by: Amanda Webster
There are many things that make me cringe. Running into an ex-boyfriend unexpectedly at the store, for example. For actress and former supermodel, Jennifer Gimenez, it’s something most of us would never give second thought to: A tape measure.
Having been discovered at 13 years old, she began modeling professionally. At 14 she appeared on the cover of Elle Magazine and went onto to appear in ad campaigns for Guess and Calvin Klein. The modeling industry was not kind to her developing shape, consistently telling her that she was getting too curvy and encouraging her to lose weight. They were constantly measuring her, and it seemed that her entire career was in jeopardy if the numbers on that tape changed.
Not wanting to lose her dream, she began to misuse laxatives, would sometimes only eat lettuce for weeks, and eventually turned to cocaine to maintain the figure that they had convinced her was “perfect.” “Drugs and alcohol told me things no one else was telling me about myself,” she recalls. “I’m beautiful. I’m smart. It will never abandon me or leave me. I can do anything.”
No Easy Escape
What she didn’t realize until many years later were the mental health struggles lying under the surface. With stacking unresolved traumas, a crumbling sense of self-worth, and memories from her home in Argentina of smiling friends and family with drinks in hand, she spiraled for almost a decade into the dark world of alcohol, drugs and anorexia.
At 21, she finally tried to get sober but, by her own admission, wasn’t “ready to do the work and dig deep into my traumas.” As her sponsor told her, she couldn’t address the addiction without addressing the mental health. It became a paradox that she couldn’t quit the drugs without addressing her mental health, but the drugs were seemingly the only thing that helped her cope with it.
Months later, she found herself walking through the double doors of a psych ward, her mom crying on the other side of the line, separating her from her loved ones, before the series of locks began clicking behind her. As she looked at a guy in a chair, eyes rolling back in his head, drooling on himself, she hit an emotional rock bottom, wondering how she got from being a kid just wanting some relief to finding herself here. Unable to find answers, she took advantage of the crack in protocol that her belt had slipped through and attempted to end her life. “The last thing I remember were my feet dangling and everything went black.”
Her survival only fueled her grim narrative of being a failure, now feeling unable to live or die “correctly.” What had started as a short detox visit found a once bombshell supermodel unable to form sentences, constantly profusely shaking and in a wheelchair, covered in her own bodily fluids.
The End Was Only the Beginning
Between medications, barely being able to move and a still unhealthy mindset, Jennifer gained over 140 pounds while going through her detox, putting her at 267. Once obsessed with “perfection” to the point of anorexia, her struggles led her to the other side of the spectrum: obesity. She thought that her clothes were shrinking, or the scale was broken. Now she was avoiding tape measures for a whole other reason.
Part of her was happy to have found a connection with people that loved her, regardless of her looks or weight, and friends that knew that “perfection” was an illusion left up to the interpretation of individuals. Jennifer wanted to embrace her natural curves and didn’t care about the numbers on the scale, but she still didn’t feel balanced. “I didn’t care that I was heavy,” she explains, “But I wanted my mind, body and spirit to connect, and I knew something wasn’t connecting.” Just like cocaine had convinced her that it was good for her, so had the extra pounds. On her knees, she realized that her vices had betrayed her. She looked in the mirror again, smiled at herself and said, “Thank you weight, but I no longer need you. I’m ready to be my best.”
Balancing the Scales
Like many individuals, she was initially drawn into the quick fixes and restrictive regimes of different diets, cleanses and workout routines. Despite losing forty pounds from doing cardio six days a week with a sporadic eating plan, it was quickly evident that this wasn’t sustainable in the long term. Jennifer didn’t just want to lose weight, she wanted to lead a healthy lifestyle. With a bit of guidance and a lot of experimenting, she found a routine that she was happy with, doing 15-20 minutes of strength training with free weights and resistance equipment three times a week, 40-60 minutes of cardio on the treadmill or elliptical, or 45 minutes of swimming several times a week.
After a year, she weighed 127 pounds, but still found herself unhappy. Her eating habits were all over the place because she had developed such an unhealthy relationship with food, having lived her entire life on one of the two ends of the unhealthy spectrum: anorexic and obese. She kept a food journal for nine months to discover the roots of her emotional eating until she could do the tracking in her head. Still, she didn’t restrict herself or count anything, she simply opted for healthier options of her favorite foods and began incorporating healthy snacks throughout the day, such as nuts and fruits. As she celebrates fifteen years, five months and twenty-six days sober (as of July 10th, 2021), she looks back on her journey with compassion, realizing that she had simply listened to the wrong people instead of listening to herself. Now, she can simultaneously realize that she is worth so much more than her weight, while also recognizing that nutrition and fitness are connected to mental health, enabling her to find a balance that allows her to embrace her natural beauty while still being healthy.
To listen to Jennifer’s inspirational full interview, click here.
About the author:
Amanda is a certified Holistic Nutritionist and Yoga instructor, model, mom and writer. She’s been featured in publications such as Oxygen, Cosmopolitan, Yoga Journal, Women’s Health, Instyle and Phoenix Magazine and also has a YouTube channel where she reacts to songs pertaining to mental health, vlogs about her mental health journey and interviews celebrities and influencers about their mental health journeys.
To learn more about the author’s personal experiences with addiction, mental health, fitness and nutrition, click here.
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