In March 2020 just before the Coronavirus Pandemic quarantine began, we sat down with Nina Burns, of season 20 America's Next Top Model, and discussed her views regarding mental health and her expanded career as an influencer, model, and podcaster.
Our March 2020 interview with Nina was a part of our STAY campaign. Our goal was to learn more about Nina’s life experience with mental health and her reasons to stay alive. We learned so much more than this. Nina, who is known to be so wonderfully “bubbly,” optimistic, and fun-spirited, shared some of her struggles in the process, showing us just how strong, inspiring, and determined she is. Her experiences added strength to her life and have given her clarity of who she is as a person. For all of those who are struggling with the “who” of “I am,” we hope that our interview inspires you to keep moving forward, knowing that you’re not alone.
We first asked her, What are your thoughts regarding mental health and the modeling industry?
“It’s important to talk about [mental health and the modeling industry] because there are all these stereotypes surrounding it like, "every model has an eating disorder," or "every model is insecure." All of that can be totally true… but what most people don’t realize is that [as a model] your image is your job, and you cannot take it personally…”
According to a new study conducted by the Model Health Inquiry, as many as 40% of models may currently be suffering from some kind of eating disorder. This brought us to ask Nina, "Tell us about a how you got through a particularly difficult time in your life. "
“[While living in Asia] I had a contract where my measurements were lined out in red and if I did not fit those measurements every week, I was refused my pay— which meant I could not eat for the week... so [while} you can be your own worst enemy, there can be exterior factors [that contribute to this ]... it’s about listening to yourself. I just became depressed and I think that not eating had a huge impact on that. I didn’t really leave the apartment very much, and it was pretty miserable. Coming back to New York and not getting signed by an agency was the lowest point for me. I had a career and then I was making no money and did not know what to do. I think that transitioning into other passions really made it easy for me to mourn, what I thought [modeling] was, and what I wanted to get out of modeling.”
Considering Nina’s life experience in the modeling industry, having some difficulties with her career at one point, and seeing her peers struggle, we asked her:
What words of wisdom would you give to young people who find themselves comparing their bodies/self-image to models and influencers online?
“It’s such a deep, complicated question because I still find myself doing it...comparing myself [to others]. Everything is always changing, and it’s important to think of the ideal beauty type as a piece of clothing. It’s going to go in and out of style, so never put yourself through what is trending in terms of body modifications. The more unique you are, especially on social media, that’s what people take notice of. In other words, the more unique you are, the more you stand out so never compare yourself to somebody— that’s just not going to work. I’d like to think that what I do on social media is share the journey to love oneself— because I’m telling myself that at the same time. If someone is following me on social media [and is struggling or looking up to me] it’s sort of like yeah we can do this together, we’re in the same boat. You’re not alone.
According to ANAD (the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders), Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses. 10,200 deaths each year are the direct result of an eating disorder—that’s one death every 52 minutes. About 26% of people with eating disorders attempt suicide.
With social media influencing on the rise, Nina explains that she believes she can help break the stigma around mental health by talking about it, “I think people need to have a better understanding between the difference of being an influencer, being a model, and who they are at their core.”
At tlk magazine, previously Renewed Awareness Magazine, we believe that every person who may be suffering and is at the point of contemplating suicide, has at least one reason to stay alive. To encourage others around the world to find their reasons to stay, we created a social media-driven campaign of influencers, athletes, and everyday people sharing their stories of struggle, survival, and the journey of finding a reason to stay. This is a vital step to help our loved ones in this terrible situation to STAY. Interviewing Nina, we asked, What are your reasons to stay?
“My reasons to stay are that life changes every single day and I give myself the opportunity to let it change. I have the optimism to say that tomorrow is going to be better. I think that for anybody else, talking to themselves wondering if they should stay, [I believe that it’s important] to have the same optimism. If you're in this state [of mind] and you want it to be better, you’re so distraught, saying things like “why isn't this better, I want it to be better— then you're actually in a productive spot.”
Today, Nina spends her time as an influencer online by supporting her friends, modeling, operating, and co-hosting a podcast with Corey Wade, American model, actor, singer, songwriter, and LGBTQ+ activist. Her most recent project is her own vintage line, a collaboration with her boyfriend. For those struggling right now with life's challenges, her advice is that:
“Everyone has their own story. You are your own person and others may not know exactly what you're going through, but everybody goes through crap and it's rough. That’s also what you have to remind yourself of. This trial and tribulation is something that is going to make you even more unique and more special. If I have learned anything from this journey thus far, I hope to be able to help people that have had the same issue: I can be an example to others.”
For those struggling with an eating disorder please visit https://anad.org/ANAD is the leading nonprofit in the U.S. that provides free, peer support services to anyone struggling with an eating disorder, regardless of age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or background. Please see our resources page at www.tlkmagazine.com/resources for more information on other mental health services, support groups, and areas of mental health expertise.
Written by Jake Ciccarelli
This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.