RE­DEFIN­ING BEAUTY

THE IR­ISH SU­PER­MODEL WHO’S STAND­ING UP FOR ‘NOR­MAL’ WOMEN

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FRONT PAGE - For more in­for­ma­tion on ‘The Fash­ion Hero’ see Kather­ine Gan­non’s Face­book page

‘I’m a size 10 and that’s not what works there,” says Kather­ine Gan­non, ex­plain­ing why she’s not the kind of model who’s go­ing to get work in Lon­don or New York. “They are into a to­tally dif­fer­ent look and I don’t have it.”

Not that this is a de­ter­rent to Kather­ine. One way or the other, Kather­ine is mak­ing a go of mod­el­ling. And if her look doesn’t work for the mod­el­ling world as it ex­ists, well then, the mod­el­ling world needs to change. The for­mer Miss NUIG has held the ti­tles of Miss Gal­axy Ire­land and World Su­per­model Ire­land, and she has also been part of the TV show The Fash­ion Hero, which pushes our per­cep­tion of beauty past the waif-like, con­ven­tional norms.

“There were other girls on The Fash­ion Hero who would be av­er­age, like, a 10 or a 12, and it’s kind of crazy, but those girls would be con­sid­ered plus-size,” says Kather­ine. “And for me, be­ing part of The Fash­ion Hero was like be­ing part of a move­ment. In my mind, I’ve al­ways wanted to be part of a change in mod­el­ling. I feel in the next five years there is go­ing to be a big change, and I think this show will be so big in mak­ing that change hap­pen. It wasn’t about, ‘Oh, peo­ple will see me on TV and book me for jobs’, it was big­ger than that.

“The in­dus­try is great,” Kather­ine con­cludes, “but it needs to change for the 21st Cen­tury. I pre­fer how it is now than 10 years ago, and I think I wouldn’t have had a chance 10 years ago, be­cause I come from a small town. Now, there’s just so many more op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Con­fi­dence is a capri­cious thing. Now you have it, now you don’t; it waxes and wanes in most of us, and it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict if and when it will be there for you. It is Galway model Kather­ine’s open­ness about her up-and­down con­fi­dence that is one of her key charms.

She’s a stun­ning girl, on a high af­ter a year of in­ter­na­tional pageant wins and an Amer­i­can re­al­ity-TV show, but, Kather­ine hap­pily con­fesses that self-doubt is al­ways with her, to some de­gree. But she ad­mits it hap­pily, breezily even, in the man­ner of some­one who won’t let a tri­fle like that hold her back.

“I think I bab­bled the last time,” Kather­ine says, the sec­ond time we speak. We speak twice, thanks to the loss of my iPhone — with our in­ter­view on it. Kather­ine is nice about it, and, to an ex­tent, happy to have a sec­ond chance to share the thrill of the whirl­wind of ac­tiv­ity she has en­joyed in the last year.

The sec­ond time, we speak dur­ing her lunch break from her day job, but the first time I meet Kather­ine, she’s in full model mode. She’s get­ting ready for the shoot on these pages and she’s sit­ting still as the hair­dresser smooths and combs and sprays and back­combs her long hair into old-fash­ioned rolls. It’s sooth­ing to watch, though it can’t be the same for her, and it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to see her al­ter be­fore my eyes, but af­ter our two con­ver­sa­tions, I imag­ine that noth­ing will al­ter the fun­da­men­tal sweet­ness of this Con­nemara girl. And that, she knows even her­self, is her great­est as­set.

When she was a lit­tle girl, Kather­ine al­ways dreamed of be­ing a model. Not that she ac­tu­ally told any­one. She was the youngest child, the only girl, in a fam­ily of four, and her mother and her aunt — a mother of only boys — would dress her up and do mini at-home photo shoots with her.

“It was al­ways me who wanted to model, though,” Kather­ine says. “When it came to me want­ing to do au­di­tions and stuff, my mom wasn’t pushy. It was up to me. She’s re­ally proud, but she hates any kind of push­ing, in any di­rec­tion. It was me who wanted to be in­volved in ev­ery­thing, fash­ion shows, pageantry, photo shoots. But I saw the im­por­tance of fin­ish­ing school and of col­lege, but the dream was al­ways there.

“I dreamt of be­ing in­ter­na­tional,” says Kather­ine, “but then, when it hap­pened, it was such a shock.”

Kather­ine won the Miss Gal­axy Ire­land ti­tle in 2012. It was the start, she says, of so many big things. Miss Gal­axy is an in­ter­na­tional pageant, not un­like the bet­ter-known pageants, but with a view to em­pha­sis­ing the strength and char­ac­ter

of the par­tic­i­pants. Yes, Kather­ine as­sures me, there is a swim­suit round and, also, it pro­vides op­por­tu­nity to dis­cuss your char­ity in­ter­ests and pur­suits. It’s a clas­sic pageant, and at­tain­ing the na­tional ti­tle and then trav­el­ling to Florida for the in­ter­na­tional round was no mean feat.

“It’s like Miss World or Miss Uni­verse in lots of ways,” says Kather­ine, “but you can be mar­ried, have a baby, have a tat­too, it’s not ageist. I like all that. I like that you can be this nor­mal per­son, who has a nor­mal life. It’s not like you have to be this fake per­son.

“As much as I like mod­el­ling, at some pageants they put on this fake thing, and it’s ‘on’ all the time. It’s like ev­ery­thing they do in their life, they do it as if they’re in a pageant, and they keep them­selves so per­fect and they never put a foot wrong, or put pic­tures from a night out on so­cial media, or any­thing like that. But you have to live, and I think the in­dus­try is chang­ing a bit now, and I like that change. Look at Cara Delev­ingne. She’s so nor­mal, and she doesn’t hold any­thing back.

“I didn’t even tell peo­ple I did mod­el­ling when I was a teenager,” Kather­ine says. “I was go­ing to cast­ings and work­ing, but I was very shy. I didn’t want any­one in school to know, be­cause I had low self­con­fi­dence and I thought they’d laugh. I still have low con­fi­dence, but I hide it bet­ter. I feel very shy talk­ing about mod­el­ling, still, be­cause I think peo­ple will say, ‘Who does she think she is?’ ”

Kather­ine’s par­ents are both from the Gaeltacht and are na­tive Ir­ish speak­ers, but the lan­guage didn’t trickle down to her and her sib­lings. “They re­ally tried, and I re­ally re­gret it now,” says Kather­ine, “but none of my friends spoke Ir­ish, so I sup­pose I didn’t want to ei­ther. I can un­der­stand it well, but I can’t speak it very well, and that’s kind of a con­fi­dence thing, too.”

Be­fore Kather­ine was born, her fam­ily had em­i­grated to the States, and it was there that her eldest brother, a decade older than her, was di­ag­nosed with autism. The as­sess­ment and sup­port was great in Amer­ica, Kather­ine says, but they moved home to Galway to be close to fam­ily and friends, and it was there that Kather­ine was born.

Though she has known her brother no other way, and cites him as her favourite of her three broth­ers, Kather­ine can see how hav­ing a sib­ling with spe­cial needs in­flu­ences who you are. “It makes a dif­fer­ence to you,” she says. “It makes you more aware and sen­si­tive. He’s more then 10 years older and I’ve never known

‘I’ve al­ways wanted to be part of a change in mod­el­ling. I feel in the next five years there is go­ing to be a big change’

any­thing else. But it shows you some­thing else. I’m more open-minded be­cause of it.”

While she was study­ing arts in NUIG, Kather­ine be­came leader of the Ir­ish Autism So­ci­ety’s branch in the univer­sity, and she re­mains very ac­tive with the or­gan­i­sa­tion. Autism, men­tal-health is­sues and dog char­i­ties, she says with a laugh, adding that she’s the “big­gest dog-lover ever”.

Dur­ing col­lege, Kather­ine con­tin­ued mod­el­ling and won The Face of Galway Shop­ping Cen­tre com­pe­ti­tion and then, in her fi­nal year, be­came Miss NUIG. “Af­ter that, then, I did mod­el­ling and used my sum­mers to do vol­un­teer work,” she ex­plains. “I wanted to go to Kenya and Nepal and do build­ing and stuff there.” The dream of go­ing fur­ther with her mod­el­ling en­dured.

In school, Kather­ine says, she was of­ten teased for be­ing too thin, as she sud­denly shot up in height, but she has no de­sire to starve her­self for a UK mod­el­ling ca­reer, ei­ther. What Kather­ine be­lieves in, for her­self and for the mod­el­ling in­dus­try, is a re­def­i­ni­tion of what model-type beauty is. And, so far, it seems to be work­ing for her.

“The week in Florida at the Miss Gal­axy In­ter­na­tional pageant was the best week ever,” Kather­ine says. “I felt like I re­ally fit­ted in, even though it was so glitz and glam, and I was much more nat­u­ral. I feel like I learned so much. I’d done Miss Ire­land, and Miss Gal­axy wasn’t a bit like that. It was bril­liant. White par­ties and py­jama par­ties and Zumba par­ties. And while I was there I met a girl who was a pro­moter for this show, The Fash­ion Hero, and if I hadn’t done Miss Gal­axy I’d never have met her, so that was bril­liant!”

The Fash­ion Hero is a model-search re­al­ity show of sorts, where you nom­i­nate your­self for en­try, then peo­ple vote online for you, and the peo­ple with the most votes get to go to a re­sort in Can­cun, where they do mod­el­ling as­sign­ments for a week, and live there, and get filmed all the time and en­joy what sounds like a com­bi­na­tion of Amer­ica’s Next Top Model and Big Brother. But, Kather­ine em­pha­sises, with­out the bitch­i­ness of ei­ther. And there’s no prize, just the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I be­came Face­book friends with the girl who was the pro­moter,” Kather­ine ex­plains. “And she kept say­ing I’d be per­fect for the show. She her­self is this beau­ti­ful girl, who’s a per­fect model, but she’s too small. Her port­fo­lio would just be thrown in the bin at an agency, like some­one who was too ath­letic or mus­cly, or tat­tooed.” That’s what The Fash­ion Hero is about; mak­ing mod­els out of peo­ple who just slightly do not fit the con­ven­tional-model bill.

“Like, with me,” says Kather­ine, “I’m not tall. I’m 5ft 8in, but not the tallest. And I’m 24, so I’m not the youngest, in model terms. But I’m such a hard worker, and she could see that, and she could see my vol­un­teer work.

“It was so ex­cit­ing,” Kather­ine says of the film­ing last au­tumn. “We did un­der­wa­ter shoots and all sorts of shoots. I loved it. It’s be­ing shown on TV in Asia and all over the States, and we’re hop­ing

it will be­come Euro­pean. I’m now do­ing the Euro­pean pro­mo­tion for the next show. But my show will be on YouTube in Septem­ber. I’ve seen a lit­tle clip that a friend sent me on my phone, and I was so happy about how I came across and what was said about me.”

Even though she wasn’t look­ing for more, as is of­ten the way, more mod­el­ling came hot on the heels of The Fash­ion Hero. The day af­ter Kather­ine found out she had won a place on the show, she learned that she had won the World Su­per­model Ire­land ti­tle, which she still holds. She had put her­self for­ward for it, but never thought it would hap­pen.

“It was crazy,” Kather­ine re­flects. “It meant that I did The Fash­ion Hero in Mexico, then came home for three days be­fore leav­ing to go to Fiji, where the in­ter­na­tional Su­per­model pageant was on. I had to go to my cloth­ing spon­sor Pia, and the Look Academy, who do all my styling and per­sonal train­ing and ev­ery­thing. They had worked out all my make-up plans, matched my jew­ellery to my out­fits, worked out my train­ing sched­ule — it was crazy.”

Again, Fiji was a whirl­wind ex­pe­ri­ence that Kather­ine rel­ished. “But so much hap­pened so fast — I was still on a high from The Fash­ion Hero and I knew I was go­ing to Aus­tralia on the way home to see my new nephew — that I wasn’t even fo­cused on win­ning,” she says. “I didn’t care and I just thought, ‘What­ever hap­pens, just en­joy ev­ery minute of it.” And she did. Com­ing back to Galway last win­ter was a bit of a land, Kather­ine con­cedes with a laugh, but she’s in a very happy place. She’s now a pro­moter for The Fash­ion Hero and she’s in­volved in set­ting up the next Miss Gal­axy Ire­land con­test, and she loves both.

“I re­ally didn’t want to come home,” she laughs. “But I feel all of those ex­pe­ri­ences launched me into want­ing to get more work. There’s so much go­ing on for me now, with Gal­axy Ire­land and The Fash­ion Hero and I re­ally want to get more Ir­ish peo­ple in­volved. Things were re­ally so bor­ing up to this time last year for me, I was a bit here and there, and I never thought that so quickly I’d be off to Mexico or Fiji, and in this space where I’m think­ing that any­thing is pos­si­ble.

“My motto is that if you work re­ally hard, you can have any­thing,” Kather­ine says. “If it’s easy, it’s not worth it. That’s my se­cret, re­ally.” Cover Dress­ing gown, Myla; body­suit, Le­jaby, both Brown Thomas Con­tents Night­dress, La Perla; bra, An­dres Sarda; briefs, Felina, all Su­san Hunter. Shoes, Fitz­patricks, Fitz­patricks Page 11 Bra; waspie, both Blue­bella, Brown Thomas. Briefs, Cadolle, Su­san Hunter Page 12 and 13 Corset, Cadolle; briefs, Felina, both Su­san Hunter. Shoe-boots, Fitz­patricks, Fitz­patricks This page Dress; neck­lace, both Cadolle, both Su­san Hunter

Op­po­site page Bra, An­dres Sarda; lace corset, Cadolle; briefs, Felina, all Su­san Hunter. Shoes, Fitz­patricks, Fitz­patricks Su­san Hunter, 13 West­bury Mall, Grafton St, D2, tel; (01) 679-1271, or see su­san­hunter.ie Pho­tographed by Kip Car­roll Styling by Nikki Cum­mins Black Make-up by Dearbhla Keenan; hair by John Cheese, both Brown Sugar, 50 Sth Wil­liam St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967 Pho­tographed at The Liquor Rooms, 7 Welling­ton Quay, D2, tel: (087) 339-3688, or see theliquor­rooms.com

‘I was a bit here and there, and I never thought that I’d be in this space where I’m think­ing that any­thing is pos­si­ble’

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