Model Citizen: Danika Brysha
Meeting Danika Brysha in person, you immediately notice the following things: she’s tall, as a model should be. She has a bright smile that lights up the room. Her fashion sense is absolutely impeccable.
While I fuss over my comfortable flats and stare at her five-inch heels, she ushers me into her quaint hotel room overlooking Gramercy Park, and offers me a water and fruit from a beautiful arrangement. I immediately feel more comfortable; I’ve been here two minutes and I feel like we’ve met before. Danika Brysha has that personality, and she embraces it.
“I would love to be a motivational speaker,” she confesses when we sit down. “And what I mean by that is to help people do what I’m fortunate enough to do. I’m a big believer in manifestation and self-care.”
It’s safe to say that both of those things have been important in Brysha’s life, transforming her into one of the most important “body positive influencers” in recent memory. Still, “I can’t wait for the day when I’m not a plus-size model or curve model, [but] I’m just a model,” she admits. “And I use the term—I’m by no means ashamed of it, I love the term—I think it’s beautiful and I think it causes awareness, and people can call me whatever they want to call me. But eventually ... I’ll just be a model.”
Born on Long Island, NY and raised in Newport Beach, CA, Brysha grew up doing what most teenagers do: she filled her walls with magazine cutouts of models who seemed to be the epitome of fame and success. It wasn’t any different, after all, than what she saw at the beach, or on the streets of her town. “I saw all the models and thought that would make me feel like enough,” explains Brysha of her runway dreams. “And I saw eating disorders my whole life as a mission for weight loss.” It was a mindset that led her to spend most of her teenage and college years battling bulimia and other disordered eating. But it was only when she stopped actively trying to lose weight in 2011—letting her body settle naturally at a size 12/14—that she got her first big break as a model, when she was approached at Bank of America. And suddenly, that “stamp of approval” she had sought out while trying to make it as a model meant something different.
“A big thing was being surrounded by other body positive women. Now I’m on photo shoots with these curvy women that I’d never seen,” she says. “So, to see these other women who were celebrated for being beautiful and [now] for me to be the person in the media that I never had growing up is a real sort of honor.”
Today, Brysha is far from the person she was as a teenager, in many ways. Not only has she modeled for brands like Target, Old Navy, Forever 21 and Benefit Cosmetics (to name a few), she’s a successful business woman, the CEO and co-founder of the rapidly growing Whole30 approved, paleo, organic and locally-sourced food delivery service called Model Meals. She’s in a stable and happy relationship with her boyfriend of ten months (who she calls her “guilty pleasure”). She’s writing a book on self-care and has dreams of becoming a life coach. She’s happy, healthy and looking toward the future with what can only be described as glowing optimism. And just because she’s succeeding on so many levels, she has no intention of stopping.
“It’s so fun,” Brysha gushes about Model Meals. “And it’s so crazy to me. They talk about taking your passion and making it your living, and I get to truthfully say that I’ve done that. It was something I wanted for myself, and so I created it because I didn’t see it anywhere. We’ve expanded in Northern California, and just this growth...we [with co-founder and CFO/COO Camille May] did it without any investors, we did it really organically and authentically, and we’re really proud of what we’re doing.”
The idea for Model Meals came directly from Brysha and her own experiences when she moved to New York to pursue her modeling career. She was looking to change her unhealthy relationship with food, and embarked on the clean eating-focused Whole30: thirty days without sugar, legumes, grains, dairy, and alcohol, and a total shift to healthy fats, proteins, fruits and veggies. Brysha not only lost 30 pounds, she also lost a lot of modeling jobs. Suddenly stressed and missing rent, she realized she had to figure out a way to make money.
The figurative light bulb went on, and she realized that one thing she really did love was cooking and putting meals together. Brysha started figuring out creative ways to eat cleanly, and realized maybe others who were also in her position could benefit from what she was teaching herself. The hard work paid off: Model Meals has grown so much that the California-based organization is looking to expand to additional states, with consideration to the New York area.
“It’s really important for me to do this slowly and correctly because you really only get one chance,” says Brysha about the future expansion. “And so, for us, I think what we’ll do, is master the West Coast and then continue to open additional kitchens in other locations.”
Model Meals is more than an organization that helps people eat healthier. It’s a way to improve your life, Brysha explains. “If you asked me to be honest about what my mission and passion was for the last decade, it was weight loss,” she says. “Which I hate to say out loud, but it’s true. When I changed how I ate, I was a happier, more present, more connected person. And I thought, if I could make this food easy and accessible for people, this changes the world. I got off all my prescription pills. I was in a better mood all the time. I had such a clear mind that I found this deep self-worth that I needed to make myself the best possible version of myself, and in turn I gave that to the world.”
Model, CEO, or girlfriend—it’s that version of Brysha who will be there for you if you need to talk: the one who wants to, in her words, “give herself to the world.” After all, she’s seen firsthand how it can benefit your life.
“I think we have a culture that really numbs out a lot, and I’m guilty of it. But I think the answer to how we live our life and how to guide ourselves is inside. I spent a year not drinking, eating very clean, not watching TV, to really do this self-work—journaling, gratitude, all that stuff—and all these answers started coming. Something just gets clear when you physically take care of yourself first. And in that clarity came the idea for Model Meals, and the truth of what actually worked for me in terms of relationships.” It’s no question that Brysha today is confident and fulfilling her dreams, but when I ask her what she wishes someone had told her growing up, her response makes it easy for me to see the teenage girl in Southern California who dreamed of belonging in a world of fashion and bright lights.
“You are enough,” she tells me is what she needed to hear back then. “All of us are enough because we’re here. Just being born is a miracle. And I think for me, I took this idea of ‘I’m not enough because I’m not skinny’ and that went into all areas of my life.”
If her ride to success is any indication, we feel confident telling Brysha this now: you are definitely enough.
Features Editor Andrea Towers
Photographer Annie Vovan, Annie Vovan
Photography Creative Director Rae Pardini Matson, RPM PR
Stylist Melissa Chataigne, assisted by Amanda Weil
Hair/Make-Up Trace Watkins