My Role Model: Kate
July 26, 2010
My second role model profile features courageous Kate. You might remember Kate from a previous post as the woman I discovered on Craigslist who made her modeling debut in the VAWK by Sunny Fong Fall/Winter 2010 show. At age 55 and a size 14, Toronto-based Kate inspires me with her bravery and self-confidence. In a set of 15 traditional fashion models, Kate strutted the Toronto Fashion Week catwalk like a pro with years of experience. Her very presence in the show, and in this industry, sends a clear message to all of us: We are beautiful and fashionable at every age and every size. Kate is now one of our newest models; she has an exciting and trailblazing career ahead. I know her story of questioning, challenging and redefining the beauty ideal will inspire you as much as it does me.
I was naturally thin most of my life, until I hit my forties. Being slim however, did not automatically guarantee me success or make my life picture perfect. In high school my friends affectionately nicknamed me “beanpole”, but bullies loved to tease me for being so tall, gangly and flat chested. I dreaded getting changed for gym class and envied the curvier girls who displayed no inhibition about their bodies. Although I excelled at sports, I continued to struggle with my body image. By age 15 I reached my full height of 5’9” and weighed 115 pounds. Back then my sense of worth was so lacking, I avoided my prom as I felt I didn’t “fit in”. I possessed minimal self esteem and self confidence. Several years of life experience had to pass before I could shake off those negative “body image” messages that profoundly affected me as a teenager.
I’ve never had an eating disorder and during my twenties and thirties could eat whatever and whenever I pleased, still managing to keep my svelte figure. Salty snacks were my weakness and I craved simple carbs like rice, bread and pasta. Being moderately active didn’t prevent my weight from increasing in my forties and it has continued to creep up year after year. Now at 55, I have those curves I desired when I was younger only to find that society in general and the fashion industry in particular have adopted a narrow definition of beauty with “young and thin” heading the “must be” list.
I now weigh 170 pounds and wear a 12/14 dress size. I’m eating a better diet for heart health and walk everyday. I always find quiet time for myself and keep a positive attitude. This is vital for women as we’re so hard on ourselves and usually put other people first.
Years ago my definition of beauty could be found in the pages of Seventeen and Glamour and like so many young women I dreamed of becoming a model but was too shy to act. Now, decades later, with buckets of strength and confidence, I’m embarking on a new modeling career. I responded to an ad placed on Craigslist by Model Agent Ben Barry, looking for a gray haired woman to model for Toronto Fashion Week. I truly believed I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by going for it. So what if I wasn’t chosen? I wouldn’t be crushed and would just go on to something else. But I was chosen, and walked the catwalk alongside veteran traditional models at the AGO for “VAWK” designed by the very talented Sunny Fong. I told Ben, taking my first step was like being on a plane taking off a runway. It was exhilarating. Even better, Ben signed me to his Modeling Agency! It’s amazing how taking that one small step forward has impacted my life. It’s sad to think how many other women read that same ad but didn’t reply simply because they didn’t feel beautiful enough. Rejection is not a loss. Never trying for fear of rejection is the loss.
I certainly don’t fit the description of a traditional model and my definition of beauty has changed. For me, it’s not about having perfect facial features, weight and measurements. Nothing wrong with being young and stunning, but women of all ages, sizes and ethnicities need to recognize that feeling beautiful comes from within and not from the rigid definition of beauty other people would have us believe. Beauty is about energy, vitality, attitude and confidence. It’s about your own sense of style, grace and sophistication. So celebrate, embrace and appreciate the incredible beauty you already possess. You have something special that no one else has. We all have unique selling points and something to contribute in our own way. Develop the guts, courage, strength and determination to pursue your dreams and passions whatever they may be. Surround yourself with like minded people who support you. Ben is a wonderful mentor and always tells me “I’m beautiful just the way I am and not to change anything”. My runway coach Liis Windischmann who is a gorgeous model, has been such an inspiration. Sunny boosted my confidence just by choosing me to wear one of his beautiful designs.
Marketers want consumers to buy into the fantasy that if we use a certain product we will resemble the model in the ad. We are bombarded with these messages, perhaps as this mind set has worked so well in the past. I recently had my first photo shoot to have pictures taken for my portfolio. It was a very positive experience and a lot of fun, but it did take an entire team of professionals to get me looking my best. I had a hair and make-up stylist, clothes stylist and photographer using proper lighting. Models don’t look like they do in the ads so women would be best not to compare themselves. Also, times are changing as baby boomers, who have tremendous purchasing power are getting older and want to be represented by models that look just like them. Both Sunny and Ben are trailblazers because they had the chutzpah to use diverse models in the Sunny’s show. The feedback was all positive, so let’s hope more fashion designers, editors and retailers follow suit. The fashion industry does seem to be shifting in favor of using non-traditional models to represent the general population, but there is still resistance.
As a mature woman, I refuse to believe that beauty diminishes with age. I only have to look at the beautiful women in my own family to attest to that. My grandma, mom and aunt were all strong women with fashion style and beauty which only intensified as they got older. They’ve all passed away, but I carry with me the memory of my mother always telling me I could be anything I wanted.
I would like to be a role model for women aspiring to be the best they can be in every area of their lives. It starts with self love. Once you embrace and love yourself just as you are, you can go on to be and do whatever you desire. Do what I did – just do it!