I entered a lot of beauty pageants while growing up in the small town that has produced big
achievers, a small town which has raised many big thinkers, a small town in the Eastern Cape
that occupies a big space in my heart… BUTTERWORTH. Back to the topic at hand, from Miss
Tiny Tots to Miss Pretty Pink, from Miss Ellerines to Miss Summer, I entered them all. Looking
back though, I never won a single one… well, except being second princess at Miss Msobomvu
Ballroom, the pageant where my mom’s friend sis’ Nozi Finini was one of the judges. Even as I
wore the tiara and did the royal wave that day, I knew my win was a bit dodgy. In spite of this,
or perhaps BECAUSE of it, my definition of beauty has never been confined to a perfect smile,
perfection in a bikini or being able to pull off a perfect grand march to the sound of “Careless
I still shudder at the memory of a crowd that waited in anticipation, either to roar and clap as a
sign of approval, or to boo you off-stage and shatter your dreams, which they seemed to really
revel in. The ones who were a few kilograms too heavy, or who went blank when it was time
for the judges to ask questions, never stood a chance. Over and above the “cooldrink” cans
that would be thrown at them, they still had to face the humiliation of being laughed at for days
thereafter in taxi ranks, supermarkets and at schools. So yes, while I have entered a number of
beauty pageants, I stopped very quickly and tried my luck at other activities such as debating,
drama and talent shows.
Fast forward to 2012 when Lisa (my agent) sent me a perfectly drafted brief of the next SAA in-
flight safety ambassador. SAA had decided to move on from the cartoon character that
previously did the safety demonstrations, and they were looking for a face that could represent
them internationally in this regard. I read the brief and my initial reaction was to laugh out loud
at the joke my agent was playing on me. The words and phrases that caught my attention were
“Beautiful”, “Attractive”, “Clear skin”, “Great teeth”, “Model-like but warm and relatable”,
“Articulate”, etc. I could literally see this person in my mind’s eye. The perfect Flight Attendant
of the 1990’s. To make matters worse, I spotted multitudes of these ‘perfect people’ when I
walked into the audition room. There were only two things in my favour as I went into that
audition: 1. I was wearing a chiffon scarf, pretty much like a real Flight Attendant / Cabin Crew,
and 2. I had that 5-page script memorized to the last comma (yes, I was an A-student in History). Less than 24 hours later, I got the call. They did not want to do any call backs nor see any more people. They had decided, I was the person they were looking for. The exact word they used in their feedback when they called my agent is “AUTHENTIC”. That’s it! AUTHENTIC. That was enough to make them forget about perfect teeth, perfect skin and model looks.
I have never forgotten the lessons I learnt out of this experience, and I carry them with me every day:
- We are not created to fit perfectly into other people’s descriptions of perfection, but
each of us are perfect in our imperfections.
- When we are authentic, we are believable.
- When we trust that who we are is enough, we shine.
- It does not matter what mask you wear to fool the world, you cannot fake the ‘energy’