By SALLY MATHIS
April Wilkner, a 2003 America’s Next Top Model contestant, spoke to an audience of about 40 in Lee Hall on March 14 as part of the James Farmer Multicultural Center’s ongoing celebration of women’s history month.
Wilkner candidly shared her experiences in the modeling industry, giving the audience a behind-the-scenes look at advertising while discussing the role of diversity in the business along with the issue of self-esteem.
Modeling wasn’t always Wilkner’s dream, though.
“I ended up auditioning for Top Model […] as a way to break into the TV industry. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a model,” she said.
During her speech, Wilkner addressed the issue of self esteem, both for models and those viewing the advertisements at home. Before modeling, Wilkner said her self-esteem was fine, but once she entered the profession, it plummeted.
“I always feel a little bit of guilt being in this industry that shapes how we feel about ourselves […] But the truth is, just because you’re inside that industry, it doesn’t make you immune to that insecurity,” Wilkner confessed.
Modeling can be very detrimental to a person’s self esteem, sometimes even more so for the models than the women watching them at home.
“[Modeling is] not a recipe for happiness. It’s a recipe for insecurity and disaster […] That’s what I learned from being inside the industry,” Wilkner said. “I guarantee you there are girls in this room that have more self-esteem that these [models].”
Wilkner had the audience members think back to the last thought that they had about their appearance. Less than half of the audience had thought positively about themselves, and would never say that comment to a friend.
“I think a lot of people are not as nice to themselves as they are to people they care about,” Wilkner stated. “You wake up in the morning and you’re very hard on your appearance. We see ourselves [in this horrible light].”
And yet, comparing ourselves to the models and celebrities we see in magazines every day is not healthy, because the pictures we see have been heavily Photoshopped, Wilkner explained. She would stay late to watch the Photoshopping process after a day of modeling, and was shocked to see how many alterations were made to her pictures.
“They will literally take inches off you […] to me they would add them in some places […] I wish that every girl in America could sit down and see what I saw […] so much can be done, especially with celebrities, to perfect everything,” she explained.
Wilkner brought in pictures from a photo shoot she did for Stuff magazine, in which she was wearing a red bikini. She held up first the original photo of her, sharing her bra size is an A-cup. In the second, digitally altered photo, her chest is at least a C-cup. Additionally, her legs in the second photo show no sign of the cuts and a bruise the size of a watermelon, which she had received from an accident a few days prior to the shoot.
“This isn’t me,” Wilkner said. “I just think it’s interesting to see how they can manipulate that […] It’s just kind of scary and not real […] When you’re younger and a little more influential it’s harder to see past that.”
She also discussed the influence advertising can have on people. In America, we tend “to believe that darker skin is healthier,” Wilkner said, and admitted that she is a huge fan of tanning creams.
But after a six-month-long modeling trip to Hong Kong, Wilkner realized the advertising industry had more power over her than she had thought. Because darker skin is seen in Japan as lower class, bleaching is a very common procedure and all of the models in magazines there feature pale skin, as opposed to the tanned models that are common in the US.
“By the end of the trip I found myself not using the tanning creams,” Wilkner shared. “It was a reality check for me because I realized just how vulnerable we are to advertising. It only took 6 months for advertising to completely [reshape] what I thought.”
Wilkner said if we wish to change the advertising industry, we must first change our perceptions of ourselves and stop comparing ourselves to digitally altered photos of models.
“For me what redefining beautiful means is taking back your voice and not allowing a magazine to tell you what beautiful is, because if you let their voices get into your head, that’s when they win, [and] you become your own worst critic,” she said.