Heartleigh Little, Editorial Director, COOLS
"I lost my virginity when I was eighteen, right before moving [to New York]. Before that I wasn’t really involved with guys. So I had a period of sexual exploration. In some ways, it brought confidence. But the confidence I gained from sexual exploits, I learned, was always fleeting. It was a very short period of validation and then it would leave. So it created this really unhealthy cycle. When I was twenty I met my ex-boyfriend and we dated for five years. It obviously ended the cycle of random men. But I had just gone from one thing to another. There was no period in my life where I had said, OK, I’m alright to be alone. I was never giving myself that space — I was always filling my voids with other people. It wasn’t until we broke up when I was 25 that I really started understanding who I actually am.
When I moved back to New York after my breakup I convinced myself that I wasn’t okay to be alone — I needed my girls with me. So I moved in with three other women. But I hated living with people. [Laughs] I realized that yes, I do need the support of other people, but I don’t need it to be as present in my life as I thought I did. So I moved into a place by myself. It hasn’t always been easy. When I first moved in I was going through a really dark spiral of depression. I decided in August that I needed to get sober, which has been life changing — bigger than any kind of therapy, bigger than any realization I’ve had from my past experiences. The mental, physical, and emotional well being I have, compared to before, is night and day. I still experience depression. But because I’m not feeding into it, because I’m not covering it up, I know how to therapize myself and how to deal with things in a healthy way. I also didn’t have sex for six months — I didn’t see anyone... for once I wasn’t trying to fill a void, I was dealing with issues myself. Being completely alone I realized how much love I have for myself.
I’m a very strong person and I think I’ve gone through a lot of shit and handled it quite gracefully. But I’ve realized in my solidarity that I have a lot of strength, even without anything on the other side — not just in the face of adversity. There is a peace and a comfort about it. There’s a stillness about how I see myself now that I didn’t have before. I was always using someone else’s approval to answer questions within myself. I had to come to terms with the fact that I will always have doubts about myself, I will always have insecurities, but those aren’t going to be everlasting. Maybe they’ll be solved and maybe they won’t be, but life is going to go on despite that.
Of course, I have some great friends here. I think the ability to listen is something that’s really special. And this kind of feeds into my idea of body image — a lot of people automatically take your opening up to them as a green light to give their opinion. But you’re not always asking for that — sometimes you just want someone to listen. The capacity to listen requires a lot of emotional security in a person, because it can be really heavy to take on things from other people. But that’s what makes my friends great, is that they’re all really good listeners. I’m pretty lucky.
Heartleigh wears the Balconette in White.
In so many conversations about body positivity today, there is this bullshit aspect where you’re told to ‘love yourself’ and to ‘embrace everything’ and ‘feel yourself’ and ‘be happy’ — none of which really addresses insecurities. It’s just putting a positive bandaid on it. When I was 23 I got in really, really good shape. It pretty much stayed like that until I broke up with my ex. And when I moved back here there was this period of instability and I just started gaining weight... I gained like 30-40 pounds in a year. Which is a lot of weight if you think about it. I’m still naturally thin, but I basically had a foreign body. That was really hard for me. When I’d express any kind of discomfort about it, everybody was like, ‘don’t worry, you’ll lose the weight, it’s totally fine.’ But… maybe I didn’t care to lose that weight. If my jeans fit too tight and I’m physically uncomfortable, that’s annoying. But that doesn’t mean I feel like I look bad, so it’s about understanding what someone’s discomfort is — what’s making them feel bad, what’s at the root of it? I don’t think it’s ever as simple as, ‘I’ve gained weight.’ There are so many layers to it. Now my weight every month is a constant 10-15 pound fluctuation. I think taking some of the attention off of it has helped me. I find that doing that bleeds into everything else — for example, if I’m happy at work then I’m a lot less self-conscious about my body just because I’m not thinking about it. And then just realizing that I’m not 23 anymore. My body is going through changes, and maybe I’m settling into my woman’s body and this is what it’s meant to be. It’s beautiful regardless, so. Whatever. [Laughs] If you compare yourself you’re never going to be happy. I think security — knowing your body, knowing yourself and your unique qualities and how to work with them — is very attractive. Working with what you have. That’s sexiness to me.
Heartleigh wears the Balconette in Black.
Everyone is going to be different, so you really have to set your own measurement for success. What’s my litmus for a good day or a bad day? How am I going to define ‘enough’ or ‘feeling good’ — what does that feel like for me? For me, it was pretty baseline. It was like OK, that’s waking up, and wanting to get out of bed, and wanting to go to work and to see other people and to just exist. And if I can do all those things then everything else is going to come along with it. It’s about having that kind of comfort within yourself. Loves comes in so many different forms, and for me it was just being kind to myself. I know it’s so cheesy and so cliché to say, but you have to love and know yourself before you can love someone else — it’s actually true."