The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model says the support she received was “overwhelming,” and reassured her that she was doing the right thing.
“I read all the comments on Instagram, people DM’d [direct messaged] me, people came up to me on the street and parents thanked me. The support really showed that there’s always a need for people to stand up for something and speak their truth, because there’s always people out there who can relate to it,” Agdal, 25, tells PEOPLE. “I was very happy to finally say something.”
Nina Agdal in Aerie’s Macrame One Piece Swimsuit
Agdal says that she got the courage to speak out after moving past years of insecurities, and seeing a public shift towards openly talking about anxiety.
“I had to grow into the role where I am now where I can speak out and say something,” she says. “But I do think the times have changed, and people speak up about whatever is going on, negative or positive, and the social media platform is a great way to create a discussion and talk about things. For me, I wasn’t ready to talk about things a couple years ago because I was very insecure, but I’m finally in a place with myself where I’m ready to open up about it.”
Nina Agdal in Aerie’s Rings One Piece Swimsuit
The entire incident also changed how she approaches and considers new modeling clients.
“I just don’t see myself doing work that I don’t agree with anymore,” Agdal says. “I don’t want something that’s overly retouched. I’m a size 4, 6 or 8 depending on what day of the month it is, and as long as the client supports that and women of all sizes and skin colors, then I want to work with them.”
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She’s also careful to avoid clients who could put her back into a bad headspace.
“I’m finally in a place where I’m happy with myself so I don’t want to go into a job and get knocked down once again, like what happened with the magazine,” Agdal says. “So what you see is what you get, and if you don’t like what I stand for and what I look like, then it’s definitely not going to work.”
Nina Agdal in Aerie’s Macrame Triangle Bikini
That’s part of how she ended up modeling for Aerie’s latest campaign. Agdal had previously worked with the brand about six years ago, before they stopped retouching all of their images, and was excited to be part of their movement.
“It’s so incredible what they’re doing, with no retouching at all,” she says. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to get back into modeling again and do something that I believe in, but also something that’s completely different. I think it’s the only lingerie client that does absolutely no retouching, regardless of if there’s a muffin top or cellulite. All these imperfections are what makes us all so special, and they just embrace that and encourage girls to be confident in who they are. That just spoke to me.”
Though Agdal admits that seeing the final images came as a bit of a shock at first.
“I definitely had to take a second, because for eight years every single photo shoot that I’ve ever seen of myself had been retouched,” she says. “All the little ‘flaws’ are there — my birthmarks, or my muffin top, or cellulite. And I’ve never seen that published out to the world, because usually you shoot and then they’ll retouch everything.”
But after a bit of time, Agdal with thrilled with the photos, and the message they send.
“I was so happy and proud of the campaign, because I feel so good about what I look like,” she says. “Props to Aerie for really just going for it.”