photo by Natasha Killeen, courtesy of Bella Management

An honest piece on coming to terms with your natural self, growing up with the pressures of mainstream media and finally being comfortable in your own skin, written by model Jennifer Atilemile of Bella Management.

” Some kids dream about their professions from when they’re really young. But in all honesty, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a model.
I went through many phases like most young teens did, changing their minds on what they wanted to be when they grew up.
From dreaming about being a marine biologist when I was about ten because I love the ocean, to wanting to be a presenter, a singer, and even ‘hosting’ my own radio show with my old cassette player – I have wanted to do it all.
I couldn’t in my wildest dreams have dreamt that I’d currently be in the position I’m in now.

As a girl, I went to a private school in Melbourne’s inner east. I never had what all the other girls had.
It’s natural to want what you don’t have, and when at the time it was the difference between being in a friendship group that meant I was more accepted than the one I was in at the time, I essentially tried everything I could.
Let it be known, however, that girls can be really mean. Unfortunately, so can women.
I wanted pretty much everything I couldn’t have, and at the time, I thought that maybe if I became a model, I’d have the trendy clothes, I’d be the popular one, and my life would be way cooler.
I was never the ’skinny’ one either. I remember developing quite a lot earlier than my peers, and very soon I was a 15-year-old girl, with E cup boobs and the hips to match.

photo by Morgan Macleod, courtesy of Bella Management

I can’t remember the exact moment I thought ‘maybe I’ll be a model’. I don’t actually think there was that light bulb moment to be fair. I just remember my first modelling experience in year 11.
It was the second cycle of Australia’s Next Top Model, and after rejecting my natural body type and presenting myself as a size 6-8, 178 cm tall teen, I thought I’d try my luck. I know it was the allure of a glamorous lifestyle that lit my fire.
At this stage of my life, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was an unhealthy size 6-8, my boobs were gone, my bones were protruding, and even though I thought this was what I wanted, it still wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t happy.
Lucky/Unlucky for me (like a choose your story Goosebumps book), I was scouted while waiting in the line for ANTM. On meeting with the agencies I was asked to lose another two dress sizes to be put on their books.. ‘Darling, we think you’d be phenomenal internationally,’ I remember the older white haired woman telling me from the other side of a luxurious desk.

photo by Andrew James, courtesy of Bella Management

This was where my mother stepped in. She said no.
I hated her at the time. But in hindsight she saved me. I had such an unhealthy relationship with my body, and with food. From counting calories to bingeing and purging; at my lowest I weighed 57 kg, and I thought I still needed to lose more.
There’s a reason that today, you won’t find scales in my house.
Obviously, as a young teen does, I hated her at the time, and I kind of gave up on entering the industry for a while, because I thought you could only be a model if you were skinny.

I first sent off photos to my agency after several years of coming to terms with my natural body shape, I’m now a 14-16.
It wasn’t easy. I tried for a few more years to fight my natural size, to try and conform to the standard of beauty that had been set for women for decades. There are days still today I have to remind myself of this, and be proud of what I’ve accomplished.
70% of adolescent girls have body dissatisfaction. That’s 70% too many! If I can inspire one young girl or woman to love her body, I’m already winning!

photo by Jarryd Biffin, courtesy of Bella Management

It’s been a whirlwind since signing with my agency, and truthfully it hasn’t all been as glamorous as my Instagram makes it out to be. It’s been hard, but so freaking rewarding. I’ve achieved things that I never thought a woman like me, at my size (and color), would ever achieve, and I’m so proud.
I was reminded again of why I’m in the industry the other day on set, when we broke for lunch and two 16-year-old girls picked over, and joked about their tiny ‘model sized’ servings of lunch, then taking turns visiting the bathroom after, checking their eye makeup in the mirror on the way out.
So many of my followers have emailed me asking how I got into modelling, or for advice on becoming a model, so this is why I’ve just bared my soul a little bit, as well as shared my journey (it’s also not as easy as you think to talk about).

photo by Natasha Killeen, courtesy of Bella Management

Here’s a little bit of advice/wisdom:

Not everyone makes money from it.
If you’re getting paid, you’re already successful. Sometimes it’s really hard. And I’m talking mentally and physically. There are whole weeks I don’t work, and then some weeks I do every day. It’s talking down that negative voice on a two-week break from work and telling yourself ‘you got this’ and ‘you’re still killing it’.

You may just not have what it takes.
And it’s not you. It’s the industry/brand. Maybe you’ve been knocked back by the industry, but don’t give up on it if you really want it. You could be a blogger, an Instagrammer, etc. There’s so much opportunity for you to do you in this industry.

If you really want something enough, you’ll have to make sacrifices, but you’ve got to follow your heart.
I moved interstate literally on an adrenaline rush gut feeling that it was the right thing to do. I’ve barely had enough money at times to make rent. I’ve had days where I’ve questioned my choice to move and thought about throwing in the towel completely. But then I see the positive reaction I have on other females, be they family or friends, or simply complete strangers in countries on the other side of the world; I then remember my goal, and what I set out to achieve, and I’m right again.
My mantra is dream, believe, achieve. You’ve got to believe in yourself to achieve anything. ”

by Jennifer Atilemile

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