I was never ‘ugly’. Not really. Sure there was the year I had braces, and the teen hormone induced 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 (Think baggy T tucked into oversized high waisted jeans. I blame the 80’s entirely). I was actually never ugly.

But I was an ugly-duckling of sorts. 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. And of course I never did grow into my front teeth…

Regardless of all that, by the time I reached my early 20’s, my string-bean turned to 6 feet of lean and my gawky to graceful. I figured out which way was up with a make-up-brush, and my freckles and strawberry-blond hair were, 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 in shopping centers, and accustomed to offers from modeling scouts, 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 to 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 and even a few media mentions ensued. I made some money, I did an overseas TV commercial and I got a few killer shots of myself to keep. I started brushing elegant star-dusted shoulders with some of the hot international talent on the Cape Town modeling scene and I met and dated a truly sculptured specimen that had cat-walked 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.

 

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Have you ever felt beautiful? Ever 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 rather than below your eyes? You managed to pour your toit little ass into a particularly gorgeous little outfit, and you’re full of effortless glamour – your mirror practically glowing in approval? Only to walk into a room and find that you’re sitting next to Miss South Africa… talk about making your fluff fall flat, your fab turn drab, and your confidence shrivel up and deflate like a popped air balloon!

Well that happen to me – literally. Not only with a former Miss SA at the time (Vanessa Carreira) but many times before that, in fact, EVERY time 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 better 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 – I was no Charlize.

I had to keep my daily calories to below a healthy minimum, exercise frequently, triple-stuff my bra, and was advised by the agency that to keep my look ‘current’ I needed to regularly fry my skin at a sunbed tanning salon. I had to lose all discretion when it came to dressing in public and remain poised while older, raggier women diminished me to little more than a clothes horse with no mind – just a body.

Even then, I was not good enough.

I did not like the make-up that was caked on my face, dark contours coloured in to try and “narrow” my wide-set eyes. 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-before-show lettuce and water diet, or the ‘dance monkey’ type commands 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’. My very hard earned size US/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 had always been against, and had to fight myself to remember that it’s not her I hate, it’s the way I feel that I hate.

I think that’s when it started. I started to blame myself. To compare myself, judge myself, take myself down to the 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.

Even though I tried to let on that I didn’t care, it was the beginning of a now never ending argument I still 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.

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But it’s like heroine. I can’t 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. But why do I even care? I am happily married, fit and healthy, well-dressed and groomed – but still I don’t believe that I’m beautiful.

The healthier weight that has found me in my 30’s mocks me and I honestly don’t understand why I even give it a voice. But my now Size 12 ass practically screams hate-crimes at me every time I see a photo of myself. Why do I listen? Am I holding myself up to an unrealistic image? Or 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 even though, let’s admit it, no one ever uses the girl who lives on french fries to sell french fries. Is it’s an escalating problem the modern world is perpetuating? Presenting a picture perfect image of what 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, rock-hard abs and sky-high lashes. I mean, what does that even mean? And more specifically, why do I feel personally attacked by it all?

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’, 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 know I am not alone in feeling this way. There is a world of women out there who look at the very same images and feel inferior. Perhaps it’s a bit more ingrained in me, thanks to my own time spent as one of the models on those pages, or do we all feel as though the whole world expects us to be superwoman, when perhaps it’s just ourselves who expect that?

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.

 

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Of course skin-deep beauty isn’t the only place I find my value. I have many other facets where I excel, 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 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, Creative, Loyal, Honest, Companionate…but will that work? I fear that the need for ‘thin’ is so ingrained that it will plague me forever. Whatever the antidote, a Band-Aid over feeling ugly and inferior won’t take it 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.

Searching to feel beautiful, inside and out,

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* I wrote this article for my previous blog at a difficult time in my life. So much has changed since then and I have written about the journey to loving myself and re-claiming my self confidence.

** This article was featured on Women24 and on All My Friends Are Models