At a recent event in Los Angeles entitled The F Word (for Feminism), Lisa D'Amato, known from America's Next Top Model, shared her personal journey with the audience. Her message was clear: Don't judge a book by its cover, because you never know what someone has been through to become the person they are today.
Choking back tears, Lisa shared her brutally honest story with tremendous courage, beginning with "my mom in particular was really great at bringing in pedophiles... She had no confidence whatsoever. She really allowed all these men to come in and abuse her, abuse us. And if we ever complained about it, it was our fault because we were that whore, we were that slut, we were going to amount to nothing." Lisa and her sister were constantly told by their mom that they were ugly, fat and stupid. [Lisa' mom] taught them how to have eating disorders including bulimia.
Bring along modeling, which she began at the age of 12, a profession she saw as a "way to escape her life." She could fly far away to New York, London or Paris, hoping it would allow her to run away from all of the abuse. But things only got worse -- wherever you go, there you are -- and in her own words, "They tear you down all day long [as a model]."
There was a silver lining when she "got to this place where I was so beaten down, I had no reason to live. I did not want to wake up in the morning. I binged and purged eight times a day to the point I was throwing up blood clots." She ended up in the hospital and realized that the one person she did not want to be like, she was exactly like -- her own mother. That realization allowed her to begin to change herself and her life. She became healthier and slowly built back up her metabolism.
"I feel so blessed to have learned these lessons so early... Something inside told me this was all happening for a reason and I was going to have to tell my story... and that it was probably part of my purpose." All in all, she knows that her struggles grew her character. "I don't know how many times I doctored myself up with pills so I wouldn't have to wake up, but I'm here, I got through it... And every single day now I look at my son and I can't believe that I was so willing to die."
She talks about how women can often be so eager to tear each other down. Often she is criticized for being overly confident and bold. After living a story of abuse and feeling unlovable, she feels that she's earned the right to be confident. She reminds us that we often don't know the story of someone else's life, the painful struggle to get to a point of self-love, to stop the cycle of abuse and depression.
Our struggles make our life story and if we can find the strength to move beyond them and create a new pattern for our existence, these challenges make us "bold and beautiful, dynamic and amazing, enlightened and empowered."
Some of us have painfully abusive histories that require tremendous strength to overcome. The memories affect our daily existence, our philosophy about life, and our view of ourself. Some have histories of abuse, yet we have blacked out the experience and no longer have a conscious memory of it, yet it festers in our subconscious and profoundly affects us as we go through life. Without awareness, it can create habitual patterns of behavior that seem out of our control and beyond our grasp to change.
Others may have avoided the sexual, physical and emotional abuse, but the trauma from life can still affect you. We can make an effort to live consciously, to seek out the answers, to have the realizations -- however painful -- as Lisa did, to look in the mirror and realize she was just like her mother who mistreated her, allowing her to change the course of her life. She is an amazing example that you can break the cycle and change your life for the better, even in the midst of the direst of situations; there is hope for a better tomorrow.
We can all use a bit of Lisa's courage, boldness and empowerment (yes, even men). Or as she said best, "Live with a vengeance! Embrace the weirdness and rise above it all!" Oh yes, Lisa, I intend to!
If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.