Even though she was once a model in an industry obsessed with being thin and plastically perfect, Emily Nolan Joseph is now a model of another breed: a role model. Originally from Miami, Joseph has been both a “regular” (Is size 00 regular, Warrior Goddesses? We think not…) and “plus-sized” model. (Size 8 to 10 called plus-sized? Oy.) Though modeling allowed her to travel and learn about different cultures, Joseph says the career also battered her with body image issues that she’s worked hard to resolve.
Now, she’s helping other women consider, reframe and revamp their own self-image through retreats, a blog and an upcoming book. Here, Joseph shares her own story, as well as how she aims to support others on their journeys.
SBS: How did you become a model?
Emily Nolan Joseph: When I was growing up, I was training for the Olympics in softball. I was very attuned to my body, but it became an addictive obsession. At 13, I developed eating disorders, starving and then binging, doing so ‘for my sport.’ Plus, I realized I was getting attention for my ‘beautiful’ body.
At 22, when I was living in DC, a model scout told me I had such a beautiful face. I thought, ‘What about the rest of me?’ She told me if I gained weight I could be a plus-size model. That made me so mad that I lost weight and became a straight size model, doing mostly commercial work. When I moved to Miami, I gained weight to be a plus-sized model! But I think that actually restored me to my natural size, and with that came healthier eating habits. That’s when I became interested in health and wellness. I tried to flush my body with nutrients: I became vegan and got my masters at Cornell.
Eventually I married my husband, who was a huge contributor to my personal health. He just wanted to see my happy, and I realized I wanted to be free of all the medicines I had been on. So I started my journey then, exploring which nutritionally dense foods and types of exercise helped me feel good. I discovered yoga and took a teacher training certification. I dove into all things that make me feel alive.
SBS: What were the results of your newfound interest?
ENJ: I started a blog originally, and eventually I added an Instagram account. Now I’m writing my first book, Pretty Brave. I also host Pretty Brave adventures where I take women into the wild. We use our bodies as tools to hike, paddleboard and do yoga. We relearn how to enjoy and use our bodies instead of thinking of it as a beauty equation of what’s ‘right.’ We journal, share stories and work toward being pretty brave: brave enough to believe you are perfect as you are.
SBS: What’s your mission for the retreats and book?
ENJ: My mission for the retreat is that everyone can find that divine calling within to feel happy and joyous again. Whatever their goal is, from body goals to self-acceptance, I want to give them that transformation—and hopefully in an expedited process of those five or six days instead of years.
If you can realize you’re already perfect the way you are, and that your body is a tool meant to jump and play, not look like something in a magazine, everything can shift. I hope they can redefine their own personal self-love. What’s your personal definition?
SBS: Why do you think our culture has such an obsession with being thin?
ENJ: I think it starts with runways and media. There are these emaciated, thin, pre-pubescent girls in the spotlight—without any diversity at all. So we grow up with the idea that we need to be what we see there. But you don’t have to.
SBS: What does ‘being healthy’ mean to you?
ENJ: For me, it’s about my bloodwork: Are my numbers in the healthy range? My self-love routine is caring for myself by being happy and healthy in that basic, essential way.
My personal mantra is, ‘I am not my body. I am not even my mind.’ I repeat that for 15 minutes straight. I love it. There’s a perfect core of who I am, my spirit, which is beyond my imperfect mind and body.
SBS: What are the first things you’d suggest someone struggling with body issues do to move forward?
ENJ: Talk to your parents or support system. A lot of us don’t tell anyone about our problems and live with that for our entire life. There’ shame surrounding the problems. So if you can get support, whatever your goal is, that’s key.
Then try simple things: Go on an annual adventure, do something for self care once a day, start a gratitude journal and go to yoga! You might also start a Facebook group with friends to have a check-in system. It’s healthy to have that accountability and connection.
SBS: What are your tips concerning exercise that doesn’t focus on the scale?
ENJ: I love anything in nature: paddle boarding, hiking until I drop, camping, weekend trips, swimming in a cold lake, horseback-riding, white water rafting. Just get moving!
SBS: Why do you love yoga so much, and what do you think makes a good yoga class?
ENJ: I call yoga my sweat church. It’s a healthy way to connect your body and mind, especially when there’s not a lot of time where we stop and just connect in our daily lives.
Good yoga classes are ones that go with the flow. The teacher should help you connect with mind, body and soul, plus offer a good sweat!
I dislike cookie cutter classes that lack intention outside of burning calories. That’s not the point.
SBS: What’s your new view on food?
ENJ: I seek nutrient dense foods that make my body feel good. So, I make sure I start my day with as many vitamins and nutrients as possible in a smoothie. I’ll throw in everything: spinach, berries, organic soymilk, organic orange juice, a little cinnamon and ginger. I like eggs, but getting all the greens and berries in for breakfast makes me feel so good throughout the day. Then, I’m not craving anything.
SBS: Here is the link to Emily's website and women's retreats: beprettybrave.com
Emily’s Miami Faves:
Favorite Healthy Restaurant: DIRT and Pubbelly Sushi
Favorite Meal: Salmon salad from Icebox Cafe
Yoga Studio: Green Monkey
Fitness Studio: FlyWheel/FlyBarre
Outdoor Activity: Riding my bike to the beach on Sunday
Emily’s SBS Mantra: “Be Fearless”: Be fearless and brave enough to believe in yourself.