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Katey Cusack

Meet Katey Cusack, 31, a model and dressmaker who didn’t always believe she had the traditional looks—or drive—to make it in the fashion industry. But she stood up to the self-doubt that was holding her back, pushed past her fears and stepped outside her comfort zone.

The results? Self-love and inner confidence she’d denied herself for so long. While her confidence journey is still a work in progress, her story is here to inspire you to dream big and follow all your heart desires.

Facing—and Rewriting Fears

“I’ve always been overweight, and I always had it shoved in my face, by my family and my grandmother. I loved my grandmother to death, but she had me on Weight Watchers in second grade, so it was always something I was very aware of. But when I was in my mid-twenties, I started a little lingerie company that I built from scratch and learned how to make everything by myself. I’ve always sewed, I took things apart and learned how to make them myself. I stumbled into modeling that way. When I first saw myself on camera, I couldn’t believe how different it was than the perception I had of myself. My first email to the photographer was, ‘I’m not very good looking. I look stupid when I smile. . . ‘this whole list of how I’m just terrible. But when I finally did it, it wasn’t like that and it really changed my perception of myself. It gave me a lot of opportunities and I was able to travel a lot from it and my business did pretty well. I’ve always hated pictures of myself. But I took other opportunities that came from modeling instead of being shy about it. I’m really good at stage fright and saying, “No, I’m good, I’m okay.” Allowing myself to participate in something that I wasn’t 100% sure I was confident enough for really boosted me up. I allowed myself to believe that I was good enough and comfortable enough. It led to other things and I was able to keep going. That probably had the biggest influence on the way I feel about myself today.”

The Opposite of a Pep Talk

“I think that one of the things I knew I recognize being in the fashion business was you work with some of the most perfect people—but people you consider perfect, with perfect bodies and think are so beautiful can be super insecure too—probably more insecure than I ever was. And I’d think, ‘Well, if she feels that way and I think she’s perfect, why am I wasting my time being so uncomfortable?’ It just seems we’re never enough for ourselves and so we must be aware and mindful of those feelings. To me, feeling confident feels like comfort without anxiety. I feel comforting and fearless inside. But, when I’m not feeling my most confident, it’s the opposite of a pep talk that I’ll give myself. When I’m having those invasive thoughts, like ‘you’re not good enough’— it’s stopping them and changing the conversation. If I know I’m feeling ugly, the response to myself is always, ‘You’re not ugly—you’re beautiful, you have these things…” telling myself the opposite of what I’m feeling. When it comes to self-care, I’m all about therapy. I think everybody should go for a little bit therapy at some point. You learn a lot when you go to a professional. I’ve battled depression most of my life and I can recognize what depression looks like in myself and knowing the things that will lead me there so I can try to make it better for me.”

On What Makes a Role Model

“I love seeing Lizzo doing her thing in lingerie in front of a million people. Her body was not traditionally what people feel is accepting and I wish I had that growing up. I wish I could’ve seen that represented in the public eye because it helps seeing it today. Personally, I look up to my aunt Susie. She’s just a survivor and constantly just kicking ass. She’s got it together even when things aren’t together and has always been a great friend to me and very helpful. She keeps me going when I don’t want to.”

Confidence Boosting Strengths

“I’m very kind and I have a big heart—I don’t think that exists very much anymore. I mean, I’m sure it does, but we get very easily caught up in being angry. I’m very like, ‘Give me the homeless dog. I’ll take the homeless child.’ I believe in the acceptance of all these things. I definitely get that from my grandmother and as she took in many of us children. I’m also a good problem solver when it comes to anything creative. I taught myself how to make bras and corsets by taking apart other things. I just have that brain that works that way, which is great because I never thought I did.”

Work in Progress

“I can be pretty hard on myself and I mean as much as I’m aware of it, it’s still there. I struggle most with wondering, ‘Am I good enough? Am I smart enough?’ I’ll make dumb blonde jokes all the time. Those things are defense mechanisms. My inner confidence still needs work. I have a better understanding of confidence than I did. But the self-talk and believing what I deserve and what I’m worthy of still need some work.”