Woman Crush Wednesday: Bonnie Lee
I want to squash the biased beliefs that people place on us and possibly open more people up to the idea of trying to get to know the REAL aboriginal culture and our people. It’s a beautiful culture, and so loving and caring, people just aren’t receptive or as understanding as they could be towards it
Several months ago while trawling an amateur photography page from Perth on Facebook, i came across a striking image of a young woman painted in intricate dotwork art. I was immediately mesmerized by the sheer amount of emotion conveyed through that one image and sent off a facebook message to the girl who posted it. “Excuse me” I said ” i would really like to repost your photo on Pinups of Color, a facebook page I help moderate for models of diverse ethnic background”. I wasn’t expecting a response, models are often quite protective of their work and i thought nothing more of it. To my surprise, I immediately received a response from a young woman named Bonnie who said she was thrilled to share her photo and culture with a broader audience.
Bonnie and I spoke on many occasions over Facebook chat about her heritage and culture. About what it meant to her growing up in a country that too often whitewashes its Black history. By all accounts Bonnie Lee is a remarkable young woman who isnt afraid to speak her truth and represent the culture and rich heritage she is proud of in an industry so flooded with anglocentric beauty norms.
I am very privileged and honoured to share her interview on my blog today in hopes that by reading it, other young Indigenous women will feel inspired by Bonnie’s story to pursue their own dreams.
Tell me a bit about yourself (use this section to write a short 2 para bio about your heritage, your cultural background, what you do, passions, hobbies and of course your modelling)
I am a Yamatji woman from Carnarvon, I Grew up between there and Albany WA, so have always been a small town girl. I relocated to the city about 6 years ago, and still miss home every day, the tie that I have to my people and culture is what keeps me grounded and drives me in life. Being Aboriginal is something that defines who I am as a person, and something I am truly proud of, something that has forged my identity and can never be taken away from me.
I am currently a national finalist for Miss Galaxy Australia, and compete for the title on April 16th, I am also studying my pot graduate Certificate at ECU with the hopes to then go on and complete my double degree in Law and Psychology so that I can follow my true passion, of building up my people, I have only been modelling for roughly 9 months and have been quite blessed to be able to work with and represent some amazing brands. I have just been honoured with the privilege of becoming the Australian ambassador for Australia’s first fully biodegradable and waste free label, Green Embassy. I have been very blessed in my journey so far and don’t take for granted one bit, how far I have come so quickly, nor will I ever take it for granted.
How did you start off your modelling journey? How has it helped you grow into your skin and culture?
If I am honest, it started as a joke between three friends, someone told me it would be super hard and bet me that I couldn’t do it, so I booked in a shoot through a facebook page, and it just started spiralling from there. I had a lot of support from my friends and family so it wasn’t hard to get my name out there, and when people know who you are, and they hear good things about you, it makes it easier to get work.
Modelling helped me to grow into my skin because I never really saw (and still don’t see) myself as an overly attractive person, and being aboriginal, I tend to shy away from the spot light, this has given me the courage to stand up for my culture, my people and our beliefs in order to educate people on who we as a people really are, not just want we are depicted to be, and that is the greatest feeling in the world. I think the Miss Galaxy Australia pageant has allowed me to express who I am freely and given me so many great platforms to be a voice to my young people and show that being aboriginal is something to be proud of so that’s something I am very grateful for too.
Do you feel that there is a lack of ethnic diversity in the global modelling industry? Are there signs of improvement? Is Australia keeping up with these improvements re: Indigenous models in the modelling industry?
I definitely feel that there is a lack of aboriginal women in the modelling industry, which is a shame, as there are so many beautiful girls out there who should stand up and be proud to showcase who they are to the word, I feel in terms of other nationalities, there are not a lot of “famous” ethnic models, and it would be great to see more. I see a lot of people trying to push for more diversity, which is great, but there is definitely more room for growth in these areas. My end goal is to be able to promote young ethnic women and get them into the industry.
What is your favourite shoot up to date and why?
My aboriginal body paint shoot. Melissa Turner from put on a happy face painted me in Aboriginal artwork that told the story of my people and where we come from, this was the greatest day of my life, being able to show my pride, respect and love for my people by wearing our artwork on my skin was so magical, and honestly I couldn’t begin to explain to you how rewarding it was to showcase what I feel was hidden away inside of me for so long. Jeremy Phillips did a really good job of capturing the images and helping to pose me in a way that allowed the artwork to be showcased awesomely, I think I will forever be grateful to both of those amazing artists for allowing me the opportunity to wear my heart on the outside for the world to see.
What has been the most challenging aspect of modelling for you thus far in your career?
There are lots of challenging elements for me haha! One being my height, I am only roughly 5”6 so that makes it hard to get jobs or be taken seriously in the modelling industry, I am not considered tall enough to be a cat walk model and there are not as many options out there for editorial models, but it’s definitely something the industry needs to look at because there are so many beautiful women in the world, that are not fairly given an opportunity due to their height.
The other being that I identify as aboriginal, and some people tend to say some very ignorant things to me in relation to that, for instance “why do you identify as aboriginal when you are white?” which hurts a bit, because I didn’t choose my skin colour, or my heritage, so to have to justify who I am on a daily basis becomes a little overwhelming. I am also fairly opinionated which can sometimes land me in hot water – we won’t go into that one (HAHA)
What do you hope to achieve for yourself and your community through your modelling?
I would love to win the Miss Galaxy Australia title and represent our country overseas, this would be an awesome opportunity to show off Aboriginal Australia and inspire other young aboriginal girls to aim for their dreams, and be proud to showcase who they are.
I hope to achieve some recognition for my people, which shows we are equal, and capable like everyone, I want to squash the biased beliefs that people place on us and possibly open more people up to the idea of trying to get to know the REAL aboriginal culture and our people. It’s a beautiful culture, and so loving and caring, people just aren’t receptive or as understanding as they could be towards it, I think they would be very surprised, if they just tried to learn more about who we truly are as a people.
I would like to inspire young people within my community to never give up on their dreams, and to never be afraid to dream big either, reach for the stars, the galaxy is yours for the taking, so just go out there and be you, you are the only one fit for the job, so be AWESOME at it, don’t let the fear of failing hold you back, because if you don’t try, you are already failing yourself, just go out into the world and experience as much as you can, and be proud of yourself for giving life a proper go, if I can do those two things, then that would be the greatest achievements for me in life.
What advice do you have for young aspiring models from ethnically/culturally diverse backgrounds.
Get out there and give it a go…. Chase it… work hard! Don’t expect it to be handed to you, it won’t be. you need to work hard to make your own dreams a reality, and don’t take one persons no as a definite answer, you cannot be everything to everyone but each no leads you closer to a yes and closer to being everything to the right people, never stop believing in yourself because you are your own greatest supporter, and as long as you stay true to yourself, you are capable of greatness. Also, never be afraid to ask for help or advice, because everyone needs a little guidance once in a while, and you don’t learn or grow if you don’t ask.