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Meet Kia Billinger

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kia Billinger.

Kia, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born in Los Angeles, California, and moved around quite a bit during my childhood. I spent the majority of my childhood growing up in the Inland Empire, and it wasn’t until I was almost a teenager that I moved to La Verne, California, where I currently live. I am always in LA, so I feel like I live there too. In middle school, we were required to run a mile every Wednesday, as part of our physical education class. I gained an interest in volleyball, went out for the team and made it, and played for only one season. I was always the tallest and very slim growing up, and it wasn’t until I was in 8th grade that things started to change. I was no longer the tallest and no longer slim. I will never forget the summer going into high school, where I gained a lot of weight in a short amount of time. At that time, I was not concerned about my size or the way that I looked. It wasn’t until family members, including my immediate family, who made my weight and size an issue. I would show up to family functions confident and happy, but it was always short lived because everyone felt the need to comment on my size by saying things like, “Wow, you’re lookin thick” as my arms are being tightly grabbed and squeezed by family, or “You’ve put on some weight huh?” or being told that, “You will never be carried across the threshold.”

All of these negative comments about my body tore my heart apart. My flaws were pointed out at such a young age; I was always being told something was wrong with me, so my confidence and self-esteem went out the window. Going into high school was terrifying for me because I realized other kids were most likely going to comment about my weight and size too, since the closest people to me who loved and supported me did. So before anyone else could say something about the way I looked, I asked my mom to take me to this t-shirt mart where we lived so I could grab a sweatshirt in every color to cover up by body. No matter what, I wore my sweatshirt over everything, even on days when temperatures reached over 100 degrees. I was always athletic and decided I wanted to play basketball my Sophomore year in high school. Over the summer, my Dad helped train me for try-outs, and I made Junior Varsity (JV), played the 4th position or power forward, and was a starter every game. I continued playing basketball throughout my Junior year. My senior year in high school I decided to go out for cheerleading because I wanted to change things up. At this time, I was practicing for basketball because I made the Varsity basketball team. I went to cheer try-outs, made the Varsity Cheer squad, and was shocked I made the team because I never cheered before. I had a hip-hop dance team background, but that was it. I had to make a very hard decision to either play Varsity basketball or be on the Varsity Cheer squad. I chose cheerleading and continued cheering throughout college. During my college cheer days, I began taking diet pills and at one point used Herbalife supplements, because I was so desperate to lose weight and stay slim. I cheered for Long Beach City College and the uniforms were tiny and midriff style. I had to look good and I needed to do it fast to avoid embarrassment and people commenting on my weight.
Today, I still have friends that I regularly keep in contact with from high school, and they all make a joke now about how I would always wear a sweatshirt every single day, but had no idea the reason I did, other than wearing a sweatshirt was part of my style, since I had one in every color. I had to undo the damage my family did when I was growing up; it took me years of looking into the mirror and telling myself, self-affirming words about my body. I had to ask myself how I felt about how I looked, and not worry about how others felt about how I looked. Don’t get me wrong, I have brief moments where I’m not feeling as confident or comfortable in my skin, and that is normal. I no longer wear sweatshirts to cover up my body, I show my skin, I wear lingerie and bikinis, not for attention but to tell a story about loving yourself, no matter what weight or size you are, because those things don’t define you. I have gotten to a place now where I absolutely love the things about myself that society considers flaws (stretch marks, cellulite, rolls, thick thighs, fupah, poofa, love handles, acne, acne scars, hyperpigmentation, etc.), so much so that I wanted others to feel just as amazing in their own skin. I started the hashtag and Instagram page called BeautyOverStandards, where men and women have a safe place to go to showcase their beauty. The purpose of my BeautyOverStandards page is to change the narrative society has about the standards of beauty. I want everyone to choose their beauty over the standards society has set forth; to love themselves for who they are.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Throughout the years, I struggled with my weight. I was not losing weight because I wanted to, I was losing weight to please others and to avoid being called fat. Back in college, I went down a very dangerous road for weight loss, from taking diet pills, not eating, excessive exercise, using Herbalife products, buying extreme home workout DVD’s, like P90X. Within the P90X home workout system, there was a disk titled “Core Synergistic’s” and in doing one of the moves during my workout at home, I injured my low back. I’m sure the wear and tear from cheerleading added to the flame, but I was not experiencing pain at all until I did P90X. Since I was always an athlete and working out, I decided to self medicate and just rest myself and put ice on the injury. A few days after resting, I noticed a numbness/tingling sensation down my left leg that radiated down to my left foot. I was diagnosed with two herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and an annular tear, which is leaking a very acidic substance on my sciatic nerve on the left side, causing the pain, weakness, numbness/tingling down my left leg, and burning pain in my left foot. I was to start nursing school in a few months but had to defer for the allotted one semester, to go through physical therapy to try and heal. My pain wasn’t getting better but I still went through nursing school with my injury and did the best I could with what I was faced with. I graduated from nursing school, passed my boards, got a job, and was working in the Emergency Room at LAC+USC Medical Center.

I soon transferred to a hospital closer to home and worked for about eight months. I began having more pain, to the point where I was unable to work, so I took a Leave of Absence and eventually had to quit. I was in and out of doctors offices, was given a permanent handicap placard, applied for permanent disability, and was denied, because the evaluating doctor who worked for Social Security felt I could find a job where I didn’t need to use my legs, (even though my left leg and foot were numb and weak), because I was able to move my arms and neck. I went into a very depressive state, where I didn’t want to shower, go anywhere with anyone, didn’t eat much, just didn’t care what happened, thought about suicide, and was even looking up euthanasia to get out of pain and suffering. This was the darkest time of my entire life. I hid the fact that I had a disability from friends I gained after college, to avoid being treated differently. I noticed very quickly that when I shared my story with my friends, who had no idea what I was dealing with, they treated me as if I was completely incapable of doing anything. I know they had good intentions and didn’t want me suffering in more pain, but pity was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I wanted the people who I felt needed to know what was going on with me, to know and understand why I need to take breaks, or why I was unable to do certain activities, but I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. During all of this, I was signed to one modeling agency for runway. My good friend kept bugging me about submitting myself to a specific fit modeling agency, and I kept refusing because I never heard of the agency and didn’t want to waste my time. My friend didn’t give up and kept asking me to submit to this agency, and to get her off my back, I submitted myself. The agency wanted to meet me in person, they loved me, signed me, and the rest is history. My fit modeling agency called me out of the blue one day, saying I had a casting. I went into the casting, the client loved me, and I booked my first fit modeling job. Soon after that, I was going on more castings and booked a huge client, Target, became Target Certified, and have been working full-time as a fit model for the last year and a half. God kept me, He allowed the opportunity of fit modeling to save my life.

Fast forward to today, my low back pain and left leg numbness/tingling/burning, are still chronic and debilitating. I’ve done every pain management treatment modality you can think of, from rest, ice, heat, muscle relaxers, pain medications (including narcotics), TENS unit, physical therapy, epidural steroid injections, going to the chiropractor, tapping sessions with flower essences, losing weight (this does not change the pain for me), cupping, acupuncture, stretching, sleeping, and distractions (hang with family and friends, doing things I enjoy, etc.). There are times where I am bedridden because my back “goes out” on me, what this means is, I am unable to walk or move due to excruciating pain. Most of the time I don’t get good quality sleep due to pain, keeping me up at night. I’ve had to miss so many days of work due to my disability, which affects my ability to do the things I want to do, whether that is travel, celebrate a birthday, or have money for bills. Still today, some people still don’t understand my condition and how much it affects everything that I do. I am labeled as lazy, a complainer, and content with my situation, because I still live at home with my parents, instead of having my own place to live. I am still looking for an RN job, with the reality that I will face more obstacles when I do get hired somewhere, in regard to my physical disability. I am a fighter and will overcome whatever obstacles I’m faced with.

When my back went out a few months ago, I had to miss ten days of modeling work, and it wasn’t a problem because I’m an independent contractor and can make my own schedule, for the most part. With nursing jobs or any other job for that matter, I would not be able to just miss work and return like nothing happened. You can only use Leave of Absence, PTO, Sick time, Family leave, so many times before you are either asked to quit or be fired. Although finding RN work is a scary thought, due to my condition, I have to try my best to build a life for myself. I have had to completely change how I do things, and or avoid certain activities altogether. Everyday is a struggle for me physically and at times mentally as well. I didn’t realize how my mental health was being affected until last year (2018).

I am currently seeing a therapist who specializes in helping the chronic pain sufferer through the grieving process. I am trying to find ways to have a better quality of life surrounding pain because I would rather do things in pain than to do nothing at all. Quality of life means so much to me, and part of that has been stripped away from me, but I will keep going, I will keep pushing through. The question I get asked often, is how am I not walking around angry at the world and mean and nasty to people, due to constant pain? My answer is this, I gain nothing from being angry and mean to others because of my chronic pain, but I gain so much from being kind and giving, and sharing the same love God has given me and giving that love to others. Prayer and my belief in God are what keep my faith strong, as well as surrounding myself with people to help encourage me along the way, is an important aspect to my journey.

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I am a plus size model, actress, and Registered Nurse. I am known for my campaign shoot and magazine spread with Torrid, for their MyStoryMyTorrid Campaign. Refinery 29 also wanted in on this amazing thing Torrid was doing, so they picked up the story on this campaign, and put me on the cover of their article. I am known for my magazine feature in JET Magazine, as the Beauty of the Week. I’m also known for being seen on the pages of Cosmopolitan Style, People Magazine, and Huffington Post online, for a pool party I attended called, Golden Confidence Pool Party, given by Essie Golden. Furthermore, I am known for a skit that went viral titled, “Don’t Make my Girl Laugh, starring comedians Clint Coley, and Louis Gee. Additionally, I am known for 2 Buzzfeed videos that went viral, one was titled “Nurses Review “Nurse” Costumes” and “Plus Size Girls Can’t” with Tess Holliday. Lastly, I am known for encouraging others, helping people feel comfortable and confident in their skin, and being an instrument in helping people realize their own beauty, and know that they are perfect just the way they are. I am most proud of the positive impact I have made in the lives of others. What sets me apart is my determined spirit. When faced with obstacles, I still succeed because I am driven and I believe in myself, even with the physical limitations I have, I persevere.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I feel one of the most important qualities to my success is, my belief in God. With God, ALL things are possible, and I believe it. Another important quality to my success is focus. I cannot concern myself with what anyone else is doing, or what their journey looks like. I have to focus on what I am doing, and my journey, which has been working well for me. Having tough skin is another important quality to my success. You have to be able to take criticism from everyone, and not see it as a personal attack. When you know better, you do better, and we have to always have the mindset to learn and improve. The last important quality I feel contributes to my success is, being supportive of everyone when they win. I am that person who is truly happy for others, and I believe there is room for us all.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Lesley Pedraza, Aaron Pegg, Rick Jones, Gary Winfield, Kirk Williams, Samantha Figueroa, Laurent Legar Adame

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