By Nikki DuBose
[An excerpt from ‘Washed Away: From Darkness to Light’, chapter 7 “My life as a 20-something year-old model”]
At some point, my eyes opened. Hands; I felt hands removing my bottoms on a bed. I heard a voice, saw a face: it was Adrian’s face. I wanted to move and scream, but I couldn’t. I felt paralyzed. The darkness came again, and time drifted as the cycle continued: awake, silence, darkness. So much darkness.
Nausea woke me up. I opened my eyes and saw black, all around. I slowly raised my body and touched next to me, but felt nothing. I hobbled off the bed, felt around for the wall, and found the light switch; the brightness burned my eyes. Nausea blistered my belly and my head—like f**king knives! I clutched my stomach and slid down. That’s when I felt it; my vagina touched the floor.
“Oh, my God.” My head pounded, harder and harder. I hadn’t been . . . raped.
Trembling, I stood up and scanned the room for my bottoms. I tore the sheets apart, and flipped the mattress upside down, but I couldn’t find them anywhere.
My hands shook, and I tried to put the bed back together. I tiptoed over to Marcos’s room, my legs trembling with every step. I knocked on the door, and Marcos opened.
“I have to tell you something.” “What is it?” I started to ramble. “Marcos, I—have you seen my bathing suit bottoms? I had them on at lunch and then when I woke up, they were gone. Hold up, how did I get drunk off two drinks? It was weird! I swear I felt someone taking off my bottoms. Actually, I saw someone too, but . . .”
“All I know is that my bikini bottoms are gone. Don’t you find that odd? And I feel sick to my stomach like I want to vomit but I can’t.”
Marcos fluttered his eyes and folded his arms.
“Nikki, Nikki, what exactly are you trying to say here, huh? I don’t know what you’re talking about. You fell asleep, and we carried you to bed earlier. Corina and I have been in bed this whole time. Adrian is in his room resting. You just had too much to drink. . .it happens with the hot sun.”
“But what about my bottoms?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about. I’m sure your bottoms are here somewhere. Corina has a drawer full of bathing suits, do you want me to grab you something?”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying. I bit my lips. “No, I don’t. I’m going to go home.” He looked at me with a cold stare; one that shot through my heart. I had lost already, and it was going to be my word against his. I grabbed my portfolio and purse and ran out the door. The vomit threatened to come up my throat, and I swallowed hard to push it down. I jumped in my car and hightailed it out of the driveway; the faster I could get home, the faster I could clean my vagina. I wanted to wash away the filth, and my entire life.
My boyfriend was fast asleep when I arrived. It was after midnight, and I crept into the shower. I turned the faucet on high, let the water flow onto my back, and began scrubbing with a sponge. The rough fibers slowly ate away at my skin, but I liked it; scrubbing over and over was the only way to cleanse my dirty body. I rubbed harder until tears and blood spilled into the drain, and I heard the voices. “Little girls need to mind their manners.”
I didn’t say a word to my boyfriend. Instead, I shoved my feelings down with food and brought them up all over again. The following Wednesday, I questioned Marcos once more in his office about the missing bottoms, but he immediately shut me down. He told me that I was crazy, and I should forget about everything.
I was insane. Marcos could see it, and if someone knew about the situation, they didn’t say a word. Adrian disappeared, and I shut my mouth and returned to castings. Hallucinations and haunting memories of his face, however, resurfaced over and over again.
As the weeks rolled on and the season kicked into high gear, I attended the extravagant parties and acted as though nothing had happened. Inside, though, something shifted. I felt overly suspicious and bitter; the darkness and greed of humanity had destroyed another vestige of my innocence. The sinister voices that once occupied space inside now sucked the breath from my lungs—they controlled everything.
Deep-seated rage burst within, and to quiet it, I screamed and threatened myself with butcher knives. I smashed my head into walls and doors. Really, I just wanted to see my blood.
Nikki DuBose is a former model turned author, speaker, and mental health advocate. In her memoir, Washed Away: From Darkness to Light, Nikki recounts her experiences navigating the dark side of the modeling industry, while battling abuse, addiction, and various mental health issues (sexual victimization, eating disorders, alcoholism, drugs, depression, suicide attempts, body dysmorphic disorder, PTSD, psychosis).
She recently appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Network on the TD Jakes Show to speak about her recovery from Body Dysmorphic Disorder and eating disorders, and how the pressure to “fit into” the modeling industry nearly killed her.
“By my early twenties, I was modeling professionally and appeared on the covers of and in editorials for magazines such as Maxim, Glamour, Vogue, FHM, and Vanity Fair. But while my career was going exceptionally well, my private life was falling apart. My mental and emotional health were in shambles. I went from one extreme to the other to meet weight requirements for photo shoots, and quickly fell into anorexia nervosa. At times I struggled to survive, beginning to abuse diet pills as a way to achieve the figure that my agents were pushing me to have for fashion shoots,” says Nikki.
Because of the lack of laws and protections, models have long been subjected to sexual and financial abuse, bullying from agents, and have been pressured to lose so much weight that many have developed devastating, even fatal eating disorders.
Nikki’s recovery from a nearly lifelong struggle with PTSD, psychosis, addictions and eating disorders has left her with a passionate longing to help others who are also suffering. Although the modeling industry has made strides towards body diversity in the past couple of years, there is a lack of education and awareness surrounding eating disorders and other mental health issues. ‘Washed Away: From Darkness to Light’ serves as a testimony to others to let them know that they are not alone in their fears, doubts, and frustrations, and that through recovery all things are possible.
Nikki Dubose lives in Los Angeles. She recently worked alongside Assembly member Marc Levine on California Assembly Bill 2539, which addressed the need for workplace protections and health standards in the modeling industry. She writes extensively on mental health, political issues, and has exposed the truth about the modeling industry on The Huffington Post, the National Eating Disorders Association, Eating Disorder Hope, Clinical Recovery Institute, and Recovery Warriors. She also recently contributed as an expert reviewer for Harvard University’s STRIPED program (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders), helping craft their lesson for this new semester, which focuses on modeling and eating disorders.
To learn more, go to http://nikkidubose.com/