A side-by-side photo comparison of a former teen model when she was modeling and her current look as a powerlifter is receiving lots of love on social media.
Catherine Harrison, 23, used to model part-time while she was in high school. It was a fun hobby that began when she volunteered to walk the runway at a gala event and was recruited backstage afterward. She continued to do so for a couple of years until she was eventually fired.
“I realized I wasn’t getting any more invitations,” Harrison told “Good Morning America.”
Upon contacting her agency about any potential shows, she learned she was fired. Originally hired as a size six, that very size was the reason for her termination.
“They told me, ‘Hey, actually, we’re going to go with size four and under models now. So if you want to lose some of that extra weight, we can talk about it,” Harrison recounted.
While she understood that dieting and watching your figure was a part of the industry — and did enjoy modeling — the phrasing stung. She couldn’t change the aspects of her body that were susceptible to genetic predisposition, and was already struggling with body dysmorphia at a time media depictions of the ideal female body were just thin and lean.
“It really, really hurt,” she said.
Powerlifting as a means of catharsis
At 17 years old, Harrison was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and joint pain. Her doctor advised that she stop all forms of high-impact exercise as a result.
As someone who was used to living an active lifestyle, she looked for other ways to keep up her fitness that weren’t high impact, which lead to powerlifting. She joined the powerlifting team at the University of Houston, where she could focus on strength training instead of losing weight.
The sport is more about self-improvement above competition against others, according to Harrison. This mindset, along with her team, helped her unlearn unhealthy behaviors and gain more self-confidence.
“They were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And that’s definitely one of the reasons why I’m still lifting today — the fact that the community is so wholesome,” she said. “Naturally, I like to compare myself to other people, but they taught me to not compare myself to other people.”
Even during competitions, where it’s lifter against lifter, Harrison said that “you’re still going cheer them on.”
Her goal when she first entered powerlifting was to qualify and compete in collegiate nationals. She qualified for them this year and in 2020, but was unable to compete due to a COVID-19 travel ban on her college.
On a more personal level, she aimed to hit 300 pounds on deadlift, which she did at the end of last year. She details all of her progress on Instagram, which lifters commonly use a sort of training log.
“It’s fun to look back,” Harrison noted, and added that seeing her improvement over time is a “mental health booster.”
Self-reflection is also what led her to post the now-viral tweet, where she opens up about being fired from modeling for her size.
“It was about me overcoming my body dysmorphia type deal,” Harrison said, though she admitted it’s all a work in progress — there are both good days and bad days.
Not caring about the size of her pants in the updated photo made her realize that she was not only making strides strength-wise, but also mentally as well.
“It’s the fact that I put these pants on and I was like, ‘Damn, I look really freaking good,'” Harrison said.
“Seeing everybody comment on it kind of just really helped and made me feel really happy,” she said. “All the comments like ‘Hey, I’m kind of going through something like that as well’ were humbling.”
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