Health, Not Size Journey

Apr 21, 2020
Written by
Marciel Hopkins
Photographed by
Marciel Hopkins

decided to enter Miss South Africa in 2015. As a curvy girl wearing a size 14 jean, I knew I’d had to lose weight first. I only had 4 months to do it before appearing in a bikini in front of panel of judges for the first judging round of Miss South Africa. I was always the bigger girl in my group of friends when attending high school, even though I always dreamed of becoming a model. Realising I will never be skinny enough to become a model, I thought of Miss South Africa as my final opportunity to be in front of camera before my “adulting” life starts. Embarking on my journey to become Miss South Africa, I ended up losing 14kg in 4 months!

I was training 2 to 3 hours a day, doing intense weight training with my personal trainer and cardio in my free time. I remember doing up to 4 spin classes a day in a desperate attempt to lose weight as quickly as possible. In-between training and obsessive healthy eating, I was running on a very tight schedule: Completing my honours degree in psychology from Stellenbosch University and I was Primaria of my residence. I was adding a lot of pressure on myself by pushing my body to be “bikini-ready” in only 4 months, but I got addicted to the feeling of losing weight every week: It kept me going!

I was obsessed with healthy/clean eating: I cut out all sugar, alcohol, bread, pasta, pasteries and red meat. I researched fat burning foods and I was living off protein shakes, skinless chicken, boiled eggs, raw vegetables, green apples and 8 cups of green tea a day. I was drinking large amounts of tea to try and keep myself warm. I was losing weight so quickly, that my body was struggling to adjust to the cold winter weather. I would weigh myself every week, keeping track of every gram weight I lost. When I gained as little as 200g, I would cut something out of my diet. I looked at myself in the mirror, week after week, not being happy with my body or my progress. I was never satisfied, as I knew I could even be smaller and more toned. I used to look at my bum thinking, “You should be smaller and your cellulite is disgusting.”  I don’t think I was ever truly myself when I had a smaller body, even though the world thought I was rocking hot. Even after losing 14kg, I never felt good enough, because I was measuring myself against wordly, beauty standards.

My Miss South Africa journey filled up one year of my life. I ended up being a top 12 finalist, which was a massive achievement for me who had no previous beauty pageant experience. It was a year of intense training, obsessive healthy eating and constantly comparing myself to unrealistic beauty ideals. I was in a daily battle with food and my body ; struggling to keep her smaller than what she wanted to be. I had food anxiety, massive self-esteem issues and I realised it wouldn’t be realistic for me to maintain this “forced body” on the long run. Within 3 months after the competition ended, I was back to my normal body size as I was before the competition. I went back to my normal lifestyle quite quickly: Enjoying a glass of champagne with my girlfriends and having a barbeque with my family over weekends. I was still training 3 to 4 times a week, but my body went back to her natural, happy place.

My transition sounds quick and carefree, but it was really hard! I was going through severe identity and body issues after gaining the weight again. It felt like I disappointed people and I was ashamed of the weight that I put on. It was a two year journey for me to really grow into a place of self love and body acceptance after Miss South Africa. Today, at the age of 27, I am happier and healthier than ever before. I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin, without having the need to measure myself against the worlds’ beauty standards. I realise that health is a holistic state of well-being and it’s not just about how I look from the outside, but also about how I feel from the inside.

I signed my first contract as a curvy model 3 months after Miss South Africa. That didn’t mean that I was suddenly the most confident woman in the room, but being more body positive was something I was actively working on. My new mantra is being kinder to myself and appreciating my body for the fascinating vehicle she was. I did not step on a scale once after Miss South Africa. I made a decision to never be defined by numbers again, nor will my shape or size determine how worthy I am: I am worthy either way.

Today I am an international model, life coach, inspirational speaker and TV presenter.

It was an interesting body journey that I embarked on 5 years ago,

but I honestly believe it made me the woman I am today. I have learned many valuable things that I can now share with other women all across the world: Healthy looks different on every body and we cannot compare ourselves to unrealistic body goals on Instagram/the internet. We can only strive towards being the happiest and healthiest version of ourselves. Bodies are not static or perfect; they move and change as our lives evolve. Always remember: You are worthy of love and respect, no matter your shape or size.

Some of my best tips/thoughts to help you with more body confidence:

- do a social media clean up; unfollow all pages that don’t inspire you

- stop weighing yourself, a number on a scale can never define your worth; rather focus on feeling healthy in your own skin

- set mini goals for yourself in terms of exercise and healthy eating, it should never overwhelm you

- find exercise that you like, it should never feel like punishment

- exercise is not punishment for what you ate, but rather a celebration of what your body can do

- never feel guilty for eating, unless you stole the food ;)

- throw out old clothes that you don’t fit into anymore, it’s not good for your self esteem to hold onto it

- stop spending time with people that make you feel bad about yourself or who criticise other bodies, it’s not good for you mental health

- more self love, less self critique!


Warm regards,

Marciel Hopkins

Say hello on insta - @marcielhopkins