While gaining weight resulted in gained success as a plus-sized model, Leah Kelley realized that booking major campaigns wasn't worth putting her health at risk.
Years after shedding most of the pounds she purposefully put on, the blonde beauty reflects back on that "unhealthy" time in her career and how she finally learned to love her body—through thick and thin.
"#TBT to my #bodyevolution over the last 8 years," Kelley wrote in an emotional Instagram post, showing herself at three different stages. "The picture on the left is from my first test shoot in NYC At 19 years old. I was my #naturalsize but was not #confident and always would be #bodyshaming myself. The photo in the middle is after I purposely gained #weight to make it in the plus model world. This is also the time I learned to love my body."
The 28-year-old revealed she felt more "perfect" the heavier she got; that she was working in a "parallel" fashion industry where bigger was considered most beautiful.
"I was finally proud to have been the tallest, curviest girl growing up," she said. "I was baffled for years as my straight size friends would be told they needed to lose a few inches here or there, while I was being told I was too skinny."
Yes, she was proud of her size, but Kelley is the first to admit that her health started to suffer as her body began to change.
"I was tired all the time and any physical activity was hard," she explained. "My childhood asthma came back, my joints hurt, everything hurt. I started to realize that my health was and would be effected for the rest of my life if I didn't make a change."
While she finally feels her best at what she considers her "natural size," the Wilhelmina-represented model appreciates every phase of her physical transformation.
"When I look at these 3 pics, I see three #babes. One that was not very healthy or confident (constantly dieting/shaming) but totally should have been, I see one sexy #BBW who is feeling herself but unhealthy as well, and I see myself now," she concluded. "Someone who is happy in her own skin regardless of your or anyone else's opinion. I see the healthiest version of 'me' I have ever been."
Follow Marie Claire on Instagram for the latest celeb news, pretty pics, funny stuff, and an insider POV.
Hollywood's Next A-List
You may not recognize all of them...yet. But these 22 individuals have delivered some of the most triumphant on-screen performances in recent memory.
By Neha Prakash
The Ambition Issue
A celebration of striving for success in whatever's most important to you.
By Marie Claire Editors
I Quit My Job as a CEO to Become an Intern
In an excerpt from her memoir, Alisha Fernandez Miranda takes a one-year break from her role as CEO at a consulting firm to try out the jobs she's always dreamed of doing.
By Alisha Fernandez Miranda
Senator Klobuchar: "Early Detection Saves Lives. It Saved Mine"
Senator and breast cancer survivor Amy Klobuchar is encouraging women not to put off preventative care any longer.
By Senator Amy Klobuchar
How Being a Plus-Size Nude Model Made Me Finally Love My Body
I'm plus size, but after I decided to pose nude for photos, I suddenly felt more body positive.
By Kelly Burch
I'm an Egg Donor. Why Was It So Difficult for Me to Tell People That?
Much like abortion, surrogacy, and IVF, becoming an egg donor was a reproductive choice that felt unfit for society’s standards of womanhood.
By Lauryn Chamberlain
The 20 Best Probiotics to Keep Your Gut in Check
Gut health = wealth.
By Julia Marzovilla
Simone Biles Is Out of the Team Final at the Tokyo Olympics
She withdrew from the event due to a medical issue, according to USA Gymnastics.
By Rachel Epstein
The Truth About Thigh Gaps
We're going to need you to stop right there.
By Kenny Thapoung
3 Women On What It’s Like Living With An “Invisible” Condition
Despite having no outward signs, they can be brutal on the body and the mind. Here’s how each woman deals with having illnesses others often don’t understand.
By Emily Shiffer
The High Price of Living With Chronic Pain
Three women open up about how their conditions impact their bodies—and their wallets.
By Alice Oglethorpe