EXCLUSIVE: Khrystyana was ready to strip down as Playboy’s Playmate for November 2020.
The former "America’s Next Top Model" contestant said it’s taken her years to finally embrace her figure. The sought-after model now wants to encourage other women to accept themselves, no matter their size.
Khrystyana grew up in Ukraine, where she claimed anything above a size 4 was considered overweight. After struggling to fit in, she later moved to the United States where she was scouted by a modeling agency.
The model later formed "The Real Catwalk," where she and a group of friends got together and headed to New York City's Times Square where they launched a fashion show in bikinis. She said the goal was to show that everyone is worthy of walking the runway regardless of size, gender, sexuality or ethnicity. But Khrystyana insisted that her journey as a body-positive activist is only beginning.
Khrystyana spoke to Fox News about her early years struggling to fit in, her life-changing wake-up call, and what it means to pose for Playboy today.
Fox News: What was it like shooting for Playboy?
Khrystyana: It was an unusual photoshoot because normally, it takes about one day to shoot for Playboy. But my partner and I shot over a course of six days. So it was a long photoshoot. We traveled to upstate New York where we could create this transformation of me revealing myself.
It was very special because I wanted to represent how one can feel sexy and confident without makeup, but also go completely glammed up on the last day, showing two different sides of myself. Every day I felt like I was peeling something off from myself. Ultimately, I hope it sends a message that you’re beautiful no matter your size and no matter if you go completely glam or bare-face.
Fox News: What was your reaction to the photos?
Khrystyana: It was an emotional moment. I loved the freedom Playboy gave me to go in this direction. It’s such a remarkable magazine with a rich history. It’s still unbelievable that I’m a part of it. Every time I look at my photos, my heart feels like it’s being squeezed or wants to explode. It bubbles up in me. I truly feel like I want to burst from joy.
Fox News: What does being a Playmate mean to you?
Khrystyana: First of all, it’s being part of a special community. Once Playboy made the announcement, so many former Playmates reached out and congratulated me. It felt like a special bond.
It’s a unique connection you instantly develop, like a sister. It feels like you’re part of something big because each Playmate represents not only something different physically but also a different moment in history. I feel like we’re all adding to this ongoing story. We all have a voice in it. I just feel honored that my voice is one of those being heard.
Fox News: Were you nervous when it came time to shoot for Playboy?
Khrystyana: Honestly, I wasn’t nervous. My partner was shooting it so there was already this comfort level. And with Playboy, there was never this conversation of "You have to be completely nude. They gave me the freedom to be creative. Ultimately, it was my decision to be in Playboy so I wasn’t nervous. I felt ready.
And I’m born nude *laughs*. I have a body as everyone else does. Some people may be uncomfortable with the notion of nudity, but it’s taken me a while to fully feel comfortable with myself and this body. So I’m choosing to celebrate it.
Fox News: You grew up in Ukraine, which you described to Playboy as having its own beauty standards. What was that like?
Khrystyana: I was born in Siberia. I lived in Russia until I was about seven years old before I moved to Ukraine. But yes, it has its own beauty standards. It’s really difficult for people in the United States to understand that a size 4 could be considered questionable. And when you’re 15-16 and a size 4? People will already start calling you fat or chubby.
I was about a size 6 in my teenage years. I was called a horse, a cow and a lard very often. I’m talking about multiple times a day. So as far as beauty standards go, it’s very different. And then there’s makeup. I grew up in a country where girls wear makeup easily to go to the grocery store or heels just to throw out the garbage. Pampering yourself is part of the culture. And I was never like that. So that was another beauty standard I couldn’t fit into. No matter what I did, I just couldn’t look as put-together as my other peers. It was hard.
Fox News: You were being criticized at such a young age. How much did you struggle to lose weight due to the criticism you were hearing?
Khrystyana: I was trying to lose weight every day. The negative comments weren’t just coming from people. They were also coming from me. I felt unattractive. I couldn’t be beautiful if I was curvy. So I tried for a long time to lose any weight that I could. I tried all kinds of diets. But nothing seemed to work.
I was 13-14-15 trying all kinds of diets, exercising non-stop, just trying anything that promised I would lose a single pound. I was putting my body into so much stress. And then my mother got in trouble health-wise because she was drinking a lot of diet teas. That was a wake-up call for me and the first step in realizing that maybe what I was doing is not necessarily good for me internally. My body and mental health were struggling.
Fox News: Your mother was later hospitalized. How much of an impact did that have on you, especially as someone who was also struggling with body issues?
Khrystyana: I just remember when it happened. The doctors told me her stomach had been completely stripped from the diet teas. They gave her a month to live. I remember feeling filled with anger. But that anger fired me up. I didn’t want to fit into those beauty standards anymore.
It was a slow journey, to be honest. I would binge eat at times. I would wake up one day and say, "I’m starting a new day and I’m going to eat healthy. I’m going to treat my body in a more accepting way." But then the next day, I would eat an entire jar of peanut butter by myself. I felt like I was slowly going up and then back down. It wouldn’t be until I moved to the United States that became a huge eye-opener for me. I saw a different life for myself. And I realized that the beauty standards are different here. I didn’t have to live by the rules of beauty that I grew up with.
Fox News: Did your mother recover?
Khrystyana: My mother’s relationship with her body is so much better. I remember she saw me do "The Real Catwalk." She called me the morning after and started to cry. It struck me because we talk every day, but her voice was different that morning.
She said, "Today, for the first time in a long time, I looked in the mirror and I didn’t have anything negative to say about myself." It was such a serious, short message that struck me so deeply. Because I knew what it was like to look in the mirror and be unhappy with yourself, no matter how hard you tried to look a certain way. And that work to raise awareness on body positivity didn’t stop from there.
Fox News: What was it like modeling in the United States?
Khrystyana: You know, I had forgotten what it was like to feel ashamed of my body. And I realized how privileged I am to be in this body -- that’s a word I haven’t heard of in Russia or Ukraine. I’m living my life here and learning a new perspective, but I’ve embraced both cultures. I understand that this country, the United States, isn’t perfect for everyone. But I feel like I have a chance here to help change or redefine beauty standards. And I feel committed to that.
Fox News: You went on to appear in "America’s Next Top Model." What surprised you the most about Tyra Banks?
Khrystyana: Every day was a surprise *laughs*. She’s incredibly stunning in person. You know she’s beautiful, but you’re not prepared to experience how gorgeous she really is upfront. When you stand next to hear, it’s like a vortex pulling you in. I’ve hung out with other celebrities but her presence is so different from there.
Fox News: In addition to being a model, you’re also a body-positive activist. How important has it been for you to show that beauty doesn’t come in one size?
Khrystyana: Extremely. We’re constantly told that beauty can only be one specific look. I want to constantly remind people that’s not the case at all. I think about my younger self and how much she struggled to feel beautiful. I don’t want another girl to go through that pain. I would describe my experience as an unpleasant tattoo. It has stayed with me, but it’s also a reminder that this is my body and I’m proud of it.
Everyone deserves to be beautiful. Everyone deserves to feel worthy. You don’t have to be a model to celebrate your body. They say the average size in America is a size 14 or 16. So why aren’t we seeing that more in commercials or movies when they’re supposed to represent reality? I want to help represent that change.
Fox News: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Khrystyana: I would tell her how amazing she is. It takes time to believe it, but she has so much to offer. And look, I know it’s not easy. There are some days that I wake up and want to go back to my old thinking. But then I let go of those things that are not good for me, for myself. You have to see and believe in your own amazingness. And when you do, it’s a wonderful feeling.