Dear 18-year-old-Mia,

I’m writing to give you some advice. I know you’re stubborn and you probably don’t want it, but hopefully I can provide you with insight that will take some pressure off your shoulders. Because right now, although everything looks “perfect” from the outside, I know you’re struggling.

You’re a successful international model and you’ve accomplished more at your young age than you ever thought you would. Well done. You’re signed with the top agencies around the world and working with the greatest designers in all the fashion capitals. You’re earning money, in demand, independent and self-sufficient. Life seems good, you “have it all.”

But you’re still not happy. In fact, you’re more miserable now than you’ve ever been, and it’s only going to get worse.

What I know that no one else knows, is that your insecurities are at an all-time high. You hate yourself. You wake up every morning, look in the mirror and detest what you see. You fall asleep every night thinking about what you can do to improve your imperfections. You’re not eating – just a bit of chocolate or a protein bar here and there to keep you going, followed by a handful of laxatives because you can’t live with the guilt and self-loathing of eating.

You don’t want to be like this. You’ve tried eating — you love food – but when you eat you bloat because your body can’t digest anymore. You’ve been living like this for years, since you were 13. You even passed out on the tram on the way to that photoshoot the other day – we both know that this happens regularly. Hiding this is consuming you. You thought if you could lose weight then you’d be happy and could resume life as normal, looking skinny — looking what a woman “should look like” — but now you’re trapped in a vicious cycle. The frustrations of this endless nightmare have led you to suicidal thoughts — you’ve never admitted this to anyone. If you have to live with this burdening guilt every time you eat for the rest of your life, you would rather tap out. But let me tell you that there is a way out of this. Recovery is not only possible, but it’s coming your way.

You’re a smart young woman who’s debating on whether to go to university. You told your parents you would go but I know you don’t want to lose momentum with your career. GO! Develop your mind. When was the last time you even picked up a book? Your appearance will fade, your figure will inevitably go, but this is not what defines you. Never lose track of yourself. Develop your intelligence, work towards your potential. Your education is something that can never be taken away. Develop yourself as a person – your values, experiences, integrity, what you contribute to the world. Develop yourself as a woman and be the woman that you always dreamed of being as a little girl, because right now, this isn’t her.

Since you can remember, as a female, you have been told how you should look. From growing up in a household with a mother who always tried to keep her weight down, and living in a culture where slim was the only way to be beautiful, to working in an industry where you have to conform to a standard size. The pressure has not only been felt but has now consumed your mind and body. You feel like there is a mould you need to fit to be deemed as “beautiful,” and if you are “beautiful” you will be happy. It is time for you to start unlearning this and all the societal pressures you have ever felt.

Let me tell you now: stop trying to fit in. Being secure with yourself is the key. Confidence comes from nowhere else but inside of you. You will get better only when you want to get better, no one can force you to start recovering, not even me. But the first step is respecting yourself. Begin the process of learning to love yourself. When that happens, everything will fall into place.

All my love,

Mia Kang