The 20-year-old social media star and Sports Illustrated Swimsuit rookie has grown accustom to sharing much of her life online after growing an audience of over 11 million followers on Instagram and TikTok combined. And although much of her content seemingly attracts attention to her figure, Ponton told Emily Ratajkowski that the onslaught of public opinion that she's faced is what led her to a difficult relationship with her body.
"I never had an eating disorder before I had social media. I never even thought about it," Ponton said, reflecting on growing up in Florida where she wore bikinis year-round. "The moment I started posting in a bikini, so many negative thoughts just were always surrounding my body and I started actually hating the way that I looked. And it’s insane because I never dealt with that growing up."
Prior to the exposure that she gained on the social media platforms, Ponton lived a regular teenage life and shared that she was active in sports, which helped her to feel good in her body. Once more people had access to her on the internet, however, they all "had things to say about my body," she explained — most of which wasn't flattering.
"All the sudden it was like oversexualizing, men were being just disgusting, girls were being even more disgusting and I was like, what is going on? I was doing this just to be happy, there was no negative thought in my brain and then all of a sudden it just turned into such a negative thing," she said.
"In the beginning of TikTok there was the whole cancel culture thing and I was getting canceled because I didn't have boobs," she recalled of her first experiences with body shaming on that scale. "That was literally a thing, and I was like, 'If I go get a boob job right now then I'm gonna get canceled because I'm going into plastic surgery.' It’s like you can't really win with the situation."
Ponton said she was focused on being "healthy" at the time to keep her mind off of what others were saying. Ultimately, she lost sight of what that even looked like for her.
"There was just like a really low part where I just wasn't eating and this was probably like a little more than a year ago. ... I was just like trying to eat but I wasn't eating," she said, explaining that she noticed her relationship with food naturally improving over time, "but then it kind of relapsed in the past like six months."
While she blames the attention on social media for the initial shift in her mindset, Ponton said that becoming more serious about her modeling career and traveling to Europe for jobs also had a large impact.
"I’ll go into a fitting and you know, none of the clothes will go over my hips," she said. "I thought for the longest time that not eating was gonna make me skinnier."
She also believed that getting "super skinny" would then "solve all my problems" — which she now says is "so false." Instead, that thinking contributed to a larger decline in her self-esteem.
"I got really mad at myself and not in a self-hatred way, in like a 'what is wrong with you, why can't you just get it together?' kind of way," she said.
Now, she's determined to show herself some grace as she continues to work on improving her outlook.
"[I] would love for my food relationship to get better. I feel like I'm on a very good journey with it right now but getting back to the whole eating consistently throughout the day and not feeling bad about it," the young model said. "Being unapologetically myself would be the end goal."
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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