In the latest instalment of our Diving In series, we spoke to holistic health coach, farmer and model Bianca Valle. Bianca tells us about her decision to go offline, her thoughts on finding her feet in an image-focused world and the importance of relearning what's good for you, in what you eat, what you do and what you think.
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
My name is Bianca Valle, and I am a farmer and health coach. I live in Rockaway Beach, New York, with my partner, and I spend my days, thankfully, doing pretty much exactly what I want to do. I work on a two-acre veggie farm three days a week, and then the other days of the week, I am health coaching, cleaning my house or making tomato sauce. Practising mindfulness and positivity as well as trying to educate myself and explore new things are also on my list.
When you graduated NYU, you became a Beauty Editor at Nylon, but you’ve since qualified and worked as a Holistic Nutritionist. What inspired you to take the leap and invest in this change in direction?
When I moved to New York from Coronado, California, I was inevitably exposed to the opposite of small-town life. When I started studying in the city at the age of 18, my interests started shifting and gravitating towards fashion, shopping, make-up and nightlife. During school, I would study hard, keep part-time jobs and maintain healthy relationships, but the more superficial things, in my opinion, caught my attention a little more than they should have, looking back. I was young and naive and trying to find my way, which I forgive my younger self for. However, I ended up really focused on what I was going to wear on the weekend in the city, where my friends and I were going to go dancing or to get a coffee. All benign things, but I got lost in them. Many young people around me were also attracted to this culture and these points of interest for a sense of identity, belonging, pleasure and purpose, I suppose.
So when I graduated at 21, I started working at Nylon Magazine to immerse myself deeper into the fashion and beauty space. I was one of the youngest beauty editors the magazine has ever had, and I loved it. At this time, New York was just starting to experience the growth of Instagram, and the world of beauty and fashion were at some sort of apex. As beauty editor of the print magazine, I started to gain a following on Instagram quickly, from sharing content about skincare, outfits and my version of city life.
Eventually, the print issue of Nylon closed, and I got laid off. Losing this job was the start of my eyes and mind opening towards other ways of being, but also a tough lesson. Aside from getting thrown off my path against my will, and my income stopping from one day to the next, I had also inherited a negative mindset. The idea that looking ‘skinny’ and fitting the mould of societal beauty standards was key to being ‘celebrated’ in the fashion industry. Not many people around me were saying that just being who and how you are is beautiful, nor did I inherit that wisdom really growing up. It was easy to follow the pack and not think for myself. I didn’t really know how to ask myself if my mindset was healthiest for me.
Now that I am older and have more life experience, I realise that these industries and my interests were really toxic for me and affecting me quite negatively. As much as I thought that I was fine, balanced, and keeping things in perspective, I actually really couldn’t fight the beast. Trying the next cream or buying the next piece of clothing were acts I thought would make me more beautiful, along with skipping some meals. Then, I would go on Instagram and upload a photo of myself or upload a photo of what I had for lunch, and think that that quick hit of validation would make me feel even better! It gave me a false sense of security, safety, admiration, love and attention. I didn’t know I needed to give those things to myself and not get them by exhibiting my worthiness online or to anyone at that.
I saw the effects my career path had on me and the other people around me. They, and I, needed help. So the next chapter in my journey began, and my first step was enrolling in a nutrition program to learn how to be healthy and hopefully then be able to help others.
Tell us more about your thoughts and feelings towards holistic nutrition and nourishment. What are the most important ways that we as humans can use nutrition to nourish our bodies? How does food play a part in self-care?
Food is self-care. As humans, we have been encouraged to believe that one way of eating fits all, which is not true. We’re not going to know what kind of nourishment we need unless we surrender these ideas that we’re gathering from the outside and rather, look inward. I really believe that holistic nutrition is mind, body and soul. It’s the combination of your job, your relationships, your schedule, and your desires; your whole entire atmosphere and inner world and how that plays into your health. Holistic nutrition is not just the food you eat but also why you eat it. Where you get your food (hopefully the farmers market!), and what you do with your food scraps after you finish eating (composting!). Holistic nutrition is knowing that the combination on your plate will support you personally. It’s really a matter of self-love and self-respect and awareness of the greater impact of your choices. I think what one should be eating can be discovered through openness, but also tuning into what feels best inside one's journey towards balance.
In January of this year, you made the decision to leave Instagram. This feels like a very brave and big decision for someone for whom social media must have played a big role up until that point.
Tell us more about that decision. How do you feel now about that decision, and how has living without Instagram impacted your life? Has it changed the way you feel about your body? The way you dress? Your general contentment?
I began to rethink my relationship with social media when Covid hit in 2020. I was 25 and quarantined alone in New York. Naturally, I was scared of what the pandemic meant for our future; my future. I did my best to manage my emotions, to stay calm and grateful because most of my income came from the digital space at that time. But as the pandemic started to develop deeper and faster, and countless people were suffering immensely around the world, I felt that my situation was too good. It seems harsh, but right before the pandemic started, I can honestly say I was inundated in abundance, too much abundance for one person, in my opinion.
I was using my Instagram platform, established from my Nylon days, as a means to reach more clients as a holistic health coach. I did have loads of measures using my platform as an educational space, but it was inevitable that I got approached by brands to run paid ads, or to try their new ‘eco friendly’ products because of the number of followers I had. I would think, 'okay, let’s try a few ads', or 'yes, let’s accept a few free gifts, thank you…' But after some time, it just felt out of alignment with my values and morals. Being on Instagram as a ‘public person’ with a following, health coach or not, somehow made it easy for me to attain a lot of things; money, clothes, shoes, skincare, household items, anything and everything really. I think since things were constantly being put in front of me due to my large following, I lost touch with just how hard it can be sometimes in our world and how valuable things are. It skewed my view toward excess. As much as I tried to just take what I needed, the temptation overcame me. I tried my best to stay grounded as an ‘influential person’ on Instagram, but there was just so much 'opportunity'; it was hard not to follow that river.
So, during my time alone in March, I began to reconstruct how I could more closely live my values. Aside from the incredible amounts of positive abundance that Instagram brought me, that I will forever be grateful for, I did feel like that type of lifestyle was ultimately not healthy for me. My soul asked for something less excessive, not on a phone screen, and a life that was less self-centred. I felt I was robbing myself of a more true, connected and real existence.
From one day to the next, I just stopped. I think I was overwhelmed to steer the direction of this massive ship I built towards more balance, so I just logged off, and that seemed best for me. I tried very hard to build something to help others and help myself, but ultimately I didn’t have enough life experience to do it the way I would do it now, if I even would.
I took a chunk of time after logging off of Instagram to reconnect with myself, speak with a self-development coach and build deeper friendships. Being so online robbed me of the mutual in-person nurturing that many friendships are based on. I listened to self-improvement podcasts, got a therapist, read self-improvement books, volunteered, got a part-time job in composting, and found other ways to connect and cultivate my life with different meaning and more understanding.
In January of this year, I posted that I would no longer be on Instagram after having been off already for six months. I didn’t feel like I had to explain myself, but I did want to let people know that I was very grateful for the time we spent together online. I also kind of didn't want to get emails anymore from people asking me if I was okay. I would respond with gratitude to their concern, but it was really interesting to see and feel that people thought I was not okay versus maybe thinking people who decide to leave social media may be deciding to live a better life. I can confirm that from the time I went off Instagram, my life has been better :) For me, the false, inflated sense of self that the internet created in me was a phase in my journey. I don’t want to put anything down because we all have our paths, and at the time, I needed that phase to become stronger now.
As well as your nutrition practice, you work as a model. How do you feel about modelling and about the fashion industry as a whole?
I was very sceptical about being signed to an agency at first because I knew modelling could maybe trigger me in some ways, but I felt I had grown a lot since my more immersed fashion and social media days, and wanted to see how it would go. Modelling is showing your body, your face and who you are on the outside for a day, which is not all of you. I had to be ok with that concept and keep reminding myself that modelling is, for me, an incredibly fortunate way to make money, as well as a way to impact and change which ‘faces’ are in media.
I also don’t want to not be self-aware. I am, and this is the self-love speaking, a very gorgeous human! I do have my days when I don’t feel ‘pretty’, like so many of us do, but I then gently remind myself that this type of self-talk is learned and not what I believe in. I remind myself that I am gorgeous, we all are, and I am healthy, alive, and enveloped by abundance.
I see myself as very lucky to be signed to Dreamland agency because they believe in supporting me exactly as I am, without an Instagram presence, eating what I want and working as a farmer and health coach along with modelling. My agency and I are slowly breaking the toxic cycles the modelling industry has operated with for a long time, and that empowers me.
You seem to have an incredible relationship with and a love and respect for food. A lot of people have a more complicated relationship with it.
How has your relationship with food changed over time, and how did you develop such a healthy relationship with eating?
Every single person’s experience is so radically different and valid, but for me,
disrespecting myself, and disrespecting food, came from a very superficial place. It was because I moved to New York City, started working in fashion, and felt that to be ‘cool’ in fashion at the time, I had to look a certain way.
Later down the line, knowing that my relationship with food came from such a superficial place helped me. I eventually would coach myself by reminding myself that acts of self-abandonment are acts of zero gratitude. I would gently remind myself that disrespecting my circumstances through this kind of behaviour was low vibration.
Really, it was a lot of coaching myself as a friend. I didn’t want to go the clinical route but rather a more holistic approach. I didn’t want my answers to come mostly from outside of me, but rather intrinsically from my intuition. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I just told myself I was going to be ok.
I just needed to learn how to be ok. In the beginning, when you’re just starting your healing journey, it can seem like you will never heal and that you will always be scared of eating or overeating or of what you’re eating. But I didn’t give up on myself, and I always thought to myself - this is possible.
Travelling and being with different people and being in different circumstances and new environments also helped me a lot. Eating new things and realising that I wasn’t going to keel over if I had a slice of pizza, for example, were pivotal in my growth. I can’t speak for everyone, and we are all so different, but for me, it did take just going for it. Having pasta, having three meals a day, coming home and cooking for myself and having that discipline. Buying groceries at the farmers' market and making food, which is the most healing way, the most economical way, and in my opinion, the most important way to be alive and healthy. I didn’t see healing as a task or a pity party, but as the least I could do for myself.
After a couple of years, I just started feeling so in tune with my body, that now I know when I need to eat more greens, if I need protein, if I’ve had too much caffeine, or if I want to drink a Coca-Cola. I’m going through a Coca-Cola phase right now! And maybe it’s a phase, or maybe it’s forever, and that’s ok. Allowing myself to be experimental and not be so strict with routine, but rather disciplined with self-care and looking inward and making sure that I’m following my body is my way of balance. This mindset has helped me build a really strong, open, respectful, but also measured relationship with my food.
It feels like you made a really conscious decision to step back and think about the things that made you feel content and fulfilled, and you made significant changes in your life to make sure that you were focussing on these things.
So many of us don’t focus on pursuing what makes us happy, or we’re daunted by the big changes to our lives that it would require. What advice would you give people who feel they need to make a change but aren’t quite sure what that change might be, or how to go about it?
The only reason I stopped and made this huge change was that I felt an extreme discomfort inside of me, and I couldn't ignore it. I recognized it and acted on it with full belief in myself. So that was a driving force for me to change. I will say that I am not an expert in making changes, though. On paper, my existence sounds like it’s very much in alignment with myself, and it is, but I’m also still figuring it out. And I think there’s no knowing. It sounds really daunting, but when you think you know, all of a sudden, you may realise that you don’t know. So that’s what I’m going through right now. But I do think that being okay with change, and being experimental and not taking life so seriously, if your circumstances support that, is really important.
I also think that believing in yourself as an individual and believing in yourself to be able to problem solve and live the process and enjoy the steps is important. If you are aimed at joy and at following your heart, those steps will feel less out of reach, but there will be times when things feel scary. And that’s ok. It’s part of the human experience to have really euphoric moments and then to have really low moments, but then also to have homeostasis sometimes.
I would say that for the past six months, I’ve been In homeostasis. Farming, health coaching, living by the beach, cooking my meals, choosing happiness, reading books, modelling, and choosing to feel like I made the right choices are part of it. Can it change? Yes. Will it change? Probably. Do I believe in forever? I guess, but also no, because we never know what life is going to bring.
So I guess my piece of advice is just to be flexible with yourself and be open. You could try something and then learn it’s not for you or learn that it feels really good for you. There are no failures, just lessons to learn from.
Text: Rosie Cohen
Photography: Kat Slootsky