Jess is both an actor and model for Label this year, and takes to any kind of stage with the most incredible grace, confidence and style. Here's the story behind the kick-ass smile though, proving that perhaps none of us are as confident as we seem. Jess has overcome so much and we're honoured to have her working for Label this year.
I have trouble looking people in the eye. It annoys my sister, because she says it’s weird that I stare at some part of her body while she speaks, but never in her eyes. A boy I loved once asked me what color his eyes were and though they must have captivated me for a few thousand fleeting seconds, I could not say. I never thought it odd, but it bothered me that I did not understand why I didn’t do it.
It remained a mystery to me until I read an article about building intimacy by looking into another’s eyes. The author recounted her own experience with it, stating that after the initial awkwardness came the odd sensation of having to think about what the other person was seeing. It was then that I understood why I have a problem with looking people in the eye: I don’t want to think about myself reflected in their eyes.
I don’t want to think about what they must see: scared and scarred imperfection, a fraud trying to fake it till she makes it in this world, an actress playing a role that doesn’t quite fit.
I imagine they see what I see when I look at my own reflection: legs too short, thighs too big, bones too dense, stomach too round, shoulders too broad, hair too straight, cheeks too fat, and so on.
I see reasons to leave me behind, reasons to walk away, reasons I’m not good enough, and reasons why I’ll disappoint. If I don’t look, I can imagine that they see someone intelligent, capable, beautiful, and funny. If I don’t look, I can imagine I am anyone and I don’t have to remember that, oh yeah, I’m still me.
It wasn’t always like this. I used to be almost militantly rebellious, flying my freak flag defiantly. But things happen and you decide that enough is enough; you’ll take control of your life and fix yourself until they no longer have reasons to mock or reasons to leave. I went about it like I do everything: meticulously and determinedly. For a disease most people think is about beauty, you’d be surprised how little I wanted people to look at me. At first, it was because I saw them seeing all the little parts that were still “works in progress.” Then it was avoiding it because I knew that seeing me through their eyes would mean confronting the fact that I was literally killing myself, meticulously and determinedly.
Sure the weight came back, but the mind is a resilient thing and if you trained it as well as I did, then getting it to give you back your world is not an easy thing. It has taken a very long time and a rather strictly negotiated balance between food and exercise for me to exist within a reasonable standard of normality. I now know my demons well enough to keep them in check. I live my life as a steady stream of to-do lists, focusing on creating perfection in the things I produce and less on the imperfection of myself.
Confident though I am in my abilities, I still don’t want people to look too closely. I don’t want them to see the tape and glue holding it together. I don’t want them to see how much preparedness looks like intelligence, how much bluster seems like charisma. I’m an introvert with an extrovert’s bravado: just look for the fraying seams.
So modeling is just about the worst thing I can imagine doing. Why would I want to stand in front of people and cameras, letting them see the very thing I cannot stand about myself? Why would I display for the world what I try to hide from myself? The answer is this: I owe it to myself to stop hiding and simply just look. It is time to recognize that the world does not see all my insecurities and that frankly, I should stop seeing myself with such negativity. I have to stop reflecting hate back when I should be giving myself some love. What I see in their eyes is just what I see with my eyes and I’ll be damned if I spend the rest of my life putting myself down. So I’m going to stand in the spotlight, with demons screaming at the top of their lungs, and I am going to prove them wrong.
I am going to defy their words and show myself that I am beautiful, capable, intelligent, and strong. I have to look myself in the eye and say, “I love you and you are wonderful” until one day I believe it to be true.
I will just say this one final thing: if I can stand up there, despite every fiber of my being telling me that I am not good enough to be there, you can too. Don’t let anyone, even yourself, tell you there are limits to what you can achieve or what you can be. Dream big and let yourself follow wherever those dreams may go. Push the limits, because you’ll surprise yourself with all that you are capable of. Give yourself love, because no matter how long it takes you to believe it, remember that this is true: you are you and that is more than enough to love.