Body Talk: Claudia Mason
"I HAD SCOLIOSIS AND I WORE A BODY BRACE FROM AGES 12 TO 18. THAT WAS NOT FUN, AND WAS MY BIGGEST BODY ISSUE."
Welcome to Body Talk, where we will be fearlessly opening this portal of communication about self-love, self-deprecation, and touching on anything and everything in between.
The aim here is not image-making, or perfection-seeking. Rather, it is image-wrecking, perfection-shattering, and infinite-purpose discovering in order to peel back the layers of the images we have each built of ourselves and who we are suppose to be, in faithful anticipation that we may unearth the absolute Love and Beauty that we have always been, and always will be. We each have unique bodies, and unique stories to tell. Here, we will be telling ours, in faith that you will be encouraged to tell yours.
CLAUDIA MASON, MODEL AND AUTHOR
WHEN HAVE YOU FELT THE WORST IN YOUR BODY?
I had scoliosis, and I wore a body brace from ages twelve to eighteen. That was not fun, and was my biggest body issue. It was really challenging. I was teased as a kid with knock knock jokes. And especially when you’re a developing female, the brace covers everything — your boobs are getting pushed, the hips are getting moved, everything changes and it’s so uncomfortable. If the spine is curved, there are other things that are being pulled too. It’s a lot of structure and alignment. That made me feel yucky about my body. I wore baggy clothes so that it wouldn’t show, and just dealt with the pain. I always had to be taken to certain scoliosis specialists.
Through all of that, there was a lot of discomfort, and hating that I had to deal with it. If I caught my spine at a certain angle in the mirror, it upset me. I would go to the studio and work for these big photographers, and would sit in hair and makeup in my body brace. I would take it off to put on the designer clothing for jobs, and that was just who I was — and the industry people were really accepting of that. My mom never made me feel like I should be ashamed, or thinking oddly about my brace. She’d just be like, ‘This is what you have, accept it and move on.’ So I started to accept it, and that’s what I had to do.
I thank God that I grew up in a healthy family, because it was never about being ugly or beautiful — it was always just me in the mirror. I started modeling so young that it wasn’t a beauty thing, it was really a scoliosis thing. I just was who I was and lived my life. But I would look at my rib cage and where it was a little more out, or where it felt funny. I could see the lower lumbar spine muscle that was a little bigger. It was difficult to look at. I don’t naturally have a little waist. I’m now totally fine with my body, believe me, but I don’t have the hourglass shape. When I was on runways and doing shows all the time, some other girls just had that perfect tiny waist, and I had more of a waist where things fit on at a different angle, and little shorts looked different.
Here we are, as girls growing up, and we have all these images of who we’re suppose to be — although it’s a different time now with social media and girls thinking they always must be pretty -- even I had it as a kid. But I also had an industry that was telling me, ‘You’re it, you're one of the pretty ones, we anoint you as one of them…’ it’s going to give you a confidence, in a sense. But I know a lot of models — and maybe they’re just really good liars — that think they’re not attractive.
I think I have such a positive attitude about body and beauty now because I think, 'What else are we going to do?' I can’t function if I’m upset.
My grandma, especially, would give me messages throughout life saying, ‘You are great, you are fine.’ She would say it in this way that was like, ‘When you get down, you remember who you are! You pick yourself up and go on.’ It wasn’t army-like, but for her, there was no other option. Because with the option of going down, you can’t do anything. She had fallen through a horrible depression when she was younger, so maybe she learned from that, and I learned from her.
Of course I've been down, and depressed like anyone else, but her voice is always there. It’s amazing how powerful grandparent love is, isn’t it? I am lucky to have had that — it makes me so emotional. It’s great to have gotten that as a kid, so I can give it back easily.
WHEN HAVE YOU FELT THE BEST IN YOUR BODY?
When I am in shape, and shape meaning muscle, not weight. And I think that’s just from loving dance as a kid and knowing how it feels when everything is in line, and tuned, lengthened, strengthened. After a great yoga class, I feel so nice because it stretches my crooked spine out and gives release. I loved dance a lot, but I don’t do that anymore. I recently had an accident that let to a stroke…
I’m totally fine today, and I’m now a spokesperson for the American Stroke Association. It happened as a freak accident in dance class. My first love was dance, and then this happening. It’s so interesting. After that, I was like, ‘Hmmm I don’t
think I’m going to dance for a while!’ Strokes can happen at any age, any time, and to anyone. I have no family history of it. There are children having strokes — infants. It’snot an old persons’ disease of the heart, which is what I thought. It happened because I threw my head around in a typical jazz move, and had one moment of bad luck. It was a vertebral artery dissection that led to an ischemic stroke. Thankfully, I had no cognitive or muscular fall out — it was strictly to my visual field. There’s now a little spot missing in my upper left visuals.
Strokes don’t just happen when you’re walking down the street. There has to be some impact. I stayed in the hospital for a week, and was able to go right back to work. It made me realize that you can’t avoid accidents from happening. And when it happened in class, I wasn’t aware of anything and just went home and went to sleep. The next morning, I had a terrible headache, and that’s when I was actually having the stroke. My vision was going in and out and I was thinking, ‘Ah, it’s nothing, this will pass, it’s really weird and has never happened before, but it’s just a bad headache…’ I fell asleep, woke up, and my visual field hadn’t cleared up enough, and that’s when I went to the hospital, a whole day later. And that’s so not what you want to do.
I’m very lucky that I’m fine today, and its healed, but if you have stroke symptoms, you want to go to the hospital immediately because there’s a three hour window to catch. I think as females we tend to take on a lot. ‘That's my little headache. I have to pickup my kid, have to go to this, have to go to the job, so I’ll ignore it.’ If I had gone earlier, maybe my visual deficit spot wouldn’t be here. Of course, you can’t live in fear, but my whole point is that it can happen to anyone, and I don’t want people to do what I did.
I definitely like to eat as well as I can for vanity reasons, not just for health reasons. I feel better that way, than just ignoring it. If I’m eating so-called “crappier food” like too much pasta or meat, then I know I need a variety of greens and fruits. I can feel it. I don't know if that’s because I was raised in such a healthy household so my body knows what it needs? If I’m not eating well, I can see it on my face, like under my eyes. I just don’t feel like my vibrant self. It’s amazing, we can go have fruit and vegetable juices and see it in our skin right away. I feel my best when I’m eating really well and exercising. Meditation is a huge part of my life, especially after having a stroke. I love Transcendental Meditation. There are many forms of meditation, and they’re all fantastic. There's something about Transcendental Meditation that has been proven also to help with people who have had certain health challenges, and stroke survivors in particular. I believe that it's helping. It keeps stress levels down. I don’t ever want to have another stoke episode, so I do whatever I can to just not sweat the small stuff. However I can keep stress-free, especially in New York.
IF YOU WERE MEETING YOUR BODY FOR THE FIRST TIME, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
Embrace the curve! Because I know my spine, I can see the x-ray. I’ll always be able to see it in my head — the S. I’ve seen it in certain modeling shots, where other people don’t notice, but I do. If I were meeting me, I would want for that person to embrace it. No one is perfect, and boy, do I know that! And, what the hell is perfect anyway? It doesn’t exist. We’re all airbrushed, retouched and Photoshopped. I would tell her to embrace it, take care of it, keep exercising to keep those muscles strong and the spine straight. I would tell her to give herself credit, because she’s now come around. She had a harder time earlier, but she now has a wonderful glass half-full life.
No one has it easy, not one person. I mean, if you just have it easy enough, no challenges, then what is life about? Is that a really interesting person? Maybe, but the most interesting people I’ve met have gone through something, and lived and grown.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR IDEA OF LEGACY?
Giving back in the sense of, ‘How can I help other people?’ Because I think that we’re all here, whatever we’re doing, to help others. Whatever career it is. What is your purpose? Having a stroke was so crazy, it just changed my perspective on, ‘Oh, right, there’s more that I’m supposed to be doing!’ That was the message I got. I’m supposed to be helping spread a word of something — I’m supposed to be spreading stroke awareness prevention, and helping with the movement of getting the word out that infants, and children, and young adults, no matter what age, are having strokes from accidents. And I still can’t believe that, every time I talk about it.
It’s like, ‘Great, so it happened to me, and unfortunately I didn't do the right thing, but thank you God that you spared me.’ I don’t want you to do what I did, so I am supposed to spread that message. That excites me, and I want to really talk about it on a bigger platform. Being the healthiest person you can be doesn’t mean you have to eat quinoa and kale all day. It’s about balance, and being positive. It’s about dealing with what life dealt you, and making the most of it. Thinking about what your purpose is, and how you get it going. Now, that’s exciting.