From Helpless to Hero

Sarah Jeanne Browne by Emily Tebbetts

It’s not how I pictured it would happen. I thought I would be discovered and everything would be okay. This wasn’t the case.

I attempted to find my wings while an oppressor shook me from the ground. I was in my early twenties getting accepted by graduate schools when a modeling manager commented on social media, “Congratulations.”

Wait- he went on my profile? Sure, he accepted the friend request, but I thought all interaction would end there. His brother started a TV show about scouting young models.

We all find ourselves at crossroads. Mine was here. Mine was in being discovered by someone with less than the best intentions for me. With conversations that started out kind turning into manipulation, I had to listen to my gut instincts.

It was amazing at first. The attention, that is. As I accepted Brandeis University as my graduate school choice, I continued to be noticed and complimented by this person for my modeling, projects and professional growth.

But sometimes, you have to give into your gut.

When we video chatted, I found myself being flirted with and promised a book deal, fame, money, success. Everything I wanted to hear. But my gut was telling me something was very wrong. He wanted me to come to New York City to meet. After those calls, I realized it would be less than appropriate. In one call, he put on hypnosis tape and told me to just relax and listen and not to worry, I would be famous soon.

Fame is something we all strive for, subconsciously or consciously. We want to have attention for our projects and our journeys. We all want a witness to what we can do.

But it was scary to me. Too much too soon. I turned my focus to my studies, and he became angry. When I couldn’t spend “time” talking to him, he would retaliate by ignoring me or pretending not to receive my text messages.

These were clear red flags that something about this interaction was wrong. We can all find ourselves playing the part of the damsel in distress, but in response, I turned angry overtime. I was struggling with my own silence. It is easy to be silent. It is harder to have a voice. And that’s what I was losing.

His brother remained oblivious to it, and I didn’t speak up. I was too afraid I would lose my opportunity than confront I was dealing with a potential monster. He was religious as well and used that to comfort me.

“Look at me,” He would say into the webcam as I listened to hypnosis tapes from his end. Enough was enough. I shut down my laptop and focused on student teaching teens as a potential English teacher.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

A week later, I looked at his company’s website. They began promoting a new model from my area, and she was also an actress. Then I saw it: Things I had said to him, my dreams and goals were rewritten as her agenda in an obvious manner only I would know.

For example, he knew my hero is Audrey Hepburn. In one article on his company page, it was complimented that she looked just like Audrey. This was all his retaliation, and it was also his way of baiting me on social media to react, to respond.

I gave and owed him nothing.

I found my own opportunities and developed authenticity. I modeled for clothing store, Raspberry Beret, in Cambridge and modeled for Knotsvilla, a wedding website. After getting signed at John Robert Powers, I realized I could only take my modeling so far and began to write. I learned what teens were looking for in young adult fiction novels in my student teaching.

I left my program not because of this man’s attempt of power over me but because I didn’t want to be a teacher. He had started a fire in me. “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” would be most appropriate.

Eventually, I was free. He stopped chasing me through social media baiting and the objectification of other girls. He was only harming himself. I wanted not to compete with this girl — I wanted to compete with him.

So, I became a freelance brand consultant and manager like him. I wanted to be like him so I began doing this just for that reason. I was a branding consultant for start ups Penpath, Payhip and for former child soldier and musician, Emmanuel Jal, befriending him on twitter after helping his nonprofit Gua Africa. This was a brief time in my life, but I connected with experts on branding and relayed their advice after giving my own to legitimize my process. They gave it for free if I’d help them with their social media. I did that for a time. By focusing on branding, I delved in his area and suddenly learned- I could discover myself. I didn’t need him to brand me.

I learned that not everything is what it seems. You can be on a path that appears to be perfect when a predator starts to show itself. But I defied the odds by modeling on my terms, writing a book and consulting brands to find myself a manager equal to him. That he stole any of my ideas did not stop me. I developed better ones and became myself a more authentic, unique and individual brand. I used the English major I had been in my undergrad to win. I wrote on multiple platforms. I developed “Unseen Brilliance” a workshop for youth such as for The Woodlands Foundation youth which was about self empowerment. I wrote, spoke and conducted activism. I not only freed myself from an oppressor, I won.

One of his brand’s TV shows got canceled. It wasn’t the one who he used against me, but it was a silent karmic win as she was a top brand. I knew I would be okay, and I didn’t need him or fame to be free. Authenticity drove my freedom and kept me safe. I hope it does the same for you.

The predator never contacted me again. And I never looked at his new model’s progress. All I know that I am safe, and that is my win. My win was that I was driven. My win was that I didn’t leave it alone. My win was that I thought I was worth it. That’s all I needed.

I started from helpless to becoming the hero of my own tale.

You too can discover frauds in your life by following your gut instincts. If something feels wrong, listen to that. You could become your own hero.