Nothing can prepare you for the special kind of trauma that comes from entering a modelling contest, only to have your sister win it.
The day that happened to me is the day I realised I had better stop relying on my looks. Because it’s important to have a back-up plan, and be an independent woman who relies on her brain… and also because my looks were pretty average.
I was six. Rhiannon, my sister, was nine. She had gorgeous olive skin and those wide-set alien eyes that were becoming popular in the early 90’s thanks to the likes of Kate Moss. I inherited my dad’s Irish skin, was covered in dark freckles and my eyes were small and grey. I wasn’t unfortunate looking by any means, in fact I was quite pretty, but nobody was stopping me in the street asking me to do Kmart commercials.
Rhiannon was constantly stopped in the street and asked to do Kmart commercials.
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Despite the fact Rhiannon’s looks were something adults constantly felt the need to point out (She’s just so beautiful! She’s going places! She’s going to be famous! She and Rosie look nothing alike!) I don’t think I really noticed any difference between us until the contest. It was the exact moment I realised I was the Doug Pitt to my sister’s Brad.
It happened at the ‘Some Kids Are Beautiful And Some Kids Are Not’ modelling competition at Macquarie Shopping Centre. (Okay, so I can’t actually remember what it was called but I think that title pretty much captures the essence of it.)
I desperately wanted to enter. There was a temporary studio set up in the middle of the mall and you got to bring two outfits and pretend to be famous for half an hour while a casting agent pretended to know how to use a camera. Then they forced your mum to pay exorbitant amounts of money for the photos.
I had always assumed I would win an Oscar by the time I was 10 (obviously for playing Atreyu’s girlfriend in the sequel to The Never Ending Story), so this kind of star treatment was right up my alley.
Naturally, I would be discovered at ‘the studio’ and this would get the Hollywood ball rolling. I think for a kid who lived in a housing commission complex also known as ‘The Ghetto’, it was a pretty standard escapism kind of dream.
Rhiannon won the modelling competition. Off one shot of her looking directly into the camera, barely smiling, Rhiannon had won the whole damn thing. And she didn’t even care! I think she was more amused by the fact she had managed to win a contest she hadn’t even entered, rather than excited by the fact she had won.
She already knew she was beautiful, people told her all the time, so… big deal, right? I, on the other hand, was pissed. I cried at the injustice of it. What a waste of a birthday present. I’m pretty sure this traumatic experience is what made me finally understand the difference between us.
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She was Brad, I was Doug. She was Kim, I was Khloe. She was Giselle, I was whatever Giselle’s sister is called. In hindsight though, it was a good thing. I was never going to get attention for my looks while she was around, so I had to develop other ways of standing out. And those ways have now become the basis of my career (writing things down/making people laugh etc etc blah blah blah).
So, I guess I should thank Rhiannon. Thank her for being born freakishly stunning so I could develop some charisma. Thank her for winning the genetic lottery so I could grow some brains. And thank her for being so beautiful that I had to learn how to be funny.
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And of course, because the world isn’t fair in any way whatsoever, Rhiannon also grew into a woman with charisma, brains and humour plus she has beautiful children and still has a perfect face. Bitch.
Sidenote: I wish, more than anything, I still had the photos from that contest. My tracksuit was incredible.
Rosie Waterland is an author and comedian. Follow her on Facebook here. AND… Her debut one-woman show sold out at the Melbourne comedy festival, so now she’s taking it ON THE ROAD this October and November. Covering her mentally ill addict parents, her time in foster care, being a dweeby Houso kid, growing up to loathe giving head, being terrible at Tinder, pooping herself… it truly is a mixed bag. Get tickets RIGHT HERE.