When British model Charli Howard was reportedly fired by her agency for being too big at a size 2, she knew it was time for change. Now the 26-year-old is a MUSE Curve Model and body-positive activist in New York City. She's also the face of a new Anne Klein campaign and has a new book about her experience with anxiety and eating disorders, "Misfit," coming out in 2018. Here, she tells TODAY Style about her journey.
At about age 16, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a model. I was scouted, but the problem was always my hips. They said, "(Your hips) need to be 34 inches." I have no idea why that number was so magical. I was so desperate to get down to that, but I couldn't.
I just beat myself up and beat myself up. As a teenager, all the magazines I bought only featured size-zero models — white, skinny models. I thought that was what I should look like. When I started to model, that fueled my problems. It gave me something to hide behind, an excuse to maintain that skinny size.
Being so thin ... your period stops. Your nails are blue and purple because you're not getting any circulation. Your hair falls out. You have really bad breath. You look in the mirror and you never see yourself as being thin. When you go on shoots, people try to shoot you at an angle so you look thinner. It's a constant mind f---.
I did that, and I obviously couldn't do it anymore. I was told I was too big when I was a size 2. I ended up becoming a curve model and moving to the U.S. And I really started to embrace myself. It's still a challenge to erase 10 years of low body confidence. Now I've got an agency that allows me to be the size that I am.
When I did the photo shoot for the All Woman Project, I cannot tell you how scared I was to be in a bikini. I was like, oh my God, I'm doing an un-retouched shoot. I was smaller than I am now, but I still thought I was big. And then I saw the photos, and all these different girls, all these shapes and sizes and colors — girls skinnier than me, but with stretch marks. It really put things into perspective. I was normal.
Now I really like my hips. I love them. I love grabbing them and wearing clothes that accentuate them. Before I would have worn baggy clothes to cover them up.
My generation of women, I think we have been programmed to hate anything that's squishy or curvy. Now I'm like, oh my God, I love my curves. I love my tummy. It's really lovely to me. I thought I would detest it if I ever got bigger. If I ever thought I was going to be this big, I would have had a heart attack.
It's really funny ... I never would have thought that by being curvy, I would be happier. I know I'm a rarity in the sense that I'm an in-between model: I'm not super thin, I'm not super curvy. I fit in the middle.
Sizes should never be a fashion trend. We are getting to a point in fashion where it's more about the models, and they need to have an opinion, a voice. It's no longer enough to just be the face of something. I think it's really exciting. More agencies are representing girls of all shapes and sizes, which is what fashion should be about.
As told to TODAY's Rheana Murray. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.