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Why a Former Plus-Size Model Wants Us to Be Larger in Life

How Katie Willcox is challenging the media's one-dimensional portrayal of beauty and health.
Katie Willcox

Katie Willcox wears many hats. The former curve model is a new mother, wife, author and business owner working to shatter our perception of "beauty."

Which is no small feat.

After dropping down to a size 10/12, a healthy size for her 5’9 frame, Katie was no longer considered big enough for plus-size modeling. But instead of bowing out of the industry altogether, she decided she wanted to change it and created Healthy Is The New Skinny (HNS), a social movement challenging the modeling industry and public’s perception of “idealistic beauty” that has been created over time.

And she's going full force: This year, she published her first book, Healthy is the New Skinny: Your Guide to Self-Love in a “Picture Perfect” World, which aims to help girls and women navigate and challenge the media programming we’ve received all our lives that tell us “smaller” is better and that our value lies in our appearance. Since launching Healthy Is The New Skinny, she co-hosts her podcast with her former fit-model husband, Brad, has been a featured speaker around the world, and founded Natural Model Management, a management company for models that represent health and an attainable reality for the average woman (which, by the way, is now considered to be the top agency for curve models on the West Coast).

NBC News BETTER checked in with Wilcox to talk breaking "beauty" barriers, guilty pleasures and how motherhood has helped her to redefine happiness and success.

Katie Willcox

What inspired you to leave modeling and start your own business?

After working several years in the fashion industry as a curve model, I began to feel unfulfilled and I realized I was capable of much more than being “pretty." I was inspired to create my brands through my journey from self-loathing to self-love. As weird it sounds, size is a class system, and when I was growing up, no one really addressed this issue or even talked about body image. As I began to discover my own sense of self and love for who I was naturally, I wanted to be able to share that with other girls and women.

Seven years ago, I launched my own modeling agency. As I began this endeavor, I realized how much of an influence models have and how much we need healthy role models in the media. This is what inspired me to start Healthy is the New Skinny, a brand dedicated to challenging the media's one-dimensional portrayal of beauty and health.

"I am now so grateful for every closed door because it has challenged me to keep creating and it reminds me that the only limitations I have are the ones I set for myself."

Tell us about a tough moment that you made you better.

It is funny how people think that a door closing is an indication of failure. Even though I have had a pretty successful career as a plus size model, I never had a "big time" modeling agency choose me as their "it girl." When I was younger, I viewed that as a failure. In retrospect, I realize it was what led me to my success. Had I let other people build my success for me, I would not have created it for myself on my own terms; and sadly, I would have no idea what I was capable of. I am now so grateful for every closed door because it has challenged me to keep creating and it reminds me that the only limitations I have are the ones I set for myself.

When did you feel like you really "made it?"

My husband and I talk about this a lot because we both come from small towns and created our success together from the ground up. That being said, we weren't raised with extra money, so for us it is the little things like grabbing something from the mini bar at the hotel and not worrying about the price, even if it is $6 pack of peanut M&M's. It’s so different from how we grew up and we really feel proud of ourselves when we have those little moments even though we are still frugal. I think it's those little moments that feel best versus seeking praise from others in order to feel like you’ve "made it." Your life is what you make it. For us, happiness is our greatest accomplishment.

Katie Willcox

What do you do every morning to set yourself up for success?

Each morning, I get my daughter from her crib. She is always so excited and happy to see me. It literally makes it impossible to be in a bad mood! Next, we all go to Starbucks for breakfast. This is our morning routine and it helps me to get a jump-start on the day.

What’s on your nightstand right now?

I am currently reading a really great book called, “Your Body Keeps the Score,” which is all about the connection between your mind and body as it heals from trauma. It is so interesting. I also always have water and my phone charger on my nightstand.

The one guilty pleasure you can’t stop, won’t stop:

If I am being honest ... watching the show "Teen Mom" on MTV. LOL. (Hey, I could have lied and said something less embarrassing so I should get a little credit!)

Favorite workout jam of the moment:

My husband and I listen to Avenged Sevenfold when we work out!

What is your favorite way to stay fit?

After having a baby it was difficult to get back to working out because I had lost all my strength I had built from lifting weights prior my pregnancy. I have been slowly getting back at it, lifting heavy weights in our home gym. I also got a Peloton spin bike, which is awesome! I can work out at home so my baby can hang out on the floor with us.

Career crush:

I love John Oliver! I admire his ability to talk about serious topics and make them funny and relatable. That for me, is always a goal.

What I’m looking forward to most this week/month:

I have some really awesome events coming up! We did a self-love course at the Children's Hospital LA for teenage girls living with chronic illness. We are doing a makeover day with a photo shoot for their graduation and a free event open to the public where we will be accepting donations for the hospital. I will be giving a free body image media presentation and it will be a great time to celebrate these young women. If am also so excited to be speaking at the Wanderlust Festival in Tahoe in July!

"If all else fails in life, raising a child who knows she is loved and valued for who she is, not who we would like her to be, will be our greatest accomplishment."

What goal(s) are you currently working on?

My goal right now is to be an amazing mother and partner to my husband, Bradford. Our daughter is 9 months old and we are lucky to be able to work from home and when we travel she comes with us too! If all else fails in life, raising a child who knows she is loved and valued for who she is, not who we would like her to be, will be our greatest accomplishment. #goals

One Small thing that makes me healthier/better/more sane:

For me, understanding that my physical appearance is just my costume for this life and my looks do not dictate who I am as a person. Being able to understand that creates such a healthy mindset because it allows me to search for my meaning of life outside of myself. In doing so, I have found all different kinds of passions and purpose I didn't know I had.