One former Victoria's Secret model is getting real about her journey to body acceptance — and why she's happier after gaining weight.
Emily DiDonato, 28, shared an honest video on her YouTube channel on Aug. 11, addressing a common issue for many: self-love and confidence.
"People have seen me on billboards or catalogs or ads and might think that I have a perfect body and love myself and have a perfect life, but that's not the case. I've struggled with self-love and my body, and sometimes the reality behind those shoots is often a very insecure person, or at least an insecure day that I'm not feeling my best," she said in the video.
The 5-foot-10-inch model opened up about her decade-long career in the fashion industry, admitting that she sometimes took "extreme measures" to maintain a certain look.
“I don’t think there was ever any specific pivotal moment,” she told TODAY Style on why she decided to post the video on her channel. “It was just my journey and what I went through and sort of finding peace with myself and my body.
"You don’t wake up and say ‘I love myself, I love my body.’ It’s a challenge. It takes work,” DiDonato added.
DiDonato was originally scouted at a mall while she was still in high school. She moved to New York City immediately after graduation, throwing herself into castings. During these meetings, DiDonato recalled being told that she was “too curvy,” “too big” and “too athletic” to be successful.
She thought that she had to be thin to succeed in the competitive industry. To keep up, she dropped from 140 pounds to 118 pounds in just a few weeks, becoming very aware of everything she was eating and exercising as much as possible.
Her dramatic weight loss caught the attention of her friends, fellow model Julia Stegner and makeup artist Charlotte Willer. They both pulled her aside to ask how she was doing, expressing concerns for her well-being. After that encounter, DiDonato said that she regained all of the weight she had lost — and more.
“I said out loud some of the things that I (used to say) to myself in my head,” she told TODAY. “Even saying it out loud I was like, ‘Ouch, that hurt’ ... When I hear how I spoke to myself out loud I was kind of like, ‘Oh my goodness, I would never say that to anyone.’”
Eventually, she told her agency that she wanted to pose for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and landed the gig for the 2013 issue. But when the photos were released, she was worried her curvier body shape would ruin her career.
"I hated the way that I looked. I thought I looked so big and so fat and curvy and just, like, a lot," she said, adding that she thought she wouldn't work again once clients saw her appearance.
The reaction was actually the opposite. DiDonato’s career skyrocketed after the issue came out, and she started working more than ever. Emotionally, the model said she "felt free."
“I think we’ve been bombarded with this certain body ideal by (advertising) and now we have Instagram. So I think another important thing to remember is that a lot of the images that we see ... they’re Photoshopped, it’s Facetune," she said. “Even though they’re not necessarily real, we still compare ourselves to them. I think comparison is the actual devil.”
Now, the model says she tries to "judo chop" negative thoughts whenever they pop up.
DiDonato said she's found peace within herself but knows that her relationship with body acceptance isn't over.
“This journey for me is still a work in progress,” she said. “I still wake up some days, even since I posted that video, and I’m like, ‘I don’t feel great today’ or ‘I don’t feel great in my bikini on vacation 24/7,’” she said. “It’s a journey and I just feel like it’s looking at it like there’s no finish line. It’s just a conversion that’s constantly going to evolve.”
DiDonato’s video received an overwhelming amount of support, both through feedback on her YouTube channel and comments on her personal Instagram page.
“I’m just really happy that it clearly resonated with people and I’ve just been overwhelmed with the response,” she shared. “In my direct messages, there are just so many girls who have reached out to me with their stories and journeys."