL.

“She loved herself 

but didn’t wear it on the outside 

this love came from the inside 

as a deep, calm confidence 

in who she was 

on this earth —

a quiet respect 

for the person she saw 

in the mirror.”

— Atticus 

This article was written by Nikki Gal. Gal is a former fashion model and present day graphic artist. Quitting her modeling career in late 2016, she went on to pursue another dream. Discovering her passion for the arts at the age of four, she carved her path through technology into becoming a successful e-commerce businesswoman at age 22.In both her young and mature life, the act of bullying by others has taught her the power of emotional strength and guidance on how to handle the worst of situations. Earlier this year, social media took an ugly turn, leaving Gal’s personal life in the public eye. Realizing this, she took matters into her own hands, and chose to protect her privacy through courage, strength, and control. She believes that mental health is top priority, and that all should educate to protect themselves/ others against bullying, harassment, and violation via online or real life. If you would like to get in touch with Nikki, feel free to find her on Instagram at nikgalblog

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