True Love - - Beauty -

“Look­ing at my­self in the mir­ror is weird. My face is black and white. Peo­ple as­sume that I have vi­tiligo, the dis­ease that causes loss of skin colour in blotches. The mark on the left side of my face, which also runs over my scalp – mak­ing my hair ap­pear blonde – is a birth­mark. I don’t know of any med­i­cal ex­pla­na­tions for birth­marks. I’ve ac­cepted that this is me and I em­brace be­ing dif­fer­ent. My mom’s side of the fam­ily has vis­i­ble birth­marks; my aunt also has one on her face. Theirs are darker, though.

When I grew up in Mafikeng, North West – and later in Pre­to­ria – I was never made to feel dif­fer­ent. I wasn’t aware or self-con­scious about it. It’s only when I started pri­mary school that I felt awk­ward about it be­cause kids teased me and called me “two-colour” and “Africa”. In high school I felt even more awk­ward. Try mix­ing ado­les­cence with a vis­i­ble birth­mark that makes you stick out. Add to that be­ing tall and skinny. I just stood out. But de­spite every­thing, I still wanted to be a model.

At the age of 15, I looked for an agency. I’d never thought of ever cov­er­ing the birth­mark, but when the owner of the mod­el­ling agency sug­gested I do so to look “nor­mal”, I did that with the help of lay­ers of make-up. It worked and with the birth­mark cov­ered, I felt great that for the first time I was part of the crowd.

I grew ad­dicted to the make-up. I loved that strangers couldn’t tell I had a big mark. Fi­nally, there was no one star­ing at me. I looked amaz­ing in pic­tures, but in real life the make-up made me look like a wax doll. I over­looked that on pur­pose; as long as I fit­ted in, I was fine. Makeup be­came a mask I put on to feel con­fi­dent. I adopted the name Iman be­cause it was the only make-up brand that was able to give me full cov­er­age. There were times the make-up faded and peo­ple would give me awk­ward stares. I didn’t care. I’d cake it on some more.

I did all of that and yet, I wasn’t booked for gigs. I’d go to cast­ings, plas­tered with make-up, and have to take it off, shock ev­ery­one with the birth­mark and ex­plain to them what it was and how I got it, and then put makeup on again. I be­came frus­trated. I’d al­ways wanted to be a model and the one thing hold­ing me back was the very thing I had no con­trol over. I burst into tears at an agency once. Luck­ily, they were en­cour­ag­ing and awak­ened me to the harsh re­al­ity that as much as I was reach­ing out to them be­cause I looked dif­fer­ent, I too needed to be­lieve in my­self. They were right. Those words gave me the push I needed. I started my Face­book page and later In­sta­gram, where I posted images of my­self, birth­mark and all. I ditched the mod­el­ling agency I was work­ing with in search of a rep­re­sen­ta­tive who would ac­cept my look whole­heart­edly. I changed my mind­set and as­sess why I was liv­ing by ev­ery­one else’s opin­ion.

What also helped was Tyra Banks’ show, Amer­ica’s Next Top Model. When Win­nie Har­low, a model with vi­tiligo, was a con­tes­tant, peo­ple started say­ing how much I looked like her. I didn’t know her, but friends en­cour­aged me to be as open and con­fi­dent about my birth­mark as Win­nie is about her vi­tiligo. Peo­ple also started tag­ging me on her pic­tures, think­ing I was her, and ap­plaud­ing my al­leged work and in­spi­ra­tion. At first, I re­sisted the at­ten­tion. Then I re­alised that if Win­nie could do that, what was stop­ping me from do­ing that right here at home.

Now I follow and ad­mire other game chang­ers in mod­el­ling such as Amer­i­can al­bino Dian­dra For­rest and lo­cally Thando Hopa, Re­filwe Modis­elle and many more who chal­lenge the per­cep­tion of beauty. Look­ing back, I feel cow­ardly that I al­lowed my­self to be rid­dled with doubt and lis­ten to ev­ery­one’s opin­ion about my looks. I’m the girl with the mark to ev­ery­one. So what? It doesn’t de­fine me; it’s a part of me, just like my fin­gers and toes. I’ve grown used to the stares and raised eye­brows ev­ery time I en­ter a room or walk down the street; some peo­ple even take pic­tures.

Over the years, I’ve learnt to use the birth­mark to my ad­van­tage. It makes me stand out from the crowd. My face is un­for­get­table. When mod­els walk down the ramp, there’s al­ways a par­tic­u­lar dress a cer­tain model wears that ev­ery­one will be drawn to. With me it’s the re­verse. The au­di­ence re­mem­bers my face and then the dress. I love that. I’m happy my face is chal­leng­ing so­ci­ety’s views of what it takes to be a model.

In 2016, I did the unimag­in­able and walked for the Mercedes Benz Fash­ion Week, with­out be­long­ing to an agency. I saw a post on fash­ion de­signer David Tlale’s so­cial me­dia that they were look­ing for mod­els. I didn’t have a port­fo­lio, but I was de­ter­mined to be part of it. I took pic­tures of my­self and wrote down my height, weight and more at the back of the images.

Some of the other mod­els tried to dis­cour­age me be­cause I didn’t have a port­fo­lio. I’m grate­ful to Andiswa Ngx­iswa, who loved my look and en­cour­aged the de­sign­ers to hire me. After that brave move, I ap­proached Ice Model Man­age­ment and they signed me up. Be­ing signed hasn’t changed my luck. I still strug­gle to get gigs. I feel South Africa is be­hind the times and isn’t wel­com­ing of mod­els like me. Mod­el­ling is a tough in­dus­try to crack and ev­ery se­cond girl you meet is a model, so I al­ways ques­tion where I fit in. It doesn’t de­ter me, though.

I’m con­fi­dent I will make it. I en­cour­age oth­ers who are made to feel dif­fer­ent not to let it get to them. Learn to love and ac­cept your­self. It has been my child­hood dream to en­ter the Miss SA pageant. I grew scared that if I par­tic­i­pated, I’d re­live my child­hood of be­ing called names. I don’t think like that any­more and so I plan on en­ter­ing the con­test this year.”

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