Jennifer Atilemile is an IMG-repped model and writer from Australia, now based in the U.S. Last week, she was named a Sports Illustrated rookie.
I’m often asked how I ended up in this career. I didn’t think I’d become a model, but something about it piqued my interest during my early teenage years; it appeared to be a life and lifestyle that was so glamorous, so different to my own in the Australian suburbs.
It was the early 2000s, I had dial-up internet, and a library card so I could borrow fashion magazines. I remember going to the library after school and looking through Vogue to see the hottest looks on the runway. Fashion was always something I pined after; my parents could never afford the latest clothes sported by my peers, and it was always out of reach. It was the most exclusive and exclusionary. When I was growing up, only certain people could access it — specifically, people with money and skinny people.
Looking back at my body over the years, especially when I was going through puberty, I was never “large,” although the media at the time convinced me that I was. Growing up where I did, there were two beauty standards of what a woman should look like: In fashion, we were coming out of the “heroin chic” image of the 1990s. During the Y2K and the 2000s era, clothing dictated body shape: Bones were an accessory, poking out of your low-rise jeans. Commercially, however, the other body type that was being sold to women was the “Aussie beach babe,” who had tanned (but white) skin, blue eyes and blonde hair.