Photo: Ruven Afanador

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Michelle Trotter, South Orange, New Jersey
Age: 44
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 217
Goal: Weigh 155 to 165 pounds; wear a bikini without hiding

When you've spent 30 years in the modeling industry, you're bound to have some body issues. I've never been a tiny waif, but when I moved to New York City early in my career, I got a little too excited about all the 24-hour delis. I put on some weight, and my agent was horrified. He told me I needed to throw up, or do whatever I had to do, to whittle down.

Eventually, the agency dropped me, but even with new representation I faced the same issues: At one photo shoot in Italy, I thought I was thin, but the photographer kept saying, "Suck in your gut." It embeds something dark in your psyche. I look back at all the years I thought I needed to lose ten pounds and realize now how amazing I looked. I wasted so much time not valuing who I was.

An agent I knew offered me work as a plus-size model. I made a wonderful living for years, but since giving birth to my second child last summer, I'm 65 pounds heavier than I've ever been. I'm so thankful for my kids, and I've made peace with who I am, but I definitely need to do something. There have been so many birthdays, events, and vacations where my clothes didn't fit—and that doesn't feel right.

My son is still an infant, but I have a 9-year-old daughter, and I want her to see me empowered, taking care of myself. I never want her to think she's not "enough"—the way I've felt for so long because of the career I chose. I remember an episode of Oprah's show where women were talking about criticizing their own bodies in front of their children, and an expert said, "What you say about yourself, your daughter hears." I didn't have kids then, and I thought, I would never do that. Those stupid mothers. Now I beat myself up about my body all the time, and my daughter hears it. But I don't think it's too late to start practicing what I've been preaching.

Watch Michelle and Jenny tell their stories at

Model Citizen
From top: Michelle, photographed for the May 1998 issue of Essence magazine, in Mexico; a beach selfie with her son in November 2015.

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Photo: Frits Berends

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Photo: Courtesy of Michelle Trotter