A Sweet Year
As 2013 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect back on the events and memories that made it a year to remember. The big one – the memory that will forever make 2013 a year to remember – is winning Lise Watier’s Something Sweet contest. Although I know that the story of the quadriplegic girl that entered and then won the contest has been told countless times, I would like to tell it in my own words just once before I can put it to rest. Bear with me if you’ve already heard it, and please allow me to share my side of the story.
I first heard about the contest when a friend posted the link on my Facebook page, urging me to enter because she thought the Something Sweet brand suited my personality and style. I was flattered, but doubtful. Who would choose somebody in a wheelchair to be a model? A week passed, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the contest. What would I wear in the picture if I did enter? Would hot pink sequins and tulle be too much? Are Shirley-Temple-curls over the top? Maybe.
My stubborn side was getting impatient. It wasn’t prepared to accept the “I can’t because I’m in a wheelchair” excuse—instead it demanded that I at least enter the contest. Eventually I caved, and convinced my mom to accompany me as my photographer. Off we headed to the nearest Shoppers Drug Mart to take some pictures in front of the Something Sweet stand; I figured worst-case scenario, it would be a good excuse to dress up… I’m a sucker for an opportunity to put on a dress! After she’d snapped 60 shots, each one sporting a slightly different head tilt, wheelchair wheelie, and a variety of smiles, I knew I had one I liked and I raced home to submit it.
This is when the fun started.
The submission of my photo was step one; step two was the voting. Friends and family started voting; then they started sharing my story and urging their friends and family to vote for me. The Lise Watier site remained up on my laptop throughout the days of voting, and I continuously clicked that refresh button to see if my standing had changed. A few days in, when I was number 9 on the list, a friend from BC Wheelchair Sports wrote an article about the contest and posted it on their website, and they put out a news release for local media. Then the madness really began. Friday night was an interview with Global. Saturday morning was the newspaper. Sunday was a phone call to see if I could be on live television Monday morning. My phone started ringing and it never stopped! There was literally a plethora of different reporters eager to broadcast their take on “the quadriplegic girl trying to change the perception of beauty”.
At first I was overwhelmed; I had no idea how to handle all the attention. My doubts quickly gave way to excitement though, when I realized that I had a message I wanted to share, and this was my opportunity to be heard.
As word got out my ranking in the contest continued to improve. I moved from 9th to 8th to 6th … sat in 3rd for three days… and then finally at the end of the second week, I jumped to 1st place. It turns out, over 15,000 people voted for me. How crazy is that?!?
The voting closed and I waited anxiously to hear from Lise Watier—the top five girls would be flown to Montreal to meet with a panel of judges.
From the moment my sister and I arrived in Montreal, we realized that this was not going to be our usual travel experience. Our driver – and his limo – were waiting to take our bags. Our blue-steel room at the ‘W’ hotel was swankier than anything I’d ever set foot (or wheel!) in before J. There was an amazing gift package of Lise Watier goodies, and a “We’re so proud of you” bouquet of flowers from my parents. Lise Watier certainly knows how to travel in style!
The next morning it was time to meet my competitors— Andreanne, Alexandra, Noemie, and Emilie—and the Lise Watier representatives. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I met with the other girls—part of me was imagining a bad episode of America’s Next Top Model with cat fights and cold shoulders, while the other half had created an idealized image of everyone becoming new best friends and bonding over the shared experience. In the end, the reality was far closer to the latter. These girls were absolutely gorgeous (although I already knew that from their contest pictures) but even more than that, they were kind, welcoming, a little nervous, and hopeful, just as I was. Any one of them would have made a wonderful ambassador for Something Sweet and I feel truly honoured to have been considered worthy among them.
After the meeting we headed off for high tea at the Ritz (again deliciously lavish in true Lise Watier fashion) and our interviews with the judges. We all sat quietly around a massive mahogany table, decked with extravagant floral arrangements, hesitant to be the first to reach for the sweets that were stacked in front of us. The judges called us in one by one— so much for strength in numbers—and asked us each a couple of questions—“What does it mean to be an ambassador?”, “What do you think the perfume smells like?”, “Who do you consider to be a role model.” I wondered whether or not the other girls were asked the same things, but never found out. As it turned out, it didn’t matter. Once we had all been questioned, the judges took some time to deliberate and left us to sweat it out around that cruel mahogany table. Finally they called us back in.
I honestly don’t really remember what they said leading up to the announcement, as my inner voice was frantically trying to convince me that it would be alright if I lost, but I do remember hearing them say that they had chosen me to be the ambassador of Something Sweet. The floodgates of emotion opened and I began to cry. At first I didn’t even fully understand what I was feeling because part of me was so ecstatic to be given the opportunity to show the world that I could do this, wheelchair and all, while another part of me was heart broken at the thought of taking that feeling away from the other four girls. They all deserved it just as much as I did, and the only reason I could move past the guilt I initially felt was because I know that they are all going to, and have, accomplished some seriously impressive things in their lives, and because I know that because of my disability and the once in a life-time opportunity that Lise Watier has provided me with, I can make winning mean something more to any women questioning whether or not different can be beautiful.
After the announcement we still had the photo shoot to do the next day and WOW was that an eye-opening experience. We got there bright and early and were greeted by the team of people necessary to make the perfect picture happen. Modeling is not just sitting around and looking pretty—it’s the perfect hair, make-up, dress, shoes, accessories, angles, lighting, backgrounds, set, direction, vision, and photo— it takes a community of people with unheard of amounts of talent. I was fortunate enough to have a team of people that really cared about making it an exciting experience for me—people that recognized that I was no expert, and were willing to take the time to understand how the wheelchair complicated things and how we could work around that. At the end of the nine-hour day, all five girls, myself included, left with a beautiful picture and irreplaceable experience.
I have said it before, but I want to say it one last time—I am so thankful to all of the people that allowed me to have this opportunity. The fact that over 15,000 people voted for me during the initial stages of the contest and that the panel of judges selected me out of a group of really incredible women tells me that a good chunk of Canada is ready to embrace difference. This sounds a little cheesy, I know, but for every person that has ever told themselves that they aren’t beautiful, or good enough because of how they look or what they are physically capable of doing, I hope that they can look at my journey and see that the world is ready to strive for more. Society is ready to be challenged, and allowing a girl in a wheelchair to sit next to any other model on the glossy pages of a well-read magazine is just one step among many to come that will eventually lead to a better, more inclusive world.
Since I won the contest I have started receiving messages from other people with and without disabilities, telling me that they heard about my story and were excited to see what changes it could lead to. That is truly one of the greatest prizes that has come with my win. Knowing that what I’m doing matters to even one other person validates everything for me.
Thank-you for allowing me to share my story with you, and I hope that this will become a regular place for me to talk to all of you about whatever is on my mind—whether that be a long overdue thank-you, or my take on the latest and greatest Lise Watier products, I hope that I am able to write about things that people care about reading.
Until next time,
3 months ago | 1 note