I want to share with you my journey of personal growth. A journey from a low functioning (unhealthy) Enneagram type 4, working in the modelling industry, to an international speaker and presenter on emotional and social intelligence and empowerment. A journey from seeking to validate myself through how I looked, though body image, to becoming a person validated by the knowledge that I am enough.
As the youngest child in a family of 5, I have always felt loved. I could not ask for a more loving family. Yet, throughout my childhood and adolescence, I struggled to maintain close friendships and a healthy body image. Although people surrounded me, I felt lonely. In my loneliness, I retreated into my imagination; always dreaming that things would get better once I was “seen”. I longed to stand out and be noticed. I needed to feel significant. I believed the media myth that I could get all I needed through my body image.
As a young girl, family friends, mostly adults, told me that I could be a model. I didn’t believe them. They noted that I was not too short, I was thin and had a well-proportioned face. On the other hand, in high school, I was teased for being too skinny, too curvy, for having hairy arms and had many rumours spread about me. “She must stuff her bra”, “she must be a bulimic”, and the like. I never felt like anything I ever did at school was enough in my peers’ eyes. Boys avoided me and later on in adulthood, I found out that if a boy “liked” me, it would be seen as social suicide to date me. It was a very uncomfortable time for me. I didn’t belong and could not find a group of friends that suited me.
After hearing very contradicting thoughts from adults and my peers, I decided to go for it and had a few modelling shoots with family friends who were testing their camera skills, and I discovered I loved it! I loved being the centre of attention. I loved feeling confident, hearing that I was pretty and that I was good at something. I loved sharing those images with my high school friends. This fed my longing and helped me to feel less lonely. I was recognised, and I stood out. Boys started to tell me they liked me, and I began to get attention. I thought this was the right kind of attention.
When I turned 18, I applied to model agencies and was disappointed to meet with rejection. Agency after agency gave me a reason why I was not right for them. I was disappointed but not discouraged. These rejections fuelled my need to be “seen” and I was committed to my quest.
I paid for professional photos to be taken and uploaded them onto a Facebook modelling page myself. I joined an agency who specialised in promotions and got regular work. I was loving it and wanted more. At one of my promotional jobs, I met a male photographer. He offered to shoot me for free. I was so excited and flattered. Finally, people noticed me, and I was “seen” Perhaps, I thought, perhaps I was beautiful. Maybe all those agencies had been wrong in rejecting me.
In my excitement, I didn’t think of the hidden cost of such an offer, nor did I stop to consider how I would be seen. These images ranged from bikini and lingerie photos, to photos with purely my hands or arms covering my body. Without realising it, instead of finding myself, I lost myself. I disappeared in the objectified images. This was not a one-off. This was the same with most photo shoots from that point on. I was told that the only stream of modelling I suited was lingerie and bikini modelling, more specifically aimed at a male market. I saw my photos published on the internet. There they were freely available for all the world to see. My entry into the public sphere, instead of satisfying my desires, worked to make me feel very uncomfortable with what I saw.
Yet, at the same time, my Facebook modelling page was getting hundreds, and then thousands of “Likes” and now a modelling agency sent me an expression of interest. This sudden popularity caused me inner confusion. I detested that I was objectified in the way I was portrayed, and at the same time, I experienced validation and excitement from the interest I was attracting on Facebook and Instagram. As I continued down this path, I noticed that I was so focused on getting attention that I held onto whatever kind I could get. This was from the men, the men that wanted to see more rather than less of my body. I felt like an object, so I thought I would try again to get into the world of commercial modelling. Agencies accepted me but I had to pay a fee and then no jobs were offered once I entered. I didn’t have a commercial look or commercial body. I was too curvy for “regular” women to relate to, but I was also too slim for plus-size modelling. I tried asking photographers for more commercial photos, but they were still too interested in seeing the other side to me, the “sexy” side. I realised I needed to look elsewhere for the validation I was so desperate for.
At this time, other things were happening in my life which had a positive influence on me. I discovered the Enneagram by chance. I fit the bill perfectly as an Enneagram 4. Every dot point was me! But I didn’t see this as a good thing. I heard somethings about myself that I had ignored for too long. I was self-absorbed, overdramatic (they called me Melodrama), nothing was ever enough and I abased myself regularly. But from the moment I found out about my Enneagram type, it was as though a switch had been flipped, and I began to change. I started thinking of others, looking for internal validation more often. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, and people began to notice. My friends and family would say to be “Mel, you’ve changed!”
This interested me, so I sought out training to know more about the Enneagram for myself and to be able to share it as a transformational tool with others. I had also started a Counselling Diploma course with my sister, and I was enjoying it. At this time, I had been working as a dental assistant for five years, and my father, a psychiatrist (Argentina), coach and researcher, asked me to assist him with the administration and coordination of his workshops. By working alongside my father, I discovered that I shared his passion for helping people transform their lives for the better. After graduating, it was a natural progression for me to move into training and coaching. Around this time, I had also met an opera singer whose voice and spirit inspired me to resume classical singing lessons. Opera had been my primary subject for the HSC. At 20, I realised that singing opera was more than a hobby for me – it was a passion, and a passion worth pursuing.
I was becoming more and more dissatisfied with modelling and photo shoots. It drained me emotionally and spiritually. It left me dry. At times I would cry in between shots. Looking back, I can see that my modelling was holding me back from becoming my true self. When I was helping people through coaching and learning more about emotional and social intelligence, I was satisfied and fulfilled; I was walking down the path towards my true self. Yet, every time I went back to a modelling shoot, it was as though I was walking further away from my true self. I was in a tug of war with myself. It was time for me to decide what I wanted for my life. With careful reflection, I quit modelling, I resigned from the agencies, and I informed my followers on Facebook and Instagram that I was no longer going to model, that I was instead going to pursue a career as a professional relationship coach.
I now love my life and the reality of who I am. As a Type 4 on the Enneagram, I still have fears of being insignificant, but I know now I need to look within, knowing that my significance comes first and foremost from myself. I am still on a journey. I can’t change my past, but I can choose what I do with it. I can choose to be a victim of my past or use my past to help others find their true self. I choose to see my past choices as stepping stones that got me to where I am now.
It is my hope that by sharing my journey from being a low functioning Type 4 to a more conscious and healthier 4, that I can be an encouragement to others, and that the dark times in my life will not be lost times.
Life is a constant journey seeking to be our best selves, our true selves. I now share this love with others through sharing my own gifts, my own story, my coaching, mentoring and retreat work, and through companionship helping them to find their own path towards their true self so they too can live a happier and fulfilled life. As a Play of Life® and Enneagram.rc Coach (and a passionate opera singer), I am committed to helping people bring out the best of themselves, and hopefully to put a song in their heart along the way.