On being a Model, Humanitarian, Teacher, and Mother...
Kaleigh is one of the most positive, nurturing souls I know, and when you’re around her, you can’t help but get on her level. Radiant, energetic, relaxed, open minded, and graceful are just a few words that come to mind. I followed her and her 1 year old son Koa around their beautiful home filled with eclectic worldly trinkets, to find out more about her journey and her insight on how she works to cultivate a full, balanced life.
Kaleigh began modeling at the early age of 12 years old. After she finished high school she went on to travel around the world for modeling and also worked in Morocco and Tanzania as a volunteer. Now Kaleigh is a teacher, and mother.
TM: What inspired you to become a teacher?
KD: There were many factors that led me to teaching. While I was modeling and attending university (I have a Specialist in Fine Art History) I began doing a lot of volunteer work with kids. I came to often enjoy my volunteer work even more than my paid work in the fashion world, so I realized that perhaps my calling was in education. In Los Angeles there was a great organization called Do Something that put me in touch with an amazing art therapy centre to volunteer with. I also travelled to Morocco to volunteer in a centre for abandoned children, with a particular focus and facility for children with exceptionalities. This experience changed my life. And then later, back in Toronto I started volunteering with the Ontario Early Years Program which really contributed to me applying at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) and ultimately becoming a teacher.
TM: Can you tell us about some of the trips you took? How did you get involved? What have you gained from these experiences?
KD: I have volunteered and travelled predominately through an American organization called Cross-Cultural Solutions. The first trip I did in 2009 I went to Rabat, Morocco and just fell in love with the people, the culture and the amazing children at the orphanage where I was placed. Many of the children had physical, mental and behavioural exceptionalities and required a great deal of care. My experiences in Morocco was another reason I changed career paths and decided to go into education. I believe every child should have the opportunity to go to school – to grow and learn and realize their own unique potential.
I also travelled with the same organization to Moshi, Tanzania and taught kindergarten in a one-room school house. It was so wonderful to see how joyous the children were to be learning each day, even with so few resources. Many of the Swahili songs and stories I learned I still share with my students and my son Koa today with great results. Overall, I think these experiences have given me a greater understanding of the world we live in; they have helped to broaden my own horizons and helped me become a more empathetic teacher and person.
TM: If you could make a major change in the world what would it be?
KD: Change begins with knowledge and understanding and therefore being educated is so important, so that we aren’t misinformed. I think so many of the world’s issues stem from misinformation and ignorance. That being said, if I can teach my own children and students to be critical thinkers, ask important questions and make educated decisions then hopefully the world will be brighter because of it. I love this poem by an unknown writer:
When you create
A difference in someone’s life,
You not only impact their life,
You impact everyone influenced by them
Throughout their entire lifetime.
Go create waves.
TM: What impact did modeling have on your self esteem?
KD: I think that modeling definitely gave me a thick skin. I learned very quickly about rejection and how to bounce back and not take it too personally. Obviously there were times it stung more than others, castings can be totally unforgiving and cruel and I definitely have had/have insecurities. I know all my so-called flaws:
-the bridge of my nose is wide
-my jaw isn’t pronounced
-I have a baby face with no nice bone structure
-my teeth are crooked
At times I’ve been too thin and at other times not toned enough (by modeling standards), but you learn to brush it off and focus on what you do love about yourself. With modeling there is always going to be someone taller, thinner or prettier than you, but you just have to be the best version of yourself and eventually along comes a job that you are the “perfect fit” for. It’s a crazy business. The modeling business has actually changed so much now with social media. I definitely don’t miss being judged solely on my looks, but many of the life lessons I learned modeling carried forward and gave me the independence and strength to be the person/mom/teacher/wife that I am today. What many people don’t see of modeling is how hard you work getting the jobs, trekking to 10+ castings a day in all corners of the city in all types of weather (in my day it was getting lost trying to use a laminated map), having new roommates at every location that you’ve never met before, working with people who don’t speak the same language as you, traveling constantly and always at the last minute, going with the flow when someone wants to cut your hair and then dye it, and then cut it and dye it again only to end up putting in extensions, working long hours and sitting around and waiting - that gives you an incredibly strong work ethic, not to mention patience and confidence that you can survive and thrive anywhere.
TM: Has being pregnant and experiencing motherhood made you more in touch with your body, and strength as a woman?
I think I am less critical of myself and realize there is a greater purpose and meaning to my body. I also marvel at how little sleep we can function on.
TM: Any advice on motherhood?
KD: Be easy on yourself, so many things won’t go as you planned; for example, I wanted to have a natural birth and everything was pointing to that being possible and then my water broke and I was 8cm dilated at the hospital when they told me Koa had flipped and was breech and I had to have an emergency C-section. It was a shock and I wasn’t happy about it at the time, but I gave birth to a healthy baby so that’s what matters. I also thought breast-feeding was going to be second nature, it took some hard-work at the beginning. It’s all a learning curve and just when you think you’ve got something figured out you enter a new stage and it changes again. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner, your family, your friends, or even strangers (there are some great online Mom groups). Also, stay firm with what you believe in, many people will kindly share their opinions but just follow your intuition, you know what’s best for you and your baby and your situation. And make sure you carve out a little time for yourself!
TM: What are some things that help you to try and create balance between family, career, and fun.
KD: Prioritizing health, carving out time for exercise (this always contributes to good mental health for me), getting regular massage, eating well and trying to get a good nights rest are all goals. I am old-school and still use an agenda and a desk calendar to keep track of our busy schedules, and my husband Mike and I usually sit down at the beginning of the week to set out a plan. We also use a journal together where we write down our individual and joint goals and then quarterly we reflect and on them and set new ones. During the school year I also rely on meal planning and we use Fresh City Farms, a local sustainable company that delivers recipe kit meals weekly, which make cooking/shopping so much easier.
TM: You really nurture your friendships with your girlfriends. How do these friendships influence your life?
KD: I think it’s so important to prioritize friendships, I greatly value all my friends opinions and love hearing their different perspectives. They have kept me strong through some rockier times with my family and also in my personal life. Their love and support is always so appreciated. And there is nothing like a fun night with friends to rejuvenate your spirit.
TM: As your friend I can attest that you have a wonderful relaxed balanced approach to health. What does health mean to you?
KD: Such a good question… I hadn’t really thought about it but definitely when my mind and body are both in sync and feeling strong is when I feel healthiest. Now that I am a parent and also am getting older and watching loved ones get older I think I place an even greater emphasis on health, and not just so that I look my best but so I am my strongest. I also don’t deprive myself of anything. I am definitely more in the everything in moderation type mindset.
TM: How do you like to stay active?
KD: I love running but it can be hard on my body (knees, ankles, hips) but the mental component is amazing, so I try and work it into my routine in moderation. I also love pilates – I did it throughout my pregnancy and post-natal, and it kept me feeling strong and pain-free. Overall I try and keep it interesting by mixing it up. I also love any kind of cardio dance work or ballet inspired workout, and yoga. I try and walk a lot, especially with Koa – he keeps us pretty active and outside as much as possible.
TM: Biggest obstacle you have overcome?
KD: With my family we have encountered some pretty challenging times due to divorce, addiction and mental health issues, but throughout it all we have all remained incredibly close. Our ability, as a family to support one another, communicate, find the humour at times and most of all stay strong and united is something I am very grateful for."
TM: What do you LOVE most about yourself?
KD: I am a fast learner. I’m up for anything. I am positive. And my favourite features are my eyes and my lips, especially now because they are similar to Koa.
TM: What is one piece of advice you would tell your younger self?
KD: "Don’t stop manifesting your destiny but know that it will all work out the way it’s supposed to." – a cliché but true!