Arts and Culture // 08.18.2010

Meet Paradis

Article by Abena A-T

Under the shade of a bright tent at Moroccan restaurant Shokola, upcoming model and poet Paradis chatted with us about the challenges of being a model in Rwanda, her love for fashion, and how a favor for a friend turned into a love for poetry.

For the Love

Paradis was born in Burundi and grew up in Rwanda. Her love for fashion drew her into modeling though the Rwandan industry, she says, is still in its beginning stages. Her first big break was at a fashion show featuring several international fashion designers. “That’s when I really confirmed that I can do it and that it’s what I wanted to do” Paradis tells us. Though she is passionate about her work, she makes it clear that it takes more than passion to succeed; it also takes hardwork and courage. She says of when she first started modeling: “it was really hard ‘cause I couldn’t even walk…you have to be very confident.”

Strutting her Stuff

Shyness was something this freelance model quickly had to get over. She not only had to learn to rock the runway, she also had to bare it all in front of numerous people. “When trying on clothes and everything, you’re supposed to be naked in front of everyone, the designers and everything”, she says. Those familiar with the modeling industry, even if it is just from watching ‘America’s Next Top Model’, know that it can be harsh – ever scrutinizing the weight and appearance of models. Paradis tells us that she feels the pressure sometimes but is not overcome by it: “You feel afraid of everyone watching you. Everyone’s eyes are on you and the cameras… [but] once you step on that catwalk, something happens and you feel like ‘okay, now it’s me’ and everything changes.”

Misperceptions

Paradis’ cheerful demeanor and positive outlook is a strength in a country where modeling has been misunderstood and even looked down upon in the eyes of many. “Before, they had a different concept about modeling. It’s a bit embarrassing saying this but being a model is like being a slut or a prostitute or something. I mean its culture, that’s how they saw it.” Indeed, though modeling is seen as glamorous in some places, it is seen negatively in others. But attitudes are starting to change “They’re starting to know that modeling‘s a job like any job and that modeling’s not about selling your body it’s about beauty and fashion. With time things will change.”

Another stereotype Paradis deals with is the view that models are shallow and superficial. “People think you’re dumb because you’re a model but when they come to see that you work somewhere, you have a job, you have a career and they talk to you, they come to see that you’re not dumb like they thought.”

Lyrics and Poetry

Paradis started writing stories at an early age about how she felt about herself, and about the people she encountered everyday. Paradis admits that she wasn’t a big fan of writing poetry at first because it seemed more serious than songwriting and it took more effort to play with words. After a friend, who knew she wrote songs, approached her to perform poetry at a South African University looking for Rwanda poets, she opened herself up to the art. She has now written about a hundred poems. About her seemingly contrasting occupations Paradis says boldly “You can be a model and an ambassador. Being a model is not so desperate. I can do anything else in this world.”

Dreams and Ambition

The young talented lady who describes herself as competitive says her motivation is the desire to not disappoint her mother, whom she says is “the most wonderful person in this life,” and not to disappoint herself: “as an African woman I feel like I want to be better, do better.” The advice Paradis gives to other young women aspiring to certain dreams is that “in life, you shouldn’t care with people think. Some people may think they don’t have a dream but everyone has a dream. Go with your dream no matter what people say because at the end of the day you’re the one, it’s you by yourself.” So what would this competitive and fun-loving fashionista imagine her and a guy wearing on a first date? “I don’t want to be overdressed so I think it would depend on my date. I don’t want to be so smart and make him feel so bad” she says, adding “I don’t mind [him wearing] jeans and t-shirt but there’s a way people dress up even if it’s jeans: it‘s casual but it’s cool.” For her own outfit she says “I might wear nice jeans, not baggy, a nice shirt and a jacket, maybe high heels or nice shoes. Its casual but its classy.” We like that.

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