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Interview With PLUS Model Magazine Cover Model Mandy Muenzer

by Suzette Banzo

Leveling playing fields requires more than just throwing in a plus sized reality dating show on a broadcast station during primetime hours. Real acceptance and understanding requires honest communication and a willingness to let go of preconceived stereotypes. Mandy Menzer entered American households via a show called More to Love in which she vied for the affections of a plus sized man along with other curvy ladies. Luckily, we get an opportunity to see just how much more there is to love about this beautiful, open, intelligent, compassionate, artistic young woman. From battling a serious eating disorder to trying to make the world a better place through her humanitarian work, Mandy is proof that real understanding and beauty transcends labels and empowers others.

Suzette: How did you hear about Love Your Body Day and the PLUS Model Magazine contest?

Mandy: One of the other women from More to Love told me about it.  I thought it sounded like a wonderful event!  I knew I would have the opportunity to meet other empowering women who are doing great things to promote healthy body image. The discussion forum on the last day was inspiring. When I came across the table dedicated to the modeling contest I thought, “WHY NOT! You never know!”

Suzette: What appealed to you to be cast on More to Love? Are you a fan of The Bachelor series on TV?

Mandy:  No, I don’t watch The Bachelor, but I have caught bits and pieces of a few episodes here and there. I’m an actor and the producers found me on LA Casting. FOX pitched the show to me over the phone, they said, “This show will be exactly like the Bachelor but we are trying to cast more average sized women to promote more positive body image in the media.” The idea of promoting positive body image is what caught my attention.

Suzette: Did you feel that is what the show accomplished?

Mandy:  No, not really. I feel they perpetuated most of the stereotypes by showing so many clips of women crying about their weight and did not focus on all of the empowering things that many of the women said in their testimonials. The women were courageous, good-hearted and were very encouraging to each other while in the house. This was especially true when we were filmed in our bathing suits but instead they focused on the insecurities some of the girls had. I’m a fan of displaying authenticity, but the way it was edited and the choices they made about themes and assuming that most of us hadn’t been treated right because of our weight just sent the message to America to continue being insecure about dating if you are overweight.

Suzette: Did you feel good about the way Luke treated you and the other ladies?

Mandy: Well, Luke is a good person, but for most of the show, I felt like he was just saying the right things. I know that the producers coached him to give us many compliments, but it came to the point where I felt like the show was taking pity on us, babying us.  I’m all for compliments and encouragement and I commend Luke for treating each of us well, but when you tell more than a few of the ladies “You have all the qualities I want in a wife” it starts to feel a little disingenuous. It was a confusing time; I didn’t know what to believe.  I kept giving the process and Luke the benefit of the doubt.  I figure it was better to trust than to leave wondering if I gave enough of myself to the process.

Suzette:   That response leads me to believe you were looking for love, not just looking for exposure.

Mandy: Well, to be honest, I really doubted I would find love. If I wasn’t an actor/model and someone trying to promote healthy body image I would have never agreed to go on the show. The possibility of finding love on a reality show seemed unrealistic to me. How could you possibly agree to go on a show and really think you will fall in love or even like the person at all when you don’t even know whom the bachelor is? Love wasn’t the number one reason I went on the show, definitely not. Nevertheless, I was open to the possibility.

Suzette: How did you feel about how they edited your footage in the show?

Mandy: Well, I’m certainly not as “needy” as they made me seem.  I also wasn’t completely head over heels for Luke.  They have their way of editing things that’s for sure!  Overall, I had peace about the way I was portrayed.  They could have showed my light-hearted/goofy side a little more than they did, though!

Suzette: Many actors I know shy away from reality shows for fear of not being taken seriously later. Was this something you considered when deciding to appear on the show?

Mandy: Yes, definitely.  I’m confident that my appearance on More to Love will fade a few years from now and most will have forgotten. There is always a way to take things in a new direction. I have grown a lot through the decisions I made and experiences I had this past year. I learned more about life and love than I would have if I had chosen not to be on the show.

Suzette:  Living in L.A., how have you managed to not get caught up in the stereotypical Hollywood image that is associated with actors and aspiring actors?

Mandy: Good question!  Well, I can’t actually say that I didn’t get caught up in it.  I think growing up in Los Angeles definitely had its affect on me.  I wasn’t always as healthy as I am today.  It took me seven years of focused, hard work on my self-image and mental perspective to fully recover from an eating disorder.

On episode 5 of More to Love, I revealed to Luke through a conversation about “struggles in life that have shaped us” that I struggled with an eating disorder. By the way, I loved your interview with Whitney Thompson in last month’s issue of PLUS, reading it inspired me to share my story. Whitney didn’t struggle with an eating disorder, but she definitely addressed the immense pressures that surround models and others in the entertainment industry. We all know that this issue affects everyone, not just models, dancers and actors. There is a major trickle down affect.  I don’t mind discussing it, I think that is what people need: honesty, and to know that we are all works in progress and constantly re-discovering ourselves.

Suzette: In that case, how long did you have the eating disorder and when did you realize you needed to do something to stop?

Mandy: I remember caring a lot about being thin at a pretty young age (7 or 8 years old.) I was a restrictive eater throughout middle school, but not anorexic. I became bulimic when I was in the 9th grade and it was in the 10th grade when I tried to stop, that I realized I couldn’t.  It was after a few times of trying to stop and never being able to kick the habit that I started to get very worried.  My concentration was being affected and I had trouble keeping up with my straight A’s in school. It was the summer after 10th grade that I rode my bike to a bookstore and started to research bulimia; every book opened with a paragraph stating, “Do not try to get better by yourself. You need professional help to overcome Bulimia.” I was only 16, so I knew I’d have to tell my mom in order to get help. Otherwise, I am sure I would have tried to keep it a secret at all costs. It was a very confusing time for me. There are many areas of healing you have to own and take responsibility for. Being so young, you don’t realize all of the things that have affected you. At first I just thought, “How could I be so shallow? What’s wrong with me?”  Then through therapy, many underlying issues were revealed; it was a quite fascinating process. Eating disorders go deeper than just wanting to be thin–eating disorders are a sign of unmet needs and relational brokenness among other contributing factors.

Suzette: How were you able to recover?

Mandy:  Primarily, I give credit to God for my healing.  It was the hope I found in Jesus that ultimately transformed my mind and helped me to find my self-worth. However, I also give due credit to excellent therapy. The support of my friends and family also played a major role.

Suzette: What are some of the myths surrounding eating disorders?

Mandy:

  1. It’s not about the food!  You really have to engage in a deep process of self-discovery to identify your triggers and work through the root causes of your eating disorder.
  2. You can be ANY size and be struggling with an eating disorder.
  3. Bulimia doesn’t really help you lose weight; it only helps you lose your mind. Your body’s metabolism ends up slowing down tremendously because of it.  Bulimia screws up your entire system and depletes you of your electrolytes and other important bodily fluids not to mention many other health issues it can cause–heart issues, ulcers, acid reflux and the list goes on. Luckily, I haven’t had any major health issues because I got help sooner than later.
  4. Purging is the last symptom–the cry for help. You need therapy not just to stop the behavior, but to completely undo yourself mentally, reflect and put your mind back together; it takes years to rebuild your perspective and frame of mind.

Suzette: What advice can you give to someone reading this and struggling with an eating disorder?

Mandy:  There is hope. Be patient with yourself. Commit to the healing process and get help. You will go in and out of “being better.” The disordered behavior might be gone for a few months and come back. When this occurs, do not look at a relapse as a complete failure; it is just a new phase. You will probably have to go through more than a few relapses before you are steady for a long period of time.

Suzette:  Thank you for sharing this so openly. What are some things that have helped you stay healthy?

Mandy: Being on the activist side of things has helped me.  When you engage in helping others, it adds to your own strength. To change our society we all have to stand up together.  It starts with you.  I’m personally committed to a focus on health instead of appearance, I don’t “diet”, and I try not to engage in “fat talk.”  I claim my victory over this disorder, but I know I have to stay on guard to keep myself healthy. Another great weapon against any disorder or addiction is to be in the light about it. If I have a setback I call up a good friend, and I tell them. It’s hard, but it helps me admit that it happened and helps me move forward and evaluate what thoughts or occurrences triggered my setback.  I only had one isolated “incident” this past year; it feels incredible to be living in freedom. I hope to never have an “incident” again, but if it does happen, I know how to pick myself up and begin again!

Suzette: That’s a wonderful attitude Mandy!

Mandy: Thanks! (smiles)  Some really beautiful things have come from my healing…

  1. I have deep compassion and understanding toward others who are going through any kind of struggle especially when it comes to destructive behaviors.
  2. I am more vested in others and the world around me.
  3. My faith was immensely deepened and I am more grounded in who I am
  4. I am a better actor for it; I have greater self-awareness and a greater ability to be vulnerable.
  5. I am more prepared to go into the entertainment industry; I am determined to guard my mind and heart and be the change I wish to see in the media. 

Suzette: Are there any resources you recommend for our readers?

Mandy: Sure! Remuda Ranch is a great resource, “Stop Fat Talk” is a Facebook group everyone should join, “Reflections” is a great prevention program from Trinity University in Texas that is making headway, and programs like “Am I Hungry?” www.amihungry.com which advocate a non-diet approach to weight management; learning to eat in a way that honors your body inside and out. Oh!  “Celebrate Recovery” is a really wonderful program, too!

Suzette: What projects are you working on now and what else are you pursuing?

Mandy: My days are busy teaching fitness at UCLA, pursuing acting/modeling, and volunteering at “Mosaic.” Mosaic is a Christ-centered community passionate about creatively serving others.  I traveled with them to Morocco last year to teach arts education in orphanages there–I am particularly passionate about performing arts as means of serving.  I’m currently working with some people to develop arts programs for refugee camps; there is always a great need for artistic encouragement in times of great loss and despair. People need venues to express themselves after devastation. Although my area of contribution is in the arts, other volunteers utilize sports. Recreation is a way to bring fun and relief; sometimes it is not the art itself that brings the greatest impact, it’s the collaborative process and the cross-culture relational experience that brings love and joy about; it’s profound for everyone involved. Mosaic is currently planning a trip to Haiti.

Suzette: How did shooting your first editorial for PLUS Model Magazine feel?

Mandy: What an amazing experience!  From the wild hair and make-up to the marvelous outfits and the brilliant team around me, I had a blast shooting!  Maggie Brown was there to help me with posing and coaching me, which was a huge help.  She is wonderful at coaching in a way that stays very encouraging while still being constructive in specific ways. Ines works quietly with a lot of focus–you know she is very intent on getting just the right shot.

Artemis and Rudy were a super team and extremely creative; I loved being their little experiment.  We shared many good laughs and had a lot of fun making me look electrifyingly unique!  Reah brought some amazing dresses to the set and knows how to create the perfect ensemble.  I loved learning from her choices and her attention to detail.

My funniest moment on the shoot was trying to balance on one leg in five inch stilettos while hiking up my left hip for extra curve power as the crew yelled, “Now, just take your weight off your hand and we got the shot.”  Trying desperately to follow directions I lifted my hand and proceeded to fall over. Modeling can be quite challenging! (laughing)

My most rewarding moment was when we were shooting the last look: “angry despair” and I got really into it…they said, “Whoa! Watch out, this girl can act!”

I learned what areas to work on as a model, and what my strengths are. I need to work on keeping my left eye fully engaged, being delicate with my hands and shifting my weight to strike poses that look best for the camera. My strengths are my energy and commitment; these same attributes carry me through each day as I continue to pursue the things I love to do. I am the type of person who flies by the seat of my pants and loves to have a wide spectrum of life experiences!

Suzette: What’s one random fun fact we should know about Mandy?

Mandy: I do a pretty entertaining Tina Turner impression.  I’m happy to show you sometime at a karaoke bar! “Big wheel keep on turnin’ proud Mary keep on burnin, rollin, rollin, rollin down the river…”

PHOTO CREDITS

Photographer:
Inez Lewis

Photography Assistant:
Tia Jai

Makeup Artist:
Artemis

Wardrobe Stylist:
Reah Norman

Hair Artist:
Rudy & Angelica Gamponia for Fabulous Looks.

Model:
Mandy Muenzer

Posing Director:
Maggie Brown