I’m thinking about my death again. Not because I want to die, but because more than ever I’m surrounded by the truth that it comes to us all eventually. It leads me to think about legacy. Have I done enough to even think about the word ‘legacy’? Definitely not but I think about it anyway. What would I leave behind? Who am I? The world is on fire and I’m not immune from all of the tragedy. So in the event that it did come for me sooner than expected, how will I be remembered?
I have always known I want to be a writer and I found it easy to tell the adults that asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even then, it was obvious to me that being a writer was something to aspire to, a title to be proud of, something respectable and worthwhile. Something that proves real talent. “I want to write books” appeased everybody that asked and more importantly was the most impressive thing I could imagine. Then the internet came along and I realised the act of writing consists of so much more than I ever knew – there was more than one way to earn the title. I spent unquantifiable time during my adolescence daydreaming about what kind of writer I was actually going to be. Would I change the world with my words? Would I change one singular world? Would I land a publishing deal and go on to have my debut adapted for the screen? Would I be a journalist? Would the majority of my words exist digitally? Could I write a play?
It makes me emotional to think back to the belief I had in myself then and that for ages, I remained tough. I often wonder whether I could have ever avoided the layers and layers of self-doubt I slathered all over myself in my teens, but I always arrive at no, I don’t think I could have. I was unsure of myself, unsure of everything; I started to lose faith in my big life plan and the doubt settled in. I had to stop and ask myself, can I write at all? Will anyone care? Have I devoted myself to something impossible? Writing wasn’t a tangible thing. It was abstract, I couldn’t touch it, I couldn’t feel it. It wasn’t yet a job of mine. There was no Writing Boss to assure me I was doing it right. I just had my diaries.
“Writing was supposed to be about struggle, was the complete opposite to superficiality. It was about real talent, the kind that moves people; devoting yourself to putting words on a page, retaining a certain kind of mystery that cameras could surely take away.”
I became a model at 18 years old. Usually when I tell this story, I say I was scouted on the street. This is a lie, one I got used to telling because it made modelling seem like something I had fallen into almost accidentally, which seemed more acceptable to me than the truth; I sent photos of myself to an agency, half-believing I was right for this, that I was good enough. Modelling soon became my job – which is still something I struggle to admit. It was my main source of income whilst I flailed around writing down ideas in notebooks, until I had a bit of an identity crisis and quit, telling myself I’m not a model, I’m a serious person, I’m a writer.
I had launched Aurelia and I wanted to be the real deal. I couldn’t connect the two worlds in my head – I couldn’t imagine that anybody would take me seriously if I got paid based on the way I look. I bought into the common opinion of the time which was that the majority of models are superficial and self-obsessed. Writing was supposed to be about struggle, was the complete opposite to superficiality – it was about real talent, the kind that moves people; devoting yourself to putting words on a page, retaining a certain kind of mystery that cameras could surely take away.
“I removed the majority of modelling photos from my Instagram, any kind of photo taken by a professional photographer that could be seen as contrived or too ‘sexy’, but kept the selfies that I liked. This is something I’ll never really understand the true depth of but I know is dangerous – how a photograph feels like it has more power, or will be easier to judge, if somebody else has taken it.”
As I finished my degree I survived on my student loans and grants, then I graduated and got a job in retail, which of course paid a lot less and made me genuinely miserable and more depressed than I have ever been, thanks to the people I had to surround myself with and the ‘diversity’ schemes that required us to take a one-hour questionnaire and ultimately did nothing. I removed the majority of modelling photos from my Instagram, any kind of photo taken by a professional photographer that could be seen as contrived or too ‘sexy’, but kept the selfies that I liked. This is something I’ll never really understand the true depth of but I know is dangerous – how a photograph feels like it has more power, or will be easier to judge, if somebody else has taken it. I tried to become somebody that looked more like a writer. It’s funny, because as I said I’d believed that models were vain, or even fake – but I’ve never been less authentic than I was then, trying to curate the perfect, academic display.
I committed to writing and editing in every bit of spare time I had. And as it turned out, I could write, and I wanted to write personal essays; reflective explorations of who I am and my life so far, assessing the choices I’ve made and what the future could look like. It’s not the easiest path, as interrogating myself, my desires, my past and so on – it can only be done when my brain is willing to let me. I found it was easier to write about the present than the past, but nothing was really happening, so I started putting myself in stressful and upsetting situations so that I would have something to write about.
“Where did my aversion to being both in both the modelling and writing industries come from? Where did I pick up that I can’t be both? I want to be. Now, I am the adult that I thought about growing into when I was young and I no longer get to imagine what I’ll be, I just live in the changing reality of it, day to day.”
I kind of developed a second self; I would say and do things but it would feel like I was watching myself act, willing the other person to reply in a certain way so I could write it truthfully. I was exhausted and I was skint. I’d trawl through my Instagram archive at night, looking at photos of myself where somebody else had done my makeup and I’d felt much more likeable, and I didn’t worry as much about my rent. I put them back on my page but I felt sick about it. My Twitter remained ‘professional’. My two selves.
Where did my aversion to being both in both the modelling and writing industries come from? Where did I pick up that I can’t be both? I want to be. Now, I am the adult that I thought about growing into when I was young and I no longer get to imagine what I’ll be, I just live in the changing reality of it, day to day. It rarely occurs to me to think of myself in ways that aren’t related to the work I do and I know this is something I should work on. I haven’t yet written a book, but I pour myself into writing and editing with all that I am. My work in this industry has already given me opportunities I couldn’t have imagined. With regards to modelling, I was re-signed to an agency fairly recently, and felt confident for a moment that these two worlds could co-exist. I love to model. I love the opportunities, the people I meet, the escapism and the independence. Moreover, and this feels strange to write, I’m good at it. It’s harder than I think it looks, but even saying that always feels annoying. Regardless, it is a job. It’s my job.
Yet, a couple of weeks ago when I was setting up my website I omitted that I model, and then a couple of days later I re-opened the page and included it. This feeling, this internal back-and-forth really lingers, and I can’t seem to shake it; perhaps it is a fear of being judged and people do judge me, or maybe it is entirely in my head. Perhaps I will have to write a well-written essay about the modelling industry to reconcile the two. Maybe, to me, they will always be oil and water. How would people describe me if I died tomorrow? I suppose it depends whether they’d met me whilst I was sat writing, working on Aurelia, or if they’d bumped into me on set, smiling on command.
Kya Buller is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Aurelia Magazine. @kyajbuller
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