Little Women Grow. Where Do You Draw The Line Between Protecting & Empowering?
The not-so-little woman in me is torn apart
My new friend Elizabeth, an Australian lady in her mid-seventies whom I have known for a month and have labelled a community-maker, invited me last night for a glass of wine on her beautiful patio.
Besides Elizabeth and a self-made spiritual guy turned businessman in the realm of sacred jewelry for visa purposes (true story), whom I had met before, there were a middle aged male photographer and Sheryl, a goddess-like 21-year-young aspiring model, who thanks to the community-maker was able to get some free shots for her portfolio.
Sheryl’s kind of beauty cannot not leave people in awe. Fijian-born, for her Mother Nature went the extra mile and cherry picked the best mix from different ethnicities, a perfect ebony glowing skin, designer-cut nose, glow-in-the dark eyes, and a gazelle-light figure.
Sheryl is 21; she moves, talks and acts with premature overconfidence. The kind of overconfidence that self-serving older men prefer to mistake for premature maturity, while older women know that it is a unique combination of wanting to be seen, heard and understood by an older-men-infested grown-up world too busy and selfish to actually care.
When Sheryl mentioned she was trying to become a model, I swear something sharp moved up my spine at the speed of light. The mother in me wanted to open the wings to protect her; I wanted to tell her Geez girl, what Planet are you living on? Are you not reading the news and the stories of models being victims of chronic and systematic abuse? You really think you can make money and remain untouched by the vortex of psychological abuse and physical trauma, which is the staple diet of any model? What makes you think you can be spared, that the financial security will justify and heal the daily scars?
Sheryl is not a child or maybe she is a child of these times in her own terms. Her bio on Instagram reads “Student, Model, Actor, Blogger and Social media influencer based in Fiji.” These days you can be so many things at the same time, and still be 21 years old, lucky times. In 1995, my 21-year-old Instagram bio would have read something like, Just trying my best to stay afloat.
When is a woman grown up?
At first, Sheryl gives time to people to slowly digest her beauty, and for women to swallow the beauty divide. After the totally-justified modelling aspirations, she adds that she is a final-year student on a scholarship, studying journalism and international relations, just a module away from graduation. She adds, trying to smile-ok, that she is living alone with her mum, that her dad passed away in 2019, and that one of her brothers is studying in New Zealand, and the other one is somewhere else. With sustained enthusiasm, she shares that she is looking forward to starting work, but that she can not afford an unpaid full-time internship as she needs to have an income to make ends meet.
Sheryl confesses she enjoys being the center of attention, and using her beauty to her advantage, she likes revealing and being photographed and sharing her photos, which I understand, yet I can not help myself wondering whether she has the privilege of choice on the matter, and whether she is aware of this.
Sheryl gives time to people to slowly digest her beauty, and for women to swallow the beauty divide.
As I watch her, I’m wondering whether I am too naïve and she is too cynical or the other way round; who is more grown up between the two of us? Maybe she does not need protection and has totally understood how this sick world works; maybe she has given up any sort of hope, and just decided to exploit any opportunity before the exploiters decide otherwise.
She is 21, at her age we have all thought we were ourselves, we all thought we were women, to later understand we were not. At her age we were trying to be the women everybody else wanted us to be, chronically failing ourselves. I doubt whether now it is much different, young women seem so empowered, and they probably are, but the men-dominated world has not caught up. Is there room for beautiful, intelligent, outspoken women out there unless they bend to the caprices of older men?
Beauty is a blessing as much as a curse
Though I don’t know how it feels like to be jaw-droppingly beautiful, the amount of unwanted attentions, looks, stares, and much-else is already overwhelming enough for any woman, so when I hear about beautiful people enjoying attention it seems to me more like a coping mechanism. I mean, do these people have a choice? Can they really apply for any job, without having to suffer from extra attentions and god-forbid extra nightmares?
I want to ask Katie Jgln, and the people in the fashion business out there, is there hope for her to go through this and stay mentally and physically healthy? Can she really enjoy being a happy, smart, young and beautiful woman all at the same time? Please give me a sign so I can start rebuilding faith in humanity, because right now I am just freaking out, and wish I had a bazooka to protect her, just in case.
While I know we all — beautiful women included — have to go through our lives, fall and get back up, and grow, I would do anything to spare anyone from something sounding as suicidal as the modelling business. Am I being overprotective?
Don’t look at me, see me
Instead of music or vibration, Sheryl’s large iPhone shot three disturbing flashlights every time a notification was pushed through. For a breathtaking, aspiring young model with a decent portfolio and an Instagram court of followers the size of the entire Principality of Monaco, this means that every 5 seconds, notifications created a stroboscopic effect, interrupting people while talking, and dragging people eyes to the phone resting on the half-naked lap of the young woman. I guess this is just another way of screaming look at me, and we have all been there in our own unique way, yet her sense of embarrassment told me a different story, a story I know too well. All the likes and all the compliments and comments men vomit (oops) on her feed count for nothing; what we are all screaming out loud — regardless of our looks — is not look at me, but see me!
How can women really be seen and not just looked at?
Women — including beautiful women — deserve better.