This article scares me.
Not in a way you may think. I simply know there is no way I can truly paint a picture of the beauty of this woman, inside and out, in a single blog writeup.
I want to preface this article with a little story of how we got here. As most of you know, this blog is still a new project for me. It is something I pour a lot of time, energy and creative brainpower into with no monetary gain. A true passion project. After the first two articles published, we had some serious setbacks that caused multiple articles not to release and it almost made me throw in the towel on the entire blog. My best friend - who struggles daily with body dysmorphia and is typically uncomfortable posting risqué pictures due to the nature of her career – volunteered to get in front of the camera and allow me to tell a story I doubt she was truly ready to tell. All to make sure I didn’t give up on a dream of mine.
I would be lying if I said that was out of character for Rayna. It is who she is as a person to the very core of her soul, and I am so grateful to know her and be loved by her. I don’t know that I’ve ever met a more selfless person. She is the type of friend that is on standby 24 hours a day and will drop everything just to listen to me bitch. She not only knows my kid’s names’, she KNOWS them and they ADORE her. On my daughters birthday this year she was in my house before I even woke up with cupcakes, balloons, and presents. She has shown up to very literally every single vendor event I’ve done and helped setup, run the event, close it down and then pass out on my couch watching musicals or mean girls. She has never asked for or expected anything in return. No matter how high or low I am, no matter the crazy things I throw at her – she is there, with zero judgement. The crazy part is – anyone you talk to that knows her, will say the same thing. I don’t even know how she has the time to be that person in so many lives while also juggling a high stress career, and a family of her own. I only hope that this article may allow her (and women struggling with her same demons) to love herself in the way everyone who encounters her does.
The first thing I asked her when we did a formal interview was, “What message do you hope to convey?”
“I want our kids to know their looks are the least interesting thing about them”, she responded.
You see, growing up, Rayna was heavily exposed to the toxic diet culture that many of us in our thirties and forties were also exposed to. The body positive movement hadn’t begun to surface yet. No matter what channel you turned on, what magazine you picked up – the only body style represented was “the slimmer the better”. We were brainwashed to believe that you were only beautiful if you were in single digit pants sizes and airbrushed to perfection. The 90’s brought a slew of fad diets and propaganda in the media that made it nearly impossible to have a healthy relationship with food if you were a teenage girl. While talking we both laughed at the fact, we had both done cucumber and celery diets in the past. If your mind immediately just said “negative calories” then you probably lived it as well.
It was hard enough that our entire generation was being spoon fed these lies from the media, but when you pair that with validation from people you are close to – it can be a recipe for disaster. Role models in Rayna’s life were hyper focused on their own weight which in turn, was projected onto her at a very young age. Even though she was active in sports and was a healthy weight (a size 9 she vividly recalls), Rayna can still remember walking into her first weight watchers meeting at the age of 13 (and not by her own decision). That began the vicious cycle of reluctant diets she didn’t want to do in the first place. “Restriction was the root of all evil, the more you restrict something the harder you rubber band to the extreme.” She spent her school years and into college being told what she could and couldn’t eat, and going through every workout plan, personal trainer and class imaginable – but primarily because of pressure from those around her.
“My weight, specifically, dictated my worth growing up. If I wasn’t thin – I was worth less than someone who was”
So, she yo-yoed from diet plan to diet plan in hopes of gaining her worth through her body image and making those around her proud.
The problem was this habitual dieting didn’t come from a place of personal necessity or goal setting. This led to raiding the fridge when no one was around to see and binging to her hearts content. Sneaking foods in private tied a moral worth to specific foods – restricted foods being “bad” and allowable foods being “good”. There was no balance, no moderation, no grey area. Bad foods had to be eaten in secrecy while good foods could be eaten in the presence of others.
When college rolled around, she was finally on her own for the first time in her life. Instead of gaining the typical “freshman 15” she recalls gaining 50lbs in the first semester. “I was shopping for myself, I had the dining hall where I could eat good college food whenever I wanted, and I went buck wild.” She can vividly remember staring at herself in the mirror in her dorm room the first time she saw the scale crest over 200lbs. “It’s a core memory.”
“I never felt like I was good enough because of my weight.”
After college, she started trying to lose weight for HERSELF. She recalls trying every diet and pill on the market and how she realizes now she was looking for instant gratification instead of sustainable results. She would lose a little weight, plateau, get discouraged and fall off the wagon – as a lot of us do. It wasn’t until she had a mentality shift that the physical results started to become apparent.
The turning point came during her pregnancy with her son. “I almost died.”
Gestational diabetes is common during pregnancy, but her blood sugar levels spiked so high she went into ketoacidosis. “My doctor told me if I had of waited another 24 hours to be seen, me and my baby would have been dead. It was bad.” It was an eye-opening moment. “After I had my son, I was the heaviest I have ever been. 334. You’re the only person I’ve ever told that number to”. The mentality began to shift from wanting to “look good” to being healthy for her son.
While she still struggled with consistency her mentality began to evolve. She stopped restricting herself and “not allowing” certain foods. She stopped stepping on the scale. “After I had Dean, I just stopped focusing on myself so much. I had a tiny child to take care of. While I wasn’t as focused on myself positively as I should have been, I also wasn’t negatively focused on myself.” Eating in moderation and not obsessively focusing on food constantly made the weight slowly start to naturally fall off.
In the summer of 2020, The COVID-19 pandemic halted her career. Instead of letting it get her down, she took up swimming everyday while listening to her favorite soundtrack. “It became my me time. I thoroughly enjoyed it.” It was the first time she truly loved exercising and was doing it for only herself. It became an outlet to counteract her depression instead of a chore that she dreaded. While the scale didn’t move, her mentality absolutely did.
The real turning point was when her granny suddenly passed away. As I was talking to her about this role model in her life, her face lit up. You could visibly see the love and admiration she had just oozing from her pores. “She was slender, beautiful, a model when she was younger. She was a party animal; she was so social. You would have fucking loved her.” Losing her was a life altering moment and temporarily slung her backwards into old habits. “I couldn’t have cared less about my weight at that point”, but when the initial grief subsided, she decided to start making conscious decisions to better her health from a nutrition and exercise standpoint. It was the beginning of a new year, and a new Rayna. “Despite what the scale said, I kept going. I was focusing on my health instead of the number.” She dropped over 40 lbs. in a 6-month timeframe. In July, she reached a plateau but this time around she didn’t sink back into detrimental habits from the past. Even through a hysterectomy, she kept her mindset in balance. It wasn’t easy. She had huge concerns that recovery from surgery would pivot her backwards but this time she had something in her arsenal that was new – patience and grace. Even though the weight had stalled, she found other non-scale victories to celebrate. Her bloodwork looked better than it ever had before, her clothes were fitting differently, her energy levels were higher, and she FELT better than ever before. Celebrating those wins and staying consistent has led to a total weight loss of well over 100 lbs. over an 8-year time period.
And this time, it was out of self-love. It came from a healthy place and a balanced mindset.
Rayna participated in a weight loss challenge with me this past year. I also have been on my own transformation journey to get healthier and accept and love myself. When I met Rayna, it was right before I started my transformation and she let me know how impactful my own journey was to her success. It wasn’t the weight loss as you may assume. It was the fact that she saw the same beauty in me when I was heavier as she did after I slimmed down. I personally had a very similar experience when I ran across plus size supermodel, Ashley Graham. I think it is so imperative that we as women understand this. When we can recognize beauty in another woman REGARDLESS of size, it gives us permission to see the beauty in ourselves outside of our weight. We have got to stop shaming our bodies, we must stop hiding them. You don’t know who desperately needs to see you owning your authenticity and loving yourself as you are. If we could all adopt this self-love mentality while encouraging and uplifting other women, we truly could spark a revolution. We could positively change the mindsets and futures of our daughters.
Your weight doesn’t dictate your worth, your heart does.
Rayna, I want you to know that while you are absolutely stunning from the outside and I am so proud of the strides you have made towards a healthier lifestyle – your heart impacts thousands of women every day. You are the definition of beauty.
I truly hope if you also struggle with body dysmorphia, eating disorders or simply catch yourself playing the comparison game on social media more than you want to admit that you will start giving yourself permission to let love in. Give yourself the same love and grace you extend to others, you deserve it. You are worthy of it. You are beautiful no matter what the scale says or what size jeans you wear. The world needs YOU in it and women need to see positive examples of true self love.
You, my friend, are a goddess. Treat yourself as nothing less.
A huge shoutout to Kassie Reese Photography for capturing these stunning photos to show the world the true beauty of Rayna. You can book with Kassie at kassiereesephotography.com and join her VIP group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2022060594683370
I would also like to thank makeup artist, Chelsea Claytor Adkins for SLAYING this look! Check her VIP Facebook group out as well here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1632998310359185
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