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Kate Stoltzfus looks as though she could be you or me. But there are things about Kate that are different. First, she was raised in a religious sect in Pennsylvania, US, that shuns the modern world. And second, she’s a star of Breaking Amish – a US reality show about five young Amish people who have escaped their old lives to start fresh in New York City.
“I grew up on a small farm. We didn’t have televisions, microwaves or computers,” Kate tells Cosmo. “I’d never seen a magazine before. There was no access to the outside world.”
When asked whether she had ever been to New York before moving there, she calmly replies, “Absolutely. I went on a family trip to the Statue of Liberty when I was younger.” But her life began worlds away, in a tiny town stuck in the 1800s. It was a humble childhood – to say the least. “I have four brothers and two sisters, and I’m in the middle,” she says. “We’d wake up early, milk the cows and feed the animals. After school we’d feed the animals again and do other chores, before going to bed around 9 o’clock.”
The simple life
There are about 265,000 Amish people living in small communities across the US. They follow a 19th-century way of life – horse and buggy is the common mode of transport, and owning a car or a mobile phone is seen as sinful.
Amish women wear plain dress with long skirts, long sleeves and old-fashioned bonnets. Growing a beard is compulsory for married men. While most of us are going to school formals and learning to drive at 16, Amish teenagers are collecting firewood, hand-washing their clothes and going to church. “Saturday nights are spent with family, and on Sundays we’d either go to church or visit more family,” reveals Kate. “Everyone helps each other, and everything is done by hand.
“It’s probably around age six that you begin to notice we’re different from the outside world. I remember being 11 or 12 when I started thinking it would be nice to have certain things, and be able to live a different lifestyle. “Then, when I was 19, I bought my own car. My dad was really upset, and gave me an ultimatum: either get rid of it, or find my own place to live. And that’s when I decided if my car was that much of a problem to him, there was something deeper going on.”
So Kate left behind the life she’d known and moved to Florida. “I had two jobs and was working 70 hours a week, just trying to save up. I’ve always been strong-minded, and I wanted to make it on my own,” she says. “The move was temporary at first, and I thought I’d probably move back home once things with my father settled down,” she continues. But that was all about to change…
“One of my friends was working with the producer of Breaking Amish and he was looking to cast people for the show. My friend set up a meeting, we did a casting tape, and I was picked. “I never knew how big a deal it was until I was packing for New York. Two weeks before filming, I was like, ‘Am I really going through with this?’”
But she did go through with it. And within months, she’d gone from never watching TV to being on a show that is broadcast worldwide – yet her family would never get to see it. “I didn’t know what I was getting into and I think I would’ve been scared if I had known it was going to be such a big deal when I started filming.”
The episode that caused most hype was her shoot for Maxim. When she was asked about her love-life, she proved she was still a bit old-fashioned: “A guy would have to prove himself before I’d bake him my peanut butter blossoms,” was her only response.
Tabloid headlines across the US read “Amish Star Bares Midriff”, and soon she’d scored a modelling contract. “That’s when it became clear I wasn’t going to move back – ever.
“My life changed drastically: my family, job, lifestyle. I’m adjusting well now, and I love the city. I don’t practice Amish traditions anymore, but I try to remember the good qualities they have. There are reasons they do things the way they do, it’s just that lifestyle isn’t for me.”
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