Caroline Miner Smith, Model & Writer | Los Angeles, CA
Trigger Warning/Content Warning: Eating Disorders, Agoraphobia, Mental Illness
Natasha Samtani in conversation with Caroline Miner Smith in Los Angeles, CA | May 2019
What do you do for a living?
I'm a writer and a model…and I'm signed to Next Management. I do a lot of print and editorial work. I've been doing a lot of beauty campaigns recently, which is great because I actually used to be a makeup artist. It's really cool to see that come full circle. Also, I'm a writer, I'm working on a book about mental health and my experiences with it.
Tell me a little bit about your background and your upbringing. Where are you from?
I am from a small town in North Carolina called Morganton. I grew up on a farm and I didn't have any neighbors in sight. It was very conservative.
We're in LA right now. What has brought you to this point?
Well I didn't really foresee myself coming to LA or living anywhere besides North Carolina because I struggled a lot with anxiety and actually had agoraphobia. So, I was afraid to leave my house and that was a big part of my life. My parents thought that I was just gonna go to community college if I even had the courage to leave the house. They were like, “we might have to support her forever.” But, I ended up overcoming that with their support and a lot of other people's support and moved to New York from there, and now I'm in LA and I've been here for four years.
What is Agoraphobia?
Agoraphobia is when you have such debilitating anxiety that whenever you walk outside or leave the house, you get severe anxiety attacks. The symptoms of that could be fainting, sickness, nausea, vomiting. It can really bring on the symptoms of a very serious medical illness.
I overcame agoraphobia with help from a therapist and my family's support. I didn't have many friends at the time, so I didn't have the support of friends, but I also was prescribed antidepressants that helped. But looking back now, I wish that I hadn't been prescribed any medication.
What would you tell people that you might be feeling like they're having anxiety or maybe similar symptoms?
What I would tell people who are experiencing anxiety and similar symptoms is don't give up, push yourself a little bit more each day. Any step outside is a step in the right direction and you're not going to be stuck there forever if you just tell yourself you're not.
I'm looking at you now and it sounds like you're a completely different person than who you are describing.
Yeah, I really didn't expect that I would leave North Carolina. It was really scary. Another symptom of agoraphobia, like I said, is nausea and sickness. I wasn't eating, I was 79 pounds at this height. My parents were concerned for my life. So that's interesting to look back on. I was in such a different place. I would lie on the couch in my living room and I was on home-bound schooling. I couldn't go to my high school. I had to have a teacher bring me work everyday.
So what has brought you to this point—you're a successful model now.
Yeah, it's crazy to think about. I never thought that I would be a model, I just didn't really see myself that way. But while I was experiencing agoraphobia and the symptoms of it - and also just debilitating anxiety and depression and other things mentally that I had struggled with - I found a love for makeup, actually. I would sit at home and to entertain myself, I would watch YouTube videos and do makeup on myself and it would help me feel confident and feel better about how things were. People also thought that I was healthy when they would see me because I would have done my makeup and I got really good at it. And then I was like you know what...maybe I want to turn this into a career. So, after that I moved to Brooklyn, which is crazy because I had to overcome my agoraphobia, but there were a lot of elements of living in North Carolina that I guess felt as if they held me back. With the help of everyone and my therapist and my family and the support that I was getting, I got the courage to leave and pursue makeup artistry. And I went to a school in SoHo called The Makeup Designory and started learning and figuring out what it's like to live on my own without relying on the help of so many other people.
Did you know that you wanted to be a model?
I didn't know that I wanted to be a model until I was walking around in New York and I got asked to do a hair show, which is funny. I guess it's this thing where hairstylists get together and it's like a convention or something. So I was like, "Oh my God, sure! Like you think I could be a model, like what?" I had long hair and I had one or two tattoos at the time. I think I had breathe and a horseshoe on the back of my neck because I'm a country girl. I went and I had this long hair, and I just had highlights, you know, I think I was wearing Polo Ralph Lauren at the time. And I went and they cut all my hair off. They were like, are you cool with whatever style we do? And I was like, um, sure. I just went up to New York. I had been there for two weeks, you know. It was right when Miley Cyrus cut her hair really short and they were like, well, we feel like you could rock it. I was like..okay. So, they cut all my hair off onstage in front of so many people. And I was like, I can't freak out! I can't see myself. There's no mirror. Then I had to walk and show my hair off. Then I got back and looked in a mirror and thought, oh my God, I guess I can start a new chapter and be whoever I want. I can leave all the anxiety behind and I can leave the agoraphobia behind. And I can be confident and be who I am and be who I want to be. And you know, be happy.
So, you haven't had long hair since then?
No, I haven't really had long hair since then. I started to grow it out. But things kept happening. I think I kept it short for a few months. I would go and get it cut and it was bleached blonde and spiky and interesting. And then I was like, okay, I'm going to grow it out. I grew it out and I had a bob with bangs. Around that time I had moved to L.A. and I was actually going to school for beauty merchandising and marketing. As that was happening people were asking me to shoot and do modeling stuff.
At this point, I still dealt with anxiety and depression, but I knew how to handle it. And throughout this time and all these hair transformations and crazy things, I started modeling more and shortly after I shaved my head, I did a runway show. It’s funny, right before I did the runway show, Slick Woods became Slick Woods, you know, we walked it together. It was our first show together. It was so interesting to see her grow, like, that's incredible! But it was just so amazing feeling like I've come so far. Not that modeling was my goal, but just to be a part of something creative and feel good about myself and where my life is, you know? That was just huge for me. It wasn't even a huge show or anything. It was my first runway show. But I remember Janice Dickinson, I think coming up to me backstage, and she’s a huge deal, you know, and she told me, "don't fall!" And I was just like, this is crazy! I was also the shortest model walking the runway, so I was already really nervous. At that time my head was shaved and I just got my degree in beauty merchandising and marketing. I finished it, which was also insane because my parents thought I was going to go to community college, or not even school at all, and just they would support me and I would live on their couch forever because they weren't sure if I was going to overcome that point of my life and they weren't sure that I was going to, you know, gain weight and be healthy enough to live life without fainting, you know? Cause that was a real thing also.
Ater that, my Instagram started growing and that was insane! I was thinking to myself, how am I going to grow on Instagram and gain exposure without doing something with it? I didn't want to be an Instagram girl without purpose, or a model without purpose, or a makeup artist without purpose, or anyone without purpose, because what is life without purpose, you know? So, once I started modeling and gaining a following on Instagram, there was a point where I got really lost and depressed and confused and curious as to where my life was going because I had my degree in makeup artistry, I was a makeup artist, but I was also starting to become a working model. I wasn't signed at the time but that's how I was making my money- modeling.
You reference your height a lot. I think that plays into a bigger theme for you—breaking industry norms.
I think breaking industry norms is seeing how the world is progressing in a positive way and being more accepting…especially being more accepting of people as they are. Not asking people to conform to something, because there is no right or wrong in life. Also, coming from a place that's so conservative, I never in a million years thought that I would look like this in general. When I lived in North Carolina, I wore Polo Ralph Lauren, which is cool, you know, whatever. I was on the golf team, I rode horses and I had hair down to here with highlights and just was a part of a clique, kind of, before I lost all my friends because I had agoraphobia. I just think that breaking industry norms just shows progression in the world.
Do you feel like you've found an outlet of self expression?
I think that I found an outlet of self expression in modeling and social media in a sense. Makeup artistry was put on a back burner because I decided that I wanted to pursue modeling on another level, gain a following, because I decided I wanted to be open about my mental health and write about it.
So how do you use your platform?
The first thing that I started to do was really start to express myself on my platform because I think that it's important to be who you are. But then I started being open about my anxiety on my platform. I think I've spoken about agoraphobia, maybe one time, and depression. I've seen so many of my friends go through periods of extreme anxiety and depression and crazy stuff, even addiction and eating disorders and everything in L.A. because it's such a normal thing in the industry. I don't think that people realize how many people are affected by it. I think everyone is affected by mental health in a way. Maybe not personally, but I guarantee you, you have a family member who has anxiety or depression or OCD or bipolar disorder or addiction or... everyone's affected by it.
So what do you think needs to change? How can the industry change and evolve?
I think that the industry needs to be more aware and be more accepting of people as they are, which they are becoming that way. But I also think being my height, which is 5’5”, and having eyelid tattoos, having like all these weird tattoos that I got in different points in my life, some of them when I was really going through a tough time, some of them that I'm not really that proud of because I've got them in a dark time in my life. But accepting someone's past and accepting their journey…because someone's past doesn't define who they are, but it opens the door to define their future and how they affect the world.
My handle on Instagram is @siiickbrain and a lot of people don't understand that, but I made it that because it's a play on words. I struggled with mental health issues, but also sick like ‘cool’. Everyone in my generation knows that sick is a cool thing. I am not saying by any means that it’s cool to have a mental health disorder. I'm saying that it can shape your art and what you do and make it into something cool. It can affect the way that you paint, the way that you do art, the way that you carry yourself, the way that you write, the way that you present yourself. Mental health can affect these things. But I don't think that mental health needs to be portrayed as something cool because it's really hard to deal with.
Do you feel like there has been a glamorization of having mental health issues?
I think that a lot of artists and people in the industry have started to glamorize mental health issues and that is not by any means what I intend to do. I just want those who have mental health issues to know that they're not alone. I don't think that we need to be promoting the use of mental health stabilizers, like medications or whatnot, or talk about how cool it is if "I'm depressed" or "have anxiety" or "I'm suicidal" or anything, it's not cool. It's a very serious illness that so many people face on a day to day basis. It shouldn't be glamorized. But it should be accepted.
So, you’re writing a book! Tell me about it.
I am writing a book. It is based on my experience with mental health. It's very real, very true to what I've experienced. Almost like a diary in a sense and it shows how real things can get, and symptoms of mental illness can get. And I think it's important for me to put it out there because it provides those who struggle with a sense of, "hey, I'm not alone" or maybe they could learn from how I handled my experience with mental health and show that you're not gonna end up just moping around and sitting in your parents house, and not pursuing your dreams, because it is possible to overcome your experience with it.
To you, Caroline, what does it mean to be powerful?
To be powerful is to accept your past and use it to help people. Just remember that you can overcome anything that the world throws your way. Stay true to who you are and what you want with your life.
Can you recall a moment that you felt powerful?
I felt really powerful when I moved to my first apartment in New York.
You've come a long way. What has your journey taught you?
I am not a victim of my past, I am a pioneer of my future, and I hold what I've encountered in my life with pride and I don't feel bad for myself for it happening. I think that it's helped me and not only me, I know it helps other people by sharing my experience.
What would you tell teenage Caroline with the agoraphobia living in North Carolina right now if you could talk to her?
Oh my God, that's so crazy. If, if I could look back and tell myself one thing, I’d just say it's gonna be fine and to continue to push yourself every day and don't give up.
What's next for you?
I am just excited to write a book and finish it. And also I have a degree in beauty merchandising and I'm a makeup artist, so why am I not using those things and why am I not just hustling and doing everything that I can to not only benefit my future, but to fulfill myself and my past self?
I think I'm going to do a skincare line or cosmetics line or something.
As a writer and as somebody who's participating with The Fem Word, what do you feel is the importance of sharing stories?
Sharing stories is important because it provides other people with hope for their future.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I just see myself continuing to share my story and further, continuing to help other people in different ways.