Posted on January 18 2017
This week's Wednesday Woman is model, mama and blogger Louise Boyce. A child model who found international fame, Louise quit the industry after developing bulimia and becoming disillusioned with the industry's unhealthy obsession with size. But she is back - a happy and healthy "curve" model and mother. Here's her inspiring story:
Danielle Newnham: Can you tell us about your background and how/when you first started your modelling career?
Louise Boyce: It all goes back to my childhood – I must have been about 8 years old. One morning over breakfast I was looking at the back of the packet of cereal, when I pointed out to my mum that the girl on the back of the box was asleep, but smiling. I didn’t think people could smile in their sleep. My mum pointed out that she wasn’t really asleep - she was a model pretending to sleep. ‘What’s a model?’ I asked. This was the day I realised I wanted to be a model when I grew up.
When I was 14, my mum’s friend, Janet came over for a cuppa. She used to model back in the 60’s and mentioned that I should talk to a couple of agencies, as I was the right height, frame and the perfect age to start modeling. We made an appointment with one of the biggest agencies in London who represented the biggest names in the business – the models I looked up to and found so inspiring.
One day during the school summer holidays in 1994, mum and I jumped on the 211 bus and went to the Kings Road to meet with the agency. I was full of mixed emotions – excited, terrified, nervous, optimistic, pessimistic.
When we arrived, the agent I was meant to be seeing, James wasn’t there. All my adrenaline crashed and I felt so disheartened and foolish. Why would they wait around to see me?? Mum and I dragged our feet to the nearest coffee shop for a pep talk and regroup.
There was another agency around the corner – so mum, full of positivity decided it was a good idea to see them instead. So I agreed and we walked the small distance to meet with them. We were seen immediately, which I was delighted with – my hopes and dreams suddenly all flashing back to me. After what felt like a very long wait, I was told by an agent that I lacked model material and that I wasn’t right for their agency. My confidence, pride, dreams all shattered – for the second time that day. So once again, Mum and I dragged our feet to the nearest coffee shop for a pep talk and regroup.
Whilst mum was drinking her coffee doing her best to keep my mind of this morning’s events, a man walked over to our table. "Excuse me, have you ever thought about becoming a model?" It was James from the first agency! I explained we had tried to see him earlier that day - he apologised he hasn’t been at the agency when we arrived. We went back to the agency and within 20 minutes I was signing a modeling contract with one of the biggest agencies in the world.
Newnham: What were the early days of your career like? What were some of the highs and lows?
Boyce: Shortly after I signed the contact, I was put up for a few modeling competitions – ‘Face of ‘95’ which I came 1st in the South England final and runner up in the UK Grand Final. Then I represented England in the ‘European New Face Model of the Year’ competition, which I won! A good start!
However, the early days of my career aren’t especially filled with happiness and optimism. In fact they were quite bleak. I found out very quickly that modeling is hard work, mentally and physically. It was the first time (aged 14) that I started questioning my looks, my weight and my fashion sense. It was the first time I started to look at all the other models I was in competition with and doubt myself, almost dislike myself.
Mum gave me money every day for a travel card so I could go to my castings (a casting is a 2 minute interview with a potential client to look at you and see if you are right for their brand or not – it can be very demoralising and soul destroying). I would go on casting after casting with no luck – it frustrated me, but I knew I had to start at the bottom and work my way up. My usual day consisted of 10-20 castings all over London. It was exhausting and day after day I would come home with bleeding feet and a bleeding heart, as once again, I had been unsuccessful at the castings. Then one day I got a call from my agent, saying I had been confirmed for a shoot with Shout Magazine. I was THRILLED!! My first ever magazine shoot!!
Quite soon into my career, I was pulled aside by my agent to talk about ‘my weight issue’. I was told I needed to lose some weight. For the record, I was a size 8. I was told that I needed to be smaller to book the big clients. It was the same time the 90’s heroin chic look was hot off the press, Kate Moss had just done her Calvin Klein campaign and everyone was trying to fit into this look, including myself, which was the complete opposite of who I was … So I was struck off for two weeks to lose weight. TWO WEEKS! They wanted me to somehow magically lose weight in 2 weeks. I was now 15 and had absolutely no idea about dieting…why would I? I was a healthy size 8 and had never even entertained the idea that I needed to lose weight.
I went on holiday with my friend Laura and her family to Tenerife for a week. It was the perfect time to get away. Whilst on holiday, there was one particular night I ate loads and I felt so guilty about it. I ate so much that my stomach ached, and then I drank too much, danced too much and it resulted with me throwing up. The next morning I felt reassured that all the calories I had eaten the night before were now void. Consequently, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment. I would eat what I wanted, but then throw it all up at the end of the day. And this seemed like a really great idea.
My bulimia continued in silence for two long years. I was now 17 and fraction on my former self. My self doubt and confidence had hit rock bottom. My disease had made me lose the weight needed, but the side effects of being sick 2-3 times a day started to take its toll on everything else. My skin was grey and spotty, my hair limp, my teeth yellow from the acid that was passing them every day, I had calluses on my knuckles from where they brushed against my teeth to throw up. I was constantly tired, my periods had stopped completely and I would have black outs on the tube on a regular basis. I didn’t really socialise as I was too tired and I literally became someone I didn’t know. I was miserable. And I couldn’t see a way out.
Around the same time, a friend of mine who I had known since birth fell over in her bathroom, hit her head on the bathtub and tragically died. She was 18 years old. It made me question everything, and the next day I called my agency and quit the business.
The few months that followed after this, I started to feel like a new woman. I was holding down all my food – I had gained weight which I was slightly uncomfortable with at first, but I could also see the positive effects of eating a healthy diet. I had energy, I had colour in my face, my periods came back, I got a boyfriend and I was happy. I started to work as a receptionist for a company in Richmond (where I’m from) and I was happy to see the back of the industry. I promised I would never go back.
Two years later, when I looking for another office job, I bumped into the winner from the ‘Face of ‘95’ competition on the street. She was still modeling but she was a happy curvy size 14. She told me that she was with a small agency in London who represents models with curves. I laughed it off as I had never head of anything so ridiculous. How on earth could models be any bigger than a size 8 and work?? I Googled the agency when I got back to my desk and I suddenly felt full of the same mixed emotions when I was 14 on the Kings Road - excited, terrified, nervous, optimistic, pessimistic. I emailed them immediately. A month later, I quit my job and was shooting lingerie packaging for Marks and Spencer – as a healthy size 14
Newnham: How has your career evolved over the years?
Boyce: My career evolved better than I could have expected when I became a ‘plus size’ model. I was finally living my dream – shooting as a model on a regular basis, earning good money, travelling all over the world - I was happy and I was finally accepted as myself. I worked so much that I had to ask my agent to book me days off just so I could spend some time with my family or attend a friends weddings.
The ‘plus size’ industry was also evolving too. High street names we all know and love, like H&M, River Island, Marks and Spencer and ASOS were all launching their ‘plus’ collections and more work poured in. I felt like I was finally accepted as me, by being me. I was even asked to open Milan Fashion week one season – as a curvy model. This had been my dream when I first starting modeling when I was 14, and I thought it would never happen when I quit the business as I was considered too fat… The dream had come true, and I was living it as my usual happy self.
By this point I had agencies in London, Hamburg, Milan and New York - so in 2004 I moved to NY when my career took off again. I realised my story was inspirational to other aspiring models or women who has been suffering with an eating disorder. It felt empowered knowing that I could help other women who were struggling with similar difficulties, and I did manage to help other women get their confidence back. I was invited to schools to talk to teenage girls about weight issues, I was being interviewed on TV and in the magazines about my story. I wanted people to know that it’s OK to be you.
What I find fascinating, ironic, or maybe just symbolic, is how I was incredibly miserable, broke and a shadow of my former self when I tried to fit in, or tried to be something that society wanted me to be. When I decided to walk my own path, on my terms and my rules, I prospered. I want all women to love themselves for being them. I believe that nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful. After so many years of self doubt and hatred, I felt like I had finally shed my skin, and I loved the new skin I was in.
My new confidence and self love opened up more doors than I could have imagined. It was only when I loved myself for being me that I found a man who loved me for me. We got married and I became a mother – something I was told would never happen as my periods stopped for many years during my illness.
And a whole new chapter of my life was about to begin.
Newnham: Congrats on the launch of your Mama Still Got It site - can you tell us more about it and what your mission is with it?
Boyce: Thank you! I am slightly overwhelmed by the fantastic response I’ve had. It’s quite daunting writing a blog when it includes writing about yourself…almost a bit like showing your dirty laundry to complete strangers, but I’m really pleased I decided type my thoughts down and share them.
The blog is called ‘Mama Still Got It’ and my tagline is ‘Written for Mothers – read my women’. And just like ‘Ronsil’ it does exactly what is says on the tin.
My modelling career started over 20 years ago when I was a prepubescent 14 year old and a stick insect. Today I’m a 36 year old curvy size 14. I should be considered extinct within the industry, but by hook or by crook I am still in the business – and naturally the name ‘Mama Still Got It’ was born. Regardless if you're a model or not - we all want to be better, look better, feel better … My mum once said to me 'You must get better with age…otherwise what's the point?' This resonated with and became my vision in life. It wasn’t about who I was back then, but who I am now and what I will grow into and this excites me.
Over the years my love for skincare, general well-being, fashion and cosmetics has been a passion of mine that has evolved (as I have too). So think of ‘Mama Still Got It’ as a blog dedicated to all mothers. We have the hardest job in the world, and it’s not to be underestimated. Sometimes women can lose their identity when they become a mother. We can almost become pigeon-holed and I think it’s important to embrace our strength, beauty, pride, identity and confidence as we take on daily challenges as a mother.
When a child is born, so is a mother. And that mother is a woman. And that woman is YOU. And YOU want to be the best you can be for your family. If YOU are OK, the kids are OK.
Newnham: Finally, if you could go back in time to a younger Louise at the beginning of her career, what advice, if any, would you offer her?
Boyce: Wow what a question – and one that automatically brings tears to my eyes. In this scenario, it’s when she’s in the height of her bulimia and I envision me and my younger self sitting opposite each other.
She looks frail and lost. She is thin and unhappy. I squeeze her so tightly that I can feel her bones protruding through her skin. I cup her sunken face with my hands, look so deeply into her eyes that I can see her soul – and she has a beautiful soul.
I tell her she is perfect in every way, just the way she is. That she doesn’t need to fit in for anybody, that she can be who is she and still be happy and successful. That she is beautiful and she is loved. I want her to know it’s OK to be different. That is OK to make mistakes and to be wrong. It’s fine to take one step back before taking two steps forward. I would tell her to stop trying to be someone she’s not and learn to love herself – as when you love yourself, the world will love you back. I would advise her to speak up when she doesn’t agree with something or fight back when someone is a bully to her. Above all – I would tell her that everything is going to be OK. That she will get married to a wonderful man - that she will go on to have two children even though she had been told it wasn’t possible. I would tell her she has a very a happy future.
Then I would tell her not to throw away her vintage Prada bag and get it fixed instead!