Today, Julia Miller is the confident and sunny new face of Torrid. But to reach this point, the clothing brand’s model search winner had to overcome years of bullying for her weight.
The 20-year-old waitress from Round Rock, Texas hadn’t thought about her size until her classmates pointed it out in sixth grade.
“My weight wasn’t anything that I noticed about myself before,” Miller tells PEOPLE. “I was just a normal girl. I had this incident when I was in sixth grade where kids spit on me and threw food on me when I was on the bus, and that was really just a turning point in my life.”
After that, her confidence plummeted.
“I started to become self-conscious,” Miller says. “I watched what I wore, because I just wanted to fit in. I was the shy girl in the corner because I didn’t want anyone to notice me.”
To move past her fears, Miller started working on self-love.
“I used to stand in front of the mirror for hours and just tell myself that I’m beautiful,” she says, “because I feel like once you love yourself it becomes easier. And I think that was a big thing for me.”
Another thing that helped was finding clothes that actually fit her shape.
“When I was 13, I went to my first Torrid store in Chicago, and I was completely in shock,” Miller says. “I was like, ‘oh my god, these girls look like me! There’s hope!’ So I came back home and sat my mom down and I was like, mom. I want to do this. I’ll finish school, I’ll wait ’til I’m 18 but this is going to be one of my goals in life. I want to be a Torrid model.”
RELATED VIDEO: Kristin Cavallari Says She Still Deals With Bullying Every Day on Social Media
That eventually led her to apply for the Torrid model search, though she initially hesitated to enter.
“I didn’t think it was possible for me to win,” Miller admits, adding that her mom pushed her to do it. “But I’m glad I did because look what happened!”
Miller, who had never modeled before, found out she won about six months ago, and says her life has “completely changed,” ever since. She’s already done a photoshoot and walked in a runway show.
“I’ve just been trying to soak it in and learn everything I can,” Miller says.
She’s also going to work on an anti-bullying campaign through the Torrid Foundation, and spread her message of self-love.
“Now that I have this platform I’m excited to help empower women and make them feel beautiful on the inside and out,” Miller says.