**Plays “I’ve Got a Dream,” from Tangled, as opener to this post…**
In May 2013, my older sister was a Junior at SF State, majoring in Apparel Design and Merchandising. For one of her projects, she had to design two outfits that would be presented at a fashion showcase. A lot of her classmates worked with strangers that classified themselves as, “models.” In her mind, why would she need a random model she didn’t know when she had me? A younger sister who basically had no choice but to be said “model?” She guilt tripped me about how it would be easier for her if I were the model so I could try it on and get fitted anytime she needed to make adjustments or measurements. Of course I wanted to support her with her passion projects and school work, but damn this bitch had me fucked up. I remember thinking… “Wtf, I really need to stand infront of a couple hundred people and walk on a fuckin’ runway? …bye.” The only plus side that I could see in this situation was the fact that I got to miss a day of class when the fashion showcase day were to come. I was a senior in high school who had a bad case of senioritis, but never had the balls to skip. Nevertheless, I was so embarrassed just thinking about it… ME?! WALKING DOWN A RUNWAY?!
I pull up these pictures now and I almost laugh out loud, as I’m at least 35 pounds heavier. But at the time, I was stressing and under pressure about my appearance. Although I knew months in advance that I’d be walking down a runway, no amount of time could prepare me for this almost embarrassing moment. I felt like I was going to make myself look like Boo Boo Tha Damn Foo walking down that runway. And for those reasons, I seesawed with my diet. One day I’d be watching what I ate, and then another day I would fall into a pit of self pity and eat my frustrations, in the form of hot cheetos. Long story short, I was never consistent with my attempts at trying to “lose weight,” “improve my figure,” “get runway ready,” or whatever the hell I was trying to do. This was also a very crucial point in my life in regards to my body dysmorphia and my struggle with my weight, however, that’s another blog post that I do plan on sharing soon 😉. Let’s just say I was truly struggling with how I viewed my body and went about it in a very unhealthy way.
I practiced day after day in those cheap uncomfortable heels that I got for like $20 in the Mission. I walked up and down the hallway in my house, trying to sell the outfit, but at the same time making sure I don’t fall and eat shit. When it comes to heels I literally can’t. All aboard the mess express, because that’s me in heels. I even put resistant patches on the bottom of my heels to make me feel more secure. I played in my mind all the things that could possibly go wrong, from falling, to passing out, even thinking if under the runway lights my underwear would be visible through the dress material. The thing that bothered me the most was the fact that I could see my belly button through the dress. And for that reason, I practiced walking in heels while sucking in my gut. So, I had to practice walking without falling, walking fiercely, but also achieve that by not breathing.
As the days loomed closer I think I had the mentality of “let’s just get this over with already.” At this point I already exhausted myself with anxiety and insecurities. I was just ready for it to be done with.
When we got to the practice run at the fashion showcase, I was starting to get excited that I would be the body to show off my sister’s designs. But I did notice something. I was one of the verrrrryyyy few “models” of color, probably the shortest, and definately the biggest. It seemed like all these women were atleast 5’10 without heels. I felt so out of place. Insecurities came back, though they never left. For a high schooler struggling with body image and weight, this seemed like the worst place to be.
All these tall, thin, “professional” models changing clothes openly infront of everyone is what got me cringing. The “changing room” was basically the back of the venue, outdoors and gated. They put up a tent where some could change more privately, but there were atleast 200 models. It was so crowded in that little open area that models would come right to the back after just walking off the runway and quickly disrobe to put on the next outfit to get back out there. When I put on my first outfit, I shyly went in the tent and made sure that I put it on as discreet as possible. You know, like when you’re in high school and you’re trying to change in the women’s locker room after swimming class? Like that.
When it was the real deal and the fashion showcase started, I could feel my heart pounding, my breathing picked up, and I felt like passing out. When it was finally my turn to walk down that runway, I faked it till I made it. Faked the confidence, faked the smile, faked my stomach and sucked that shit in. I didn’t fall. All eyes were on me, but at the moment I didn’t care. I walked off the stage exhilarated. I quickly met my sister for my dress change. I immediately started taking off my dress, left in my underwear and bra, scrambling to get into the next outfit.
“Marinelle what the hell,” my sister laughed but was also confused as to why I was doing it out in the open. At that point I was there all day, probably more than 9 hours. My feet hurt, I was tired, I was hungry, and most of all, I didn’t care anymore. I saw stares from the other “models” as I changed into my other dress with no shame. Some probably thinking “yo0o0o0o0, the nerve.” But I embraced it. I liked the fact that I was serving looks, but most importantly, that I was different.
A year later, my sister had her senior final project where she had to come up with multiple looks. My little sister, my 2 friends, my older sister’s co-worker, and I were my sister’s models. My little sister refused to be in it. In a way I saw myself in her. She was complaining about the same things I was just a year before. But I was telling her how cool it was, how it’s all in her head, and guilt tripped her on how we should be supporting our sister.
What I was insecure about a year prior turned out to be what I was most proud of. Being a “model” with my sister and friends made me prideful. I took pride in knowing that I was the thick Filipino chick who totally wasn’t a model. I took pride in the fact that we were a group of women of color who stood out from the rest. I took pride in the fact that I was in a space some would believe I don’t belong.
After the 2nd fashion showcase (where I wasn’t trippin as hard), my parents were smiling ear to ear. They were proud of my older sister for making all those clothes, and proud of all of us for coming through for her.
“Bigay ng bigay,” my mom and dad told me laughing. In bay area translation: I was givin it/ giving it my all/ doing the most. As I should’ve. The 2nd year was a totally different experience than the 1st. The 2nd year I embraced what made me different. I got more political and defensive with my insecurities and turned them into positives.
But I bet you’re thinking, “But why is ‘I’ve Got a Dream,’ from Tangled playing in the backgroud?”
I think it was this experience (and my later self-discovering moments in college) that made me have the far fetched dream of being a plus sized writing model. You know, like I get discovered for my body positive writing pieces and my radical views of realness, that I’m featured in a magazine or something 🤣. Sidenote, I’ve thought about posting “real” photos like a lot of body positive influencers I follow, but I personally feel weird posting half nude photos of myself. Power to the females that do though ✊🏽 I respect and appreciate models and influencers who put their real unedited photos up for people to see that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. But most importantly, highlighting parts of their bodies that society has labeled as “unattractive.”
I realized that I was so insecure of my size because I never seen someone that looks like me on TV or anything model related. I told my cousin, “What if one day I get discovered for modeling, think of it, plus-sized Filipino model, we’re underrepresented!” Unedited, gut out, stretch marks, blemishes, all the above. Even pulling up these old photos from 2013 made me feel some type of way. Like I said, I’m probably AT LEAST 35 pounds heavier. But I got to remind myself that weight does not define me. In fact, I was in a pretty dark place at the time when I was at my smallest. The backstory will be a future blog post.
That “modeling” experience helped me take the first steps to self-acceptance and self-love. Even though the journey is still continuing to this day. 💖 Embrace what makes you different!!!