At 5ft 8in tall, and a UK size 6, Charli Howard was deemed ‘too big’ by her modelling agency, and was dropped in 2015. Having gone to extreme measures to keep her weight low, this was the last straw for Charli, and she published a powerful social media post, calling out problems in the industry, that went viral. Now, two years later, she’s an advocate for body positivity, and in February released her first book, Misfit, documenting her journey through anorexia, bulimia, and anxiety
At the start of your book, you warn that you’re going to use words that some may find offensive. Why was it important for you to talk about your illness in your own words?
When I call myself cray-cray, or bonkers, or mental, it’s just a humorous thing. I always try to make fun of myself. If you don’t make fun of yourself, how do you deal with your illness? I’d just cry.
You dedicated Misfit to “all the girls who ever felt their bodies weren’t good enough”. Why?
Because there are so many girls just like me. They have so much pressure on them to be a certain size, and we need to build them up in other ways. Talk to them about being a good friend, or developing a career. Don’t just tell them to be pretty.
You describe your eating disorder as a “fashionable illness”. What does that mean?
People are fascinated by women in the media who’ve had eating disorders. These women are suffering, but the media, and agents, make out it is a choice for fashion. I remember comments from agents who would say: “You need to look anorexic, but not be anorexic.” That’s horrific, and you could never imagine anyone saying that kind of thing, but people do.
How did you take a step back from the industry to recognise you had an illness?
It sounds far fetched, but this is honestly what happened: I remember going into the bathroom after being dropped from my agents, and looking at myself in the mirror. I suddenly knew I wasn’t overweight. I was a lot thinner than most girls were, so why did I see myself as morbidly obese? A year later I started going to cognitive behavioural therapy, which helped me to understand my thoughts. I used to attack myself all the time, and that’s not going to help anyone get anywhere.
Since joining the body positivity movement, do you receive less body shaming?
It’s weird. I feel like there’s different forms of it. I run a charity called the All Women Project, and we put these pictures on Twitter when it first started – they’re all untouched images of women from size zero to 16. We got abuse from people who thought our models weren’t big enough, and so couldn’t understand body insecurity. But I think women of all shapes and sizes can feel insecure.
Speaking up about problems in the industry has opened new doors for you, and taken you into the body positivity movement. Did you expect that?
No, and it’s weird how life works out. Going into the body positivity movement wasn’t on my mind. I never wanted to be the size I am now; it was my biggest fear. But I am this size, and I get to help other girls by talking about my own experiences. I think this is something that was meant to happen in my life.
Why do you think people responded so well to you when you did speak up?
I think it was a conversation that we needed to have. I wasn’t the only one who had dealt with it, but I was open to talk about it. I certainly wasn’t the first, and I won’t be the last.
Charli’s book ‘Misfits’ is available now, RRP £12.99, Penguin.
Follow Charli on Instagram @CharliHoward