Talented songwriter and Sydney model Justine Eltakchi grew up believing skinny was the only form of beautiful. Now she's on a mission for women to walk with pride in their body - whatever shape or size they are.
Q: Tell me a little about your high school days.
A: School was tricky for someone who came from a mixed cultural heritage. I found it hard to feel "Australian" despite being born here, and never felt close enough to my cultures of origin to identify strongly with them.
I grew up in a predominantly Anglo-saxon neighbourhood and struggled to fit in. As we know, people of any age can be cruel and at times I felt being tall, being curvaceous, being olive skinned was something negative.
I was teased for my appearance and for my big features. As I went into the world as an adult I started to realise that I should never be ashamed of who I am - that these parts of me are what are most beautiful about me!
Q: How did you become passionate about embracing who you are?
A: Often the negative comments scream louder than the positive. In my twenties I found myself stewing on the things I couldn't change and it really took up so much energy.
To rob yourself of time, experiences and your true potential because of these hang ups is NOT worth it.
Our society is very caught up in fitting cookie cutter standards and it is incredibly exhausting for most women.
It is reinforced by people we date or spend time with who also buy into these beliefs. Women are all so different that we need to embrace and accept each other as we are.
There is a difference between having healthy habits by living a balanced life, and being obsessive over changing your body in some way.
I got to a point in my life where I didn't want to obsess anymore, I didn't want to over-train at the gym or watch every calorie - I wanted my life back to live.
When I did this, I had more time to actually focus on my real interests, to be present with friends and family. to find myself again amongst a mind usually overtaken by what I'm eating and how I will burn it off.
I want to also express that I support and have to implement healthy habits because I am someone prone to pre-diabetes. I am not advocating to go in the other way but to simply be responsible and to honour your health needs - emotionally and physically.
Q: You are a very successful songwriter, writing hit songs including Proud by Casey Donovan. How did you start?
A: I started songwriting as a teenager. It was a way to deal with the difficulties I was facing and has always been my form of therapy.
I have been chipping away in a very challenging industry! I genuinely thank the mentors I have found by chance along the way to any success I have had.
Particularly the women who saw something in me and championed my potential. I have been very lucky enough to write music with amazing Aussie talents like Casey Donovan, Paulini, Ricki-Lee and Havana Brown - all incredible women!
Q: How did you get scouted by a modelling agency? What was your reaction?
A: I was featured in the Sydney Morning Herald for a NYE event last year and was contacted by a modelling agency. The agency focuses on women of all sizes and helping brands develop clothing tailored to all sizes.
As someone who wears a women's size 16-18, this was very exciting for me. I have struggled to shop my whole life due to limited sizes in Australia, so to be a part of the design process as a fit model is amazing.
Q: Is modelling your main job now?
A: I have been in the music industry as a song-writer and performer my whole adult life. I have always done photoshoots and love to get creative, so modelling has become a complimentary part of my day to day and career.
Q: What is your message to young women who may be struggling with their body image?
A: I truly wish for everyone to look in the mirror and see how incredibly beautiful you are, as you are. There is not one type of beauty, and attraction is a tapestry of spirit, kindness and self-worth.
Walk with pride in your body because it does so much for you every day. We have to honour these bodies who carry us and who create new life - we can't lose sight of just how resilient and miraculous they are.