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Peggi Lepage's Rebecca Dunham

Rebecca Dunham

December 2, 2021

I'm writing this entry with tears welling up in my eyes. I'm sitting in the airport reflecting on my experience in Beijing and thinking about how much I will miss all of my new friends and the city itself. I will always cherish my first trip abroad modelling as a learning experience that has helped me grow as a model and as a person. With any learning experience come learning curves and moments of confusion and clarity. I was in Beijing for three months and each month could be characterized by something I learnt and my favourite job of that month.

My first month here I was learning how to be a full time model, how to dress for castings, how to act at castings, what clients like, how to interact with people who don't speak English and how to live and interact with models. When I first arrived in Beijing in August, most of the models in my flat were on their way out of the country; Either in their last month or last week of being in Beijing. I entered into an atmosphere of fairly jaded flat-mates, while I had a bright-eyed, ready to work attitude. When the pick up time said 9:45am I was out of bed, dressed, fed and waiting for the call to come downstairs. The other models laughed at me as they rolled out of bed 15 minutes before the casting, generally not caring if they made the van and the booker wait for us. One of the girls I lived with actually said to me "this is your first trip, yes?" and then laughed before I could even answer. Of course not everyone was like this. Most of the models are amazing people who are very professional and friendly so I kept up my excited attitude.

The second month the girls had all left but I was feeling run down and tired. One week before the harvest festival break, I was working non-stop. I was waking up at 5:00 a.m. for a show, having an hour break after lunch and then going to do a television commercial for Victoria's Secret China at night. My entire week looked like this: castings in the morning and then a job all day. I loved working all day and I wasn't complaining that I was busy, but I did feel fairly worn out and exhausted. I had a test shooting just before the week-long break and I arrived at the studio early in the morning, half asleep. The studio was freezing cold and I had to take off my sweater and jacket for hair and makeup, so that the makeup wouldn't come off when I changed. I sat shivering. The makeup artist brought me coffee but I couldn't drink it as it had milk in it, which I'm horribly allergic to. Everyone was being friendly and nice, but I was feeling miserable. They sewed me into the first dress and I changed in a room that was colder than it was outside. Seeing the first look drained all of my optimism. I had a straw hat on and a dress made from scraps of fabric. My hair was curled into a white girl afro and I was holding dried flowers. The looks improved as the day went on and after eating lunch I felt much better. They told me that it would be four looks but after I had finished my fourth look they began to start a fifth. Normally this would be great; more looks means more chances that I will get something for my book. That day I was cold, grumpy and my hair had gone through hell. It had been teased, crimped, curled, re-teased and re-curled multiple times. As I sat in the chair getting my hair teased, my scalp was on fire. Finally I said, "Please be gentler! My head is killing me!" Everyone in the room laughed at me, probably because they weren't sure what I was saying and because I said it with a smile. Their laughter made me feel so angry because I was in pain but no one could understand me. So I grumpily said, "You laugh because you don't have to wash it out, it's not funny". In my head I could hear Tyra Banks on America's Next Top Model saying, "Model through it!" I put my smile back on and went out and shot the last look. I took all of my anger and pain and channeled into the shot. It worked! That shot was the best from that day and is now one of my favourites in my book!

Later that week, I was shooting for Harper's Bazaar. When I got to set the first person I saw was the same hair stylist and makeup artist from earlier that week! My jaw dropped. I was afraid they would remember me as the girl who was upset about her hair. Instead of obsessing on it, I walked over with open arms and said "nee how" and gave them both a huge hug. The moment I saw them, I felt a terrible regret for saying something about my hair earlier that week. I doubt that anyone knew what I was saying but I knew what I had said and I knew that I behaved out of character and in a manner that I was embarrassed about. I had behaved like the models I lived with in my first month in Beijing. I began to have an existential crisis about who I was as a person and as a model, but I noticed the women's faces. They looked genuinely happy to see me and got really excited. Relief! In my head, I vowed never to behave like that again and that I was going to rock that day to make it up to myself and them. I ended up working with the makeup artists four times here in Beijing and all the times were really magical.

During my third month I was reflecting a lot on the experience I was about to finish. What this experience taught me was to stay true to who I am, not only as a person but as a model. I saw a few models freak out in castings and at jobs, yelling at people who didn't understand them and refusing to do anything until they got their way. This always shocked me and they told me that I had to be that way too if I was going to survive China. Thankfully that isn't true. The one time I had a mini freak out, I regretted it instantly. Here at the end of my trip, I don't feel how those models told me I would feel. I feel sad to be leaving and happy to have had this experience. I accepted Beijing for what it is, bad and good, and loved it. My "model family" are some of the best friends I have now, my agency was kind and helpful, I did some amazing jobs that I dreamed about doing as a little girl and I had clients who treated me like their best friend. Compromising who I am is not something I am willing to do, even if I am pushed to my limits, and it's never even necessary. Modelling in Beijing can be challenging but the challenges have helped me develop into a stronger person and a better model. The challenges are far out weighed by the opportunities that I received in China and the amazing people I met. Besides, would anything be fun if it weren't a challenge?

Until my next trip,

xxx

Rebecca


Rebecca is a Peggi Lepage model, with Unique in Beijing.

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