Sunday, January 19, 2014

"A" for Aamito

I must admit I had no idea who she was until news of her making it to the finals went viral. I remember bumping into some random radio station in Malawi. This presenter was discussing the three finalists for Africa’s next top model, a competition organized by Nigerian Stella Oluchi, a former model herself.

He sang praises for this "super beautiful model" from Uganda. He tipped her to carry her the day. The finalists were to be flown to New York. Not one to miss out, I hit the internet. I trust Google to get me data on almost anything I feel insufficient about. There was not much about her.

But I got an idea of who Aamito Stacie Lagum is. A 21 year old with a passion for modeling, having started her career at the age of 16, in 1997. She had to endure a 12-14 hour journey to Nairobi for the auditions since there were no auditions in Uganda. She could not raise the ticket fare.

What’s In it for Aamito?
Today, she basks in glory, having won a competition that comes with, among other perks; a 1-year modeling contract with DNA Model Management – a New York based modeling agency,  a product endorsement deal with P&G, a 1-year contact as an ambassador for South African Tourism, SNAPP, Etisalat, Verve, and a cash prize of $50,000 (About UGX 125 Million).

Aside from the benefits above, she is likely to get a host of other endorsements, depending on several factors and her environment. Endorsement deals will always be on the table as long as she signs up with the right agency. Many models have signed up with wrong or struggling agencies, only to end up stalling their fledgling careers. Aamito is likely to get a good number of deals if she sticks with DNA. Or if she signs up another reputable agency after her contract with DNA expires.

She could borrow a leaf from former models that have had successful careers to forge her own path. South Africa-based Patricia Namayirira was a finalist in the M-net face of Africa contest in 2000. She has had a successful career with Boss Models, featuring in a number of commercials and other appearances on the catwalk.

Modeling: The Poisoned Chalice?
Despite its relative successes  over the years, the ordinary Ugandan still looks down on modeling as a career. Some perceive it as disguised prostitution, while others do not consider it as a worthwhile profession. Critics will point to the low points Miss Uganda has had over the past couple of years to prop their argument. But just like any other profession, not everyone who joins modeling will scale the heady heights their peers might have achieved.

Many Ugandan models have had to brave criticism from close family members and relatives to hang onto the profession. Many still regard it as a profession for girls that have failed to excel in other spheres of life –which is quite far from the truth.

The misconceptions are quite many. Elizabeth Bagaya, one of Uganda’s most famous models of all time was actually a qualified lawyer. She was the first female east African to be admitted to the English bar –Yes, she is that schooled. Rehema Nakuya, Miss Uganda 2002/3 is a qualified medical doctor.

Priscilla Ray has a masters’ degree in international business and management, while Aamito is a proud holder of an honors’ degree in in Mass Communication from Uganda Christian University (UCU). And there are many others with respectable academic achievements out there. 

Some are perceived to be scheming for white or rich marriage suitors, which may not entirely be true. It’s like expecting a village-born, city-raised girl working in the city to settle for an arranged marriage with some village bloke back home, probably humbled by a rich collection of untold disappointments, Just because her parents consider someone they have known since his childhood to be the best possible suitor.

During their careers, models meet and interact with people from all walks of life. They, therefore, tend to get more exposed than your average corporate lady out there. They become go-getters. They know many a man is out there to probably have their moment with them and bolt once the fun is over.

They learn to make their choices more wisely. I guess it’s on the backdrop of this new-found guile that many of them end up earning themselves the odious label of femme fatale. Aamito could look up to the careers of other successful models like Kiara Kabukuru, Linda Bazalaki(You can watch her much publicized marriage proposal here), Barbra Kimbugwe (All based in US), as well as Eva Mbabazi (UK).

Another hurdle that many models face is exploitation at the hands of their agencies. A clever model may still be able twist the odds in her favor. An agency will want their client to behave, eat or look in a certain way. A classic example is Marilyn Monroe, one of US’ most famous models in history. Marilyn underwent a series of changes suggested her employers, just because they wanted to make her look more commercially viable.

She was born Norma Jeanne Baker. But she underwent several name changes –all five of them until her bosses finally felt she had gotten a name that would sell –Marilyn Monroe. In between, she had gone by Norma Jeanne Dougherty, Norma Jeanne Di Maggio and Marilyn Monroe Miller. 

Her body, too, did not survive the wrath of her bosses. They thought she would look better with her hair bleached to golden blonde, while her nose was considered too bulbous. Ultimately, she had a slight bump of cartilage removed from her nose to give her a what they deemed smoother look.

Miranda Sawyer, then writing for the mirror(UK), would later summarize Marilyn’s career thus: “Marilyn Monroe wasn’t her real name. Her hair wasn’t blonde. Her life wasn’t happy. But she was clever enough to understand that people didn’t want to know that. They wanted sex, love, joy, fun and beauty. And she moulded herself according to their desires. And that, in the end, is why she’s still remembered. Marilyn wasn’t real. She was a perfect fantasy.”

Alternative Career?
Movie acting seems to be the most obvious alternative career for many a model. Aamito will certainly not be short on inspiration, here. Just next door, our neighbors Kenya have had one of their own, Lupita Nyongo’o win a prestigious award at the 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards for her role in the blockbuster movie: “12 Years as a slave”. She has also been nominated for an Oscar. She could be the best supporting actress Oscar award winner, come 02 March, 2014.

Aamito could decide to go rather unconventional. Like Priscilla Ray, who is now into farming and a host of other business, and doing quite well. She could elect to follow the conventional modelling path --party hard, Marry a Mzungu,enjoy his retirement benefits and live happily ever after; Or she could decide to take a different path altogether. There are many options out there. The sky is the limit for her. As fellow Ugandans, we can only wish her well.
-          Dan B. Atuhaire

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