A Model of Fragility
The frigid air in the supermarket nips at the hairs on the back of April Lennox’s neck. The chill was uncharacteristic of the typical smouldering heat in St. Andrews, Jamaica. The drop in temperature is a subtle reminder that she is slipping, as the goosebumps emerge on her skin, they stand proudly keeping a watchful eye. She immediately readjusts, like a feline setting into her element. She pulls her shoulders back and extends her neck. Twisting it slightly to the left then rotating to the right, finding a comfortable position in a slight angular tilt of her head. She smiles, ever so slightly to accentuate her cheekbones, but doesn’t flash teeth. She is in her element. Placing both manicured hands on the shopping cart she pushes further down the aisle searching for what she wants, what she needs. Everything about April Lennox is poised and calculated, she stands with the utmost precision and her body is angled as to seemingly always show off her good side. “Excuse me?” A voice chirps, a man significantly shorter than her standing to her left. The smell of smoke emanates from the fedora he dons. He is smiling at her, flashing a gold tooth and his yellow teeth. “You’re very beautiful. Are you a model?” he asks with a flirtatious wink. April laughs bashfully, a small twinkle in her eye at the mention of her past. “No, not anymore.”
Over summer vacation before third-form, April slipped from the cast of juvenility and entered adulthood. She uncoiled to a height of 5 foot 9 inches and grew into her features; it was the first time she felt beautiful. To memorialize the moment, she visited the Sandringham Mall to have her portrait taken. With her 4 by 6 photographs sealed in a paper envelope, she returned to school later that year. Her friends, gawking at the new April, began referring to her as a model. She had never seen herself in that way but it was something she would have to learn to do.
By the age of 17, she enrolled in intensive grooming classes at Pulse, Jamaica’s only high class modeling agency at the time, run by Kingsley Cooper. This would be her first step in establishing her modeling career. The classes weren’t advertised and people typically only found out about them through word of mouth; connections were crucial. The classes were high-priced, one was not only paying for the content but the mystique and exclusivity. Not to mention the prestige that came from being a part of the agency.
Every Saturday morning, April sacrificed an hour of her youth not just to learn how to become a model, but a woman. It was a bootcamp for femininity. Week one of classes took place outdoors in an open courtyard. A group of ten girls loitered in any shade they could find, taking special precautions to not get any darker than necessary while standing in the blistering sun. The colorism in Jamaica meshed with the insecurities of these impressionable young girls, left them with the fear that their beauty could fade from the slightest darkening in their skin tone. The girls waited their turn to practice their model walk, strutting gracefully but powerfully down a chalk line on the concrete. The next week’s session was focused on diction and enunciation. Relearning the phonetics of the English language to practice projecting one’s voice. The girls rehearsed diplomatic answers to Miss Universe-style questions with clenched white teeth, their responses bouncing off the walls of an empty classroom. The final lessons were on grooming and table etiquette. Self care is the paramount rule in this industry. Pamphlets on the artistry of makeup, skin care, and body hair removal are holy books. Hyperpigmentation is a sin and natural hair is deplorable.
Through these classes, April’s model walk caught the attention of Althea Laing, the to-be model in Jamaica at the time. April’s father arranged a deal with Laing, where she would apprentice under her. April named her father as an integral figure in her life at the time.“He always nurtured our dreams,” she mused. “I had written I wanted to be a business woman, I wanted to be a lawyer, I wanted to be a model, I wanted to be a teacher, and a real estate mogul, because I used to play monopoly….he made it happen.” April studied privately with Laing alongside a small group of girls from around the country. The friendships she made there would stay with her for her next few years in the industry.
After adequate training April finally began working professionally, taking part in fashion shows and competitions. She established herself as a model with Pulse, occasionally working with Laing as well. “We were guest models and would go out and strut our stuff on stage.” The atmosphere was high energy and nervous girls lined up behind curtains; these opportunities were similar to a final exam in the course. “You want to go on the stage and you definitely don’t want to trip but when I’m on stage and I’m seeing the people...it just comes naturally.”
April was later recruited to go to clubs and parties as a “host girl” for Kigsley Cooper, to promote his agency. “People in Jamaica would tune in to watch.” She paused, cringing slightly as she relived the memories. “Some of the venues were not the best around the different parishes. Some parishes were underdeveloped and the clubs or party areas would reflect the development of that town or that parish.” That was all she would say when asked about the state of the parties. However, this was not the only time April experienced subpar working conditions.“When I was working with Pulse, Kingsely Cooper, he got all this sponsorship money and he really really didn’t spend a lot on developing our portfolio and our talents. He was really into collecting the money and collecting the sponsorship money. When we took photos, they weren’t anything exciting or glamorous or anything like that, but we took them because you had to take photos to appear [in the newspaper].”
At 19 years old, April had a new milestone in her career. Dwight Peters established a new underground modeling agency named Saint International. It was still in its infancy but would soon become a rival to Pulse. Dwight was Kingsley Cooper's right-hand man. “Dwight was the person who was in charge of choreographing the dance routines, he was pretty much very involved in the whole production Kingsley Cooper would put on through Pulse. He saw loopholes and opportunities that he could capitalize on and start a business for himself.” When working at a bank, April was introduced to Dwight by a coworker who, under the impression that she didn’t know him, told her about the “secret society” that was Saint International. However, April was well acquainted with Dwight and plans of his new agency had to be kept secret. “He did it that way because he knew that if Kingsley found out that he was creating this agency he could stifle him because Cooper’s agency was much bigger and he had more financial power. He worked very closely with Kinglsey Cooper for many years so he knew his personality and he knew that he would find some way to crush him.”
There was a new dilemma afoot. Before there were limited resources for models in Jamaica, Pulse being the only option for exposure, training and work. But many models found the prospect of switching agencies appealing. They would finally get the attention they wanted and opportunities that matched their abilities. The promise of non-exploitative work almost seemed too good to be true. And it was, the problem laid in the fine-print.
“When I was with Pulse I had signed a contract, but mommy and daddy had gotten our family lawyer to negotiate the contract with us. In the contract it says the contract stays in effect five years after the competition [models entered into an annual competition held by Pulse] but it automatically renews if there is not something in writing to say that you are seeking exit. What that means is that even after five years of being in his competition, and they don’t give you any work or anything like that, [Kingsley Cooper] is still entitled to 20% of whatever income you earn through modeling. Even if they [Pulse] are not the ones responsible for promoting you. That was something that happened to Althea Laing when Althea made it big. Pulse came in and claimed fame, even though they didn't push her and they didn't promote her. But she was still, based on the contract she had with them, tied to Pulse. So when she earned her money she had to pay them 20%.”
“If you went to Dwight and you became successful and you didn’t terminate your contract with Pulse then even though you’re gonna be paying Dwight Peters money, you're also gonna have to pay Pulse money. And let’s say you get an international contract, you will be paying not only the interactional agent but you would also pay Dwight 20%, Pulse 20% and the agency 20%. At the end of the day these people would be getting 60% of your salary.”
Eventually, in 1997, April made the switch to Saint International, finally getting the attention she deserved from an agent. She continued to compete in a variety of competitions. She explored her options in high-fashion, where she was once discouraged by Kingsley to pursue. She got to take part in the high-quality photoshoots she always wanted. April basked in the feeling of full work weeks and the security in knowing that her time was not being wasted. In 2001 she was offered a job to model in South Africa. This would be the first time she moved away from her family and a decision that would ultimately affect her future. It would mean dedicating the rest of her 20s to modeling. April’s own personal insecurities plagued her. She constantly felt unworthy and never good enough, as though she did not have what it took to make it. Financial struggles in her family and turmoil in her romantic relationship at the time all contributed to her final decision not to go. “In retrospect, I just wanted somebody to say just one thing to me, to just discourage me from going for it because I was already terrified.”
“I found every reason to sabotage my own success.”
Feeling as though she let a holy grail opportunity slip between her fingers, April began to distance herself from anything modeling related. “Because I didn’t want to have a reason to go, I stopped appearing in any way like a model, I just let myself go subconsciously.”
“Magazines and stuff like that I never looked in any more because then it would remind me of what I didn’t go after. So I stopped looking. I had to purge myself in order to get it out of my system completely.”