Leanne Wilson has always struggled with her self image.
There have been bouts of depression over her fluctuating weight and sense of worth over the years, starting way back at the tender age of five.
“I’ve always had this learned behaviour that I was different,” she says. “When I was in kindergarten I was taken to the hospital in Vancouver because of my weight. I got bullied a lot. Kids would throw stuff at me and call me names right up through high school.”
High school might have been a long time ago now, but she’s continued to struggle with her self-esteem since thoughout adulthood, as well.
“I’ve lost weight and gained it back, and when I lose it everybody tells me how great I look,” she says, “and then I gain it back and get mad at myself for it.”
But she’s finally decided it’s time for that to end.
“I’m 45 now, and I just finally said, you know what? It’s time to accept myself for who I am.”
So when she saw the call go out for a contest to become a cover girl for Inked magazine, she decided it was worth a shot.
“I don’t really consider myself to be a ‘model’ type of person,” she says. “I’m 45 years old, I’ve got three kids and I work as a nurse. But when I saw the contest I just thought, why not? I’m at the point in my life where I don’t care what anybody thinks anymore. I’m just going to be me.”
She knows she’s probably not what people expect when they open the pages of a magazine, but at this point in her life, she really doesn’t care. In fact, that’s kind of the point.
“Most girls that I see in these magazines don’t look like me,” she admits. “They’ve got that perfect bikini figure, and that’s just not who I am. I’m just an average housewife with some art on my arms. But I thought, you know, maybe if I do well in this thing, it’ll inspire someone else who lacks confidence or don’t feel comfortable in their own skin and show them that you don’t need to meet some certain stereotype to put yourself out there.”
Apparently the people voting in the contest are in agreement. She’s made it past the first round of cuts and as of the writing of this story, she currently sits in second place in her group of 20 contestants. And her sense of self-worth grows with each vote that comes in.
“Putting myself out there has helped me, as well,” she says. “It helps with my confidence and my anxiety, and I’m trying to push myself to do things that make me afraid or uncomfortable, because I think it makes me a stronger person.”
And putting photos of herself up online, in public, for people to judge – literally – of herself with only her own arm covering her nudity certainly made her uncomfortable.
“I might be smiling and look confident on the outside, but inside I’m still kind of that timid girl who got teased. But I want to show people that it didn’t destroy me and I’m pushing through it. Every day is still a struggle, but I’m starting to love myself for who I am.
“And I don’t think you have to be a size two and wear a string bikini to be on the cover of a magazine. I can’t believe that’s true,” she says.
You can vote for her every day until the end of the contest, to show her you’ve don’t think so, either.
But even if she’s eliminated early – and even if she never ends up on the cover of a magazine – she’s happy to have thrown herself into the ring.
“It’s about the journey,” she says. “I just want to show that although I’ve been through Hell and back growing up in terms of my sense of self, nothing’s gonna break me. I’m here, I can do this. And so can you.”