Wednesday, 10 July 2013

How Models, Magazines and the Modern World ruined my Perception of Myself

I was never 'ugly'. Not really. Sure there was the year I had braces, and the teen-hormone laced tomato-faced flushes, the stupid fashion decisions any 9 year old makes, or 14 year old, or, OK, 15, 16 and 17 year old makes, with the unfortunate photographic evidence certain brothers harbor of a string-bean sproutlette in a baggy T tucked into oversized high waisted jeans. (For the record, when he brings that photo out at gatherings in an 'oh how cute/ugly she was' way, I blame the 80's entirely). I was actually never ugly. But I was an ugly-duckling of sorts. Pointy, awkward, tall, freckly, flat chested, red headed and pale. Wide set eyes in a world that praised bombshells such as Cindy Crawford, who, I noted somewhere along the way to adulthood, had eyes exactly the right distance apart. My eyes are wider than that. And of course I never ever did grow into my front teeth.

Regardless of all of the above, when I reached my early 20's, my string-bean turned to 6 feet of lean. My gawky turned to graceful. I figured out which way was up with a make-up-brush, and my freckles and red-tinged hair turned to something, believe it or not, desirable. All in all, I was doing pretty OK in the looks department. So much so that I became used to being asked 'Are you a model?' by strangers passing by in shopping centers, became accustomed to offers from solicitors of modeling agencies, and reached expert level at fending off advances from would-be suitors who hunted based entirely on looks.

At some point I allowed my own enjoyment of being seen as beautiful get 'all up in there', and took myself off to a modeling agency to sign up. It went great! A passing whirlwind of photo-shoots, calendar prints, champagne parties, free designer dresses, VIP club passes, catwalk attempts and even a few media mentions ensued. I made some money, I did an overseas TV commercial, I got a few killer shots of myself to keep, I started brushing elegant star-dusted shoulders with some of the hot international talent the modeling scene Cape Town had to offer and I met and started dating a truly sculptured specimen that had catwalked alongside the likes of Kate Moss in Milan. (Seriously - he had abs that looked as though they were carved from stone!) It was nothing if not fun and fabulous. Except that it wasn’t.

Happier times? Look closer. I absolutely hated this shoot.

Have you ever felt beautiful? You had a morning where everything just worked? Your hair woke up on the right side of the ghd, your skin glowed, and any puffiness was situated in your cleavage area rather than directly below your eyes? You managed to dress that particularly toit little ass in a particularly gorgeous little outfit, full of effortless glamour and glowing mirror appraisal - only to walk into a room and find that you are sitting next to Miss South Africa...making your fluff fall flat, your fab turn drab, and basically watch in horror as your so-thought-beauty shriveled and deflated like a popped air balloon?

Well I had that happen to me - literally. Not only with a former Miss SA at the time (Vanessa Carrera) but many times before that, in fact, EVERY time before that when I went to a casting. For those who don’t know, a casting is a nice glossed-up magazine-world word for kick-you-in-the-nads. Before modeling, I would walk into a room and be one of the top 10% best looking girls there. But when I started going to castings, I would walk into a room and be just another one of the models. Just another tall, leggy woman with firm thighs and perfect skin. And in all honesty, not even in the top 10 tall leggy women with firm thighs and perfect skin. I was no Charlize! I was a small-timer, average. I had to keep my diet to below 1000 calories a day, exercise frequently at a bare minimum, tripple-stuff my bra, and I needed, as a smart career move, to keep my looks as 'current' as the agency saw fit to try get work. I had to fry my skin at a sunbed tanning salon, loose all discretion when it came to dressing in public (albeit publically female, thank goodness) and stand while older, raggier women diminished me to a clothes horse with no mind - just a body. And even that was not good enough. I did not like the make-up that was caked on my face, dark contours coloured in to try fake my wide-set eyes closer. I did not enjoy the 5am photo shoots on the beach in freezing conditions where I was told to look 'less pissed off', or the strict 3-weeks-bfore-any-show lettuce and water diet, or the play-monkey demands of casting agents that ranged from 'now turn' to 'squat more like a stripper!' I was hungry, miserable, and felt ugly. Permanently ugly. But the photo's were what needed to look good, and I had to suck in my empty stomach because it wasn't thin enough, stick out my gym-stiff rear because it wasn't pert enough, my chest never did come to the party, and I had to hold my arm above my light-headed head for what seemed like hours in attempts to capture a single magazine moment. Only to be told 'We're going in a different direction for the cover', and my photo's wouldn’t be used. My very hard earned size 8 was simply not enough. I was inferior to the other models, the better models. The ones who could stay super skinny, pout at the camera, and fill out a decent cup-size while doing it. I started to develop that horrible 'Look at her - ugh, I hate her!' monologue I have always been against. I had to fight myself to remember that it's not her I hate, it's the way I feel.

I HATE HER...oh wait...thats me

And I think that's when it started. I started to just blame myself. To compare myself, to judge myself, to take myself down to a disgustingly shallow level of 'Is my butt high enough? Is my chin chiseled enough? Is my upper arm toned enough?' It wasn’t something I verbalized - but I raged against the whole industry till the point where I quit, saying that I would rather be myself than a wisp of what they wanted me to be. But even though I tried to let on that I didn’t care, it was the beginning of a now never ending argument I have with myself in the mirror on a daily basis, internalizing all that hatred. I don’t remember having these worries as a gawky teenager - I accepted who I was then and didn’t place much inner-peace on how I looked. Now, I page through a fashion magazine, a cooking magazine, even a fishing magazine and I immediately feel inferior to the images portrayed in the pages. But it's like heroine. I cant stop. I even use the images here in my blog! (yes, the irony is not wasted on me) But you see I LIKE pretty things. I WANT to see them, admire them, appreciate their beauty...but the problem comes when I then go and hate myself for not being one of them.

I struggle to believe that any man would find me attractive anymore if I was placed in a line-up situation with the models, that I would never be the top 10 but rather left out completely. Why do I even care? I am happily married and do what I can to stay fit and healthy, dress well and look generally acceptable, but still I believe that I am not beautiful. The weight that has found me in my 30's mocks me and I honestly don’t understand why I give it a voice. My now Size 12 practically screams hate-crimes at me every time I see a photo of myself, but why do I listen? Is it this unrealistic image I have learnt to hold myself up to? Is it the image that keeps getting held up to me, on billboards, in shop windows, on screens, on the covers and in the pages of every magazine out there? On my own blog? They even use these models to sell fast food that not only rips our inner bodies apart, but does so with the most spectacular 'Hulk-ish' results! Only instead of muscles bursting out of clothes, its more like the inner Michelin Man making an appearance. Lets admit it, no one ever uses the girl who lives on french fries to sell french fries. So why do we keep portraying these images of the super skinny? And more specifically, why do I feel personally attacked by it all?

On WHAT planet?!?

I know I am not alone in feeling this way. There is a world of women out there who looks at the very same images as me and feels inferior. Perhaps it's a bit more ingrained in me thanks to my own time spent as one of the models in those pages, or do we all feel this way? Perhaps its an escalating problem the modern world is perpetuating, presenting a picture perfect image of what we woman should be. An *ahem* airbrushed image to be precise. It's the 50's housewife all over again, only now instead of rolling-pins, pearls and cinched-in aprons, it's skinny thighs, handle-less abs and sky-high lashes. I mean, what does that even mean!? The world should just be honest, and instead of sporting headlines like 'Have It All, AND Stay Thin' or '5 Minutes to the Perfect You' or 'Wow Him in the Bedroom', rather just say, "What? You don’t have a career, 2.5 kids and a happy satisfied husband while looking like Victoria Beckham? What's wrong with you?!" I feel as though the whole world expects me to be superwoman, when in actual fact, it's just me who expects that.

And today I shall save all the world, one perfect lunge at a time...

I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t believe that the entire industry should shut down, and I am in no way blaming all those beautiful images for my problem, but I don’t know how to stop the self-destructive inner judgment when I do see them. Maybe I should just get over it and Of course skin-deep beauty isn’t the only place I find my value. I have many other facets where I excel and can develop, and so maybe I should just try to invest myself in them rather than the completely useless activity of feeling 'ugly'. Maybe I should come up with a mantra of words, values to chant to myself when I look at a gorgeous tanned FHM model with 0% body fat and feel like blobby insects are creeping around all over my thighs. Words such as Kind, Loving, Good natured; Like Helping people, having Integrity, being Honest; Such as being Creative, Loyal, Companionate...but will that work? I fear that the need for 'thin' is so ingrained in me that it will still plague me. Whatever the anecdote, a bandaid over feeling ugly and inferior won't take that feeling away. And something tells me that this is only going to get worse.

Well, on a bad day at any rate. I guess on a good day I can rise above it, forget about it, ignore it, laugh at it even. There are days where I appreciate my gained mass - love my curves. Now I actually do look like a woman, not a straight-up-and-down skeletal ladyboy. And after all, I do have those photo's that I can keep for the rest of my life to look at and remember when I was still young and beautiful.

Sigh. I don’t know. I just don’t know. If you know the answer to returning to the child who doesn't see or concern herself with these things, please let me know.

The real 'before' picture...

Love, lust and fairy-star-dust
Cherry Blossom


  1. Hmmmm, I identify with a lot of what you have said here. Not in the same way that you do - skinny models in magazines really don't bother me - but once you open pandora's beauty box, it's seems impossible to close it again. Before I really tried to start loosing weight, I didn't care what I ate or weighted and, most of the time, I still felt pretty good about myself. Now, 3 years and -33kg's later, I cant turn it off. First thing I do every morning? weigh myself and if my weight is up, I feel like crap and spend all day berating and loathing myself. The best I can come up with is to try moving the goal posts. Now I tell myself all the time that it's not about what I weight, but rather how healthy my body is, that it's not about how little I put in my mouth, but how nutritious what i put in my mouth is....hopefully one day I start to believe me :)

    1. That is a great idea - moving goal posts. I also have started trying to think more 'health and nutrition' rather than 'skinny' - but it's hard. It's a long road and I think we all need to band together if it's going to work.

    2. Oh and P.S. WELL DONE on the -33kg's!!! That's some real hard core dedication right there! :)