What I Learned From My Years As A Model & Runner

What I Learned From My Years As A Model & Runner

Me as a 22-year-old model

We all know that Women’s Running magazine made a splash for putting shapely model Erica Schenk on their magazine cover last month. I’ve written for Women’s Running (check out: Kauai Is The Ultimate Vacation For Runners), and praised their move on Twitter.

I’ve watched with interest how the fashion industry and the running world alike have started to—but not fully—address the normative images of beauty, health, and fitness. Most recently, France banned the use of models with a BMI of under 18 from working in the country. Israel, Italy and Spain have similar measures in place.

I used to be one of those models. That’s me 15 years ago. Thigh gap? I had it.



I rarely talk about my former life as a model. In fact, this is the first time I’ve written about it here. My brief stint in the fashion industry left a sour taste in my mouth. Working as a model made me susceptible to unhealthy habits that may have made me skinny, but certainly not fit. When I started running—12 years younger and 12 pounds lighter than I am now—I fit the stereotype of what a runner “looked” like. People used to assume I was fast because I was skinny. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

All too often we equate fitness with thinness. And that’s why I was happy to see Schenk on the cover of Women’s Running. Because we all know that a runner doesn’t look like any one thing, doesn’t run at any one speed, and that fitness has little to do with weight. You see people of all shapes and sizes toward the front, in the middle, and in the back of the pack at races.



It’s taken time, but I’m more comfortable in my skin now than I was then. These photos (all un-retouched) were taken about 15 years apart. Don’t I even look happier?

I wrote about my experience as a model—and lessons learned—for Shape.com. It wasn’t even my idea. My editor twisted my arm into writing an essay after she learned about my past life. After some hesitation, I finally gave in. Here it is.

From Stilettos to Sneakers: How Quitting Modeling Made Me Healthier and Happier

Confession: I used to model. I was young, I was beautiful, and I didn’t know it. I stumbled into modeling as a lanky musical theater performer in New York City. After one model scout, then another, stopped me on the street, I found an agency. I figured it beat waiting tables. I was 22 years old and had an “underweight” BMI of 18.2. “Normal” starts at 18.5, according to the National Institutes of Health.



But I didn’t think of myself as a model. I was shocked every time someone hired me: major-market magazines, brands you see in Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, boutiques, hair care companies, and morning talk shows. Showrooms—where I modeled a brand’s wares for buyers from Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and other big-name stores—were my bread and butter, but I did some print, TV, and runway too. I was never a top girl, but one of the nameless, sometimes faceless minions selling an image of beauty of which I didn’t believe myself worthy.

At go-sees (modeling lingo for auditions), I faced a barrage of physical critiques. I heard I was too short, too tall, too old, too young, too fat, or too thin. I was too everything and not enough of anything.

One booker at a major agency even suggested I have a rib removed to help whittle my already 24-inch waist. While I was able to shrug off that comment as insane, others were harder to shake. People talked about me in the third person, looking my body up and down: “Her skin is just so pale. She looks like a ghost,” one client said. Meanwhile I silently stood in front of them in a bra and underwear as they railed against my “ghostly” skin, “uneven” lips, and “chunky” rear.

Hiking, Running and Eating in Italy's Cinque Terre


No matter how confident, self-assured, and smart you are, negative comments can get to you. I lost weight, dropping to a BMI of 17.3—when under 17.5 is considered at risk for anorexia. I never starved myself, vomited, used diet pills, or exercised excessively. But I chose what I ate carefully, counted calories, and developed unhealthy habits. When one regular client wanted me to gain two pounds, I scarfed down cheeseburgers and whole pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But my next client wanted me three pounds lighter. So onto the Cabbage Soup Diet I went.

Throughout those years, I can remember thinking that I wasn’t young enough, tall enough, thin enough, or pretty enough to be truly successful as a model. I remember intimating as much to one photographer—someone who’s shot for America’s Next Top Model and major magazines. He scoffed and shook his head, offering genuinely encouraging words. He was right. I try to remember that when I look at the current iteration of myself…

Read the entire essay at Shape.com.

Karla Bruning


Karla Bruning is a race announcer at the TCS New York City Marathon + other major events, TV host for the New York City Triathlon + contributor to Shape, Redbook, Runner's World + other publications. She used to report for Newsweek but spent her free time squeezing in workouts. Now it's her job. She's run 8 marathons, 30 halves, 10 triathlons + open water swims. When she's not running, talking about running or writing about running, she's snuggling her baby, spoiling her dog + compulsively traveling.


08 2015

7 Comments Add Yours ↓

The upper is the most recent comment

  1. 1

    I remember reading the article when it first came out on Shape. You’re beautiful because you’re a wonderful compassionate person. This comes out in your writing. The exterior happens to match the interior. I love following you and reading what you have to say.
    Elle recently posted..Reasons to Run the Newport Liberty Half MarathonMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Thank you! The feeling is mutual!

  2. 3

    Good of you to tell this story Karla. And Shape.com for publishing it.
    Ewen recently posted..My first two weeks as a professional runnerMy Profile

  3. 5

    Love this! I read it when it first was published, but it’s great to read it again. Most women can relate to basing self-worth on looks and thinness especially (my younger self would be absolutely mortified at my current weight!). Learning to redefine beauty for ourselves and finding and choosing activities, relationships, etc. that foster a feeling of feeling good in one’s own skin is one of the most important lessons we women have to learn.

    “If I’ve learned anything, it’s this: I’ll always be young and beautiful if I want to be—young at heart and beautiful of mind.”
    Diann recently posted..Reading on the Run: Audiobooks to Inspire YouMy Profile

    • Karla Bruning

      Thank you, Diann! It’s constant struggle for me, as I know it is for many women. But somehow I care less and feel better with each year I age. Ahh, one of the perks of getting older.

  4. 7

    You look so much happier in your “now” pictures… and it reaches your eyes.
    Judith recently posted..You know you’re old enough when the trends come back around My Profile