Let's change things up a bit today and play a virtual word association game. I'll start. "Model" Even though I couldn't hear what you said, I'll bet that your response included "tall", "thin", "young", "beautiful" or some similar combination of adjectives because those are the descriptors that immediately come to most people's minds, like it or not.
While there were plenty of participants in the World's Largest Fashion Show who fit the glossy magazine perception of "model", I applaud Galeries Lafayette for casting many people who didn't conform to the stereotypical definition of the word.
With striking eyes and a friendly smile, Dutch journalist and blogger Helene van Santen told me that it had always been her dream to be in a fashion show but that she never thought that it would be possible because of her height. At 160 cm (5'2"), she just naturally assumed that she was too short to be a model until she applied to be in the first edition of the show in 2011. When I asked how it felt to walk down the runway in front of hordes of cheering people, she responded "Amazing! It feels like you're on top of the world."After a moment of contemplation, Helene added that it was impossible to sleep afterwards because she was on such a natural adrenaline high. Much to her delight, visitors to her apartment in Holland always exclaim over a photograph hanging on her wall. It was taken while she was strutting her stuff on the catwalk in Paris. It just goes to show that dreams can come true -- twice!
Helene with the makeup artist and looking "on top of the world" again in 2012.
Another woman who is actively working to shatter the stereotypical image associated with the word "model" is the former headmistress of the French School in Barcelona.
Realizing that she wanted to change her life after she retired, this elegant 65 year old woman with elegantly coiffed silver hair decided to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a model. It wasn't, however, quite as easy as she expected because most of the agencies discouraged her efforts after learning her age. With tears in her eyes that threatened to ruin her dramatic makeup, she revealed that she didn't want to live her life thinking "I could have ..." so with steely resolve she finally located a school that would teach her the tricks of the trade. Determined to remain true to herself and abstain from altering her face with cosmetic surgery, she stressed the necessity of providing younger women with role models who affirm that women of all ages are beautiful.
Caught up in the emotions of the moment, I regret not asking Madame for her contact information because I would have liked to tell her that she'll serve as my inspiration whenever I encounter barriers associated with age. Whether you've always dreamed of learning a new language, traveling to faraway lands or walking down a runway in Paris, remember it's never too late!
I'll be interested to see if the jury selects either of these two inspirational women to appear in the January issue of Glamour magazine.
Please click here to see Helene's blog post about her day as a Parisian model.