Chubby duckling turns into swan
Holly Rose Emery used to stand out on the netball court because she towered over her classmates. Now, after losing a significant amount of weight, the leggy teenager is being touted as the next big thing in modelling.
Less than two years ago the Auckland 16-year-old weighed 95kg and her 5ft 11 height meant she dwarfed her school friends at Epsom's Diocesan School for Girls. Holly said she was "addicted" to Nutella and seldom exercised.
"I'd have two pieces of toast with lashings of it [Nutella] for breakfast. Then morning tea might have been some chips and a mini pizza... lunch included another Nutella sandwich."
Her mother Leonie Emery said the prospect of making a top netball team at school inspired her daughter to lose weight.
"She realised her weight was 'slowing' her down from how good she could be," Leonie said.
"Things needed to change, and I had to change them," Holly said.
The teenager lost weight under medical supervision, through regular exercise and changing her diet.
"I ate less and more healthily," Holly said. "Instead of having my Nutella sandwiches for lunch I switched to having Vogel's sandwiches with salad filling. I also exercised more - we got a puppy and that inspired me to take it out for walks."
Emery's model agent, Amanda Betts of Red Eleven, was surprised to find out about her dramatic weight loss.
"I couldn't put my finger on what it was about her when she first came into the agency," Betts said. "She had this quiet confidence about her that was wonderful and unusual. Once she told us of her personal achievement through her weight loss, it all made perfect sense."
Betts said Emery's weight loss showed she had the self-discipline and focus to make it as a successful model. "It really takes focus and determination to achieve something like that and these are traits that also make a good model."
Holly said she never considered modelling until she lost weight. "I didn't think I was pretty enough. It wasn't until I had lost all the weight that I decided the possibility of becoming a model was real. But it was more a confidence factor than a weight factor when considering modelling. I was comfortable with my body and I was happy with and feeling confident in myself."
Holly is already in demand for magazine editorial shots, designer lookbooks and fashion shows, but her success has been tempered by unkind words from her peers.
"Some [friends] are good about it, but other people have started the gossip that I have gotten too skinny. It's annoying considering it has taken two years, and lots of hard work, sacrifices and discipline," she said.
Holly's 36kg weight loss now means she has a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 18, which puts her just under the healthy weight range for her height and age. Her previous BMI was 29.32, which was close to the 'obese' range. The average female BMI in New Zealand was 27 (overweight) in 2008, with figures climbing every year. According to the Ministry of Health survey, one in four New Zealand adults are classified as obese, and one in twelve children. One in five New Zealand children are overweight.
"Yes, she is what you'd classify as slim, but her father is 6ft7," Leonie said. "Nobody called me up expressing concerns for Holly being obese, but as soon as she gets slim everyone is so quick to jump on the bandwagon and make accusations [about an eating disorder]. It is really wrong.
"I'd be lying if I said we weren't worried at times. But then when we're sitting together at a café and each eating a large slice of divine carrot cake (a 'sometimes' food), I'm proud to say that yes, Holly has a healthy approach to food. Food is not my daughter's enemy as the case for some people. She has simply worked out how best to get long sustainable energy out of it."
"At the end of the day, our job as parents is to give our children the tools to make good decisions. "Healthy food choices have become our focus even more so as Holly embarks on her modelling career, because that's what supportive parents do."
Holly said losing weight had taught her a lot. "There have definitely been some rough times and reactions which have affected me," she said. "But there are always negative reactions when weight is involved, and I'm getting tougher with each experience. Most importantly Amanda [Betts] and I have discussed me being a role model for other teens. I'm up for that responsibility which is why I'm sharing my story openly and honestly."
Emery plans to model part-time until she finishes school and then take a gap year to travel.
"There are lots of rewarding things about losing weight," she said. "I have a lot more self-belief and self-determination, plus more energy. Modelling is just the icing on the cake."