Sarah-Jane is on a journey to love herself, inspire self-love in others and shift beauty standards to create positive change for the next generation.
TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses eating disorders. If you, or someone close to you, needs support for an eating disorder, please contact the Butterfly Foundation. Phone and webchat support is available.
Ask any woman if she’s ever disliked her body and the answer will likely be yes. Ask a child and you’d hope for a no. That wasn’t the case for a young Sarah-Jane. “I remember the first time I felt ‘fat’… I would have been 5-ish. No way did I understand the concept or remember what exactly made me think that way,” Sarah-Jane says.
Looking back, she sees that she was influenced subconsciously by the beauty standards she saw around her. Years of subtle messaging had such a profound effect that it drove Sarah to diet before she’d even turned 10. This manifested into fad dieting and over-exercising in her teens, but treating this destructive behaviour wasn’t the focus as Sarah-Jane was also working through mental health issues. By 26 Sarah-Jane had developed and worked through two eating disorders.
Her weight-loss wasn’t extreme so she didn’t require hospitalisation. This was a blessing and a curse. “I'm lucky in the sense that the physical damage is minimal for me,” Sarah-Jane explains, “[but] I was mostly complimented and praised for losing weight which only made me think I ‘have to keep doing this’.”
Misplaced positive reinforcement and mental health struggles made her condition that much harder, but the support of her mother helped Sarah-Jane make it through. “She is my best friend, my mother and my soul mate all rolled into one. Going through a series of traumatic events can bond you to someone in ways like never done before,” she says.
This bond helps Sarah-Jane stay healthy and get back on track if she ever loses her way. Although she acknowledges how far she’s come, she is acutely aware of the fact that she hasn’t fully recovered. “While I considered myself recovered, I don't feel I am fully recovered and probably never will be. Like any addiction, just because I am not actively engaging and haven't for a long time doesn't mean I won’t relapse. Recovery is never linear so being aware and mindful is so important,” she says.
Sarah-Jane isn’t shying away from the challenge. In fact, she appreciates things that force her to work on her positive relationship with herself. Her career as a model is one of those things. “I struggle more with self-doubt and comparison to other models, but this industry has constantly made me work on these issues. I don’t think I would be where I am mentally if I wasn't practising self-talk and self-acceptance,” she says.
Sarah-Jane doesn’t only practice privately – she opens up about her self-love journey on her Instagram page @learningtolovesarah. Her page is a refreshing mix of honest confessions, self-love wins, encouragement and satirical posts that challenge the status quo. It’s no surprise that her positive, entertaining yet meaningful content appeals to many.
“Getting messages from people who resonate with my content and story fills my heart with joy,” says Sarah-Jane, “for someone who once covered all the mirrors in the house to avoid seeing their own reflection, being vulnerable and open on a global scale is something I will always be proud of.”
Her platform is also her soapbox, and her message is that things need to change. Sarah-Jane’s experience is proof that standards up-held by media and society have a profound impact on how young people think, so they should be more reflective of the broad spectrum of difference we see in reality. “My generation is having to unlearn these thoughts… hopefully, the generations after us don't even learn them to begin with. That all starts with diversity and representation in all aspects,” Sarah-Jane says.
Her goal is to not only to see diversity but have it so ingrained in our culture that it is normalised and not a trend. “I personally would love to see different ages, body shapes (not just hour-glasses), body hair, stretch marks, scars, different ethnicities, genders, he, she or they, differently-abled bodies - all that good stuff. Unfortunately, Australia is slow to change but even a small step forward is still forward. I want publishers, brands, influencers to know it's really obvious when you using diversity as a trend,” Sarah-Jane says.
Sarah-Jane is also supporting the next generation as a Youth Worker in a homeless shelter for young people. “Being able to support and watch the kids grow and thrive is a constant sense of pride. Not for myself, but for them, and being able to be a part of their journey,” she says.
A strong understanding of life as a journey and the inevitability and power of change helps Sarah-Jane stay resilient. “I always feel like I am changing, I’m not who I was yesterday or who I will be tomorrow,” she explains, “I think that is a powerful concept - allowing yourself to accept who you are but knowing you can always change. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to grow.”
At this stage in her life, Sarah-Jane is most proud of her sense of self. “For the longest time, I didn’t know who I was or how I fit into this world. My sense of self has allowed me to discover my confidence and strengths. It’s somewhere I never thought I’d get to, but I’m so happy to be here.”
When she reflects on the struggles of her younger self, she remembers feeling ‘outcast’ and ‘unloved’. Feeling loved has led to a growth in confidence, bravery and resilience so her chosen Powerpants affirmation is suitably one that has led her to positive change – “I am loved”.
"I’m not who I was yesterday or who I will be tomorrow."
About the Author
Alegria Alano is a roaming writer and a bottomless pit of curiosity. Most of her time is spent exploring new places, interesting ideas and fascinating people. She writes about what she discovers in a diary, on alegria-alano.com, and more regularly on the gram at @alegriaalano.