'Top Model' winner Jaslene Gonzalez on her career and being a Latina role model

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Jaslene Gonzalez on her influence as America's Next Top Model, "Every time I wake up, God gives me the opportunity to be a better me."
(Photo by Kevin Sinclair for Elite Model Management)

Jaslene Gonzalez is not your typical model. She rose to fame after winning Cycle 8 of America's Next Top Model, and since then, has been aggressively tapping into the fashion industry. As a result of her Latin background, Gonzalez has been successful at marketing herself both in the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking worlds. However, Gonzalez is much much more – a fighter, a humanitarian, and a good Latin granddaughter.

Born in Chicago to a Latina mother, and a Puerto Rican-born father, Gonzalez had, in many ways, a typical U.S. Latino experience – her tight knit family, grandparents, and spirituality played an intrinsic part in her upbringing.

"I went to an all-girl Catholic school and grew up with tons of family.....My family was very close knit and supportive. They were involved in my life everyday. So there was so much joy in every little occasion.....Every Sunday we would go to my grandmother's house where we [the family] would hang out together....We enjoyed being around each other and being together," states Gonzalez.

Her grandfather was the director of a local dance group, Viva La Gente, which Gonzalez credits with impacting her life positively.

"I was a dancer for 12 years and life revolved around dancing. I was a very active girl, and was always involved with my grandfather's dance studio. The whole family was. My aunts, my cousins – everyone took part in performances and were involved in the group...That's how we spent our summers, and we looked forward to being outside, dancing salsa, hip hop, merengue," states Gonzalez. Through her involvement in the dance studio, Gonzalez's horizon was broadened significantly, and her humanitarian streak began to deepen.

"We were always constantly traveling. We traveled to Mexico to poor villages where we gave performances to give back to the community," said Gonzalez.

Ironically, ANTM gave her the opportunity to overcome her own difficulties and to further help those in need. "I went in there, without knowing that I was in an abusive relationship. They were the ones that brought that up to me...they felt I was emotionally destroyed, they wanted me to get support," commented Gonzalez. While the ANTM staff was supportive, she also credits her life long dream for helping her get out of the abusive relationship.

"Having a dream and having a goal in life, is the most important thing I did in my life. Because of that I maneuvered my way to that dream. I knew I was better than that, I wanted to be happier,” stated Gonzalez.

Soon after winning ANTM, Gonzalez became a spokesperson for Liz Claiborne and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and began traveling the country reaching out to women.

"We had several meetings, and they asked me to be a spokesperson. I was so happy and blessed to help women, to have that title. It's something I want to do, besides modelling....I enjoy sharing my personal experiences because I can educate them, but I can also save someone's life. It's something precious, it's a gift," stated Gonzalez.

Abuse is not the only obstacle Jaslene has had to face. Growing up Latina had its own set of difficulties. "Being a minority is a challenge no matter what," states Gonzalez.

However, Gonzalez also states that being a Latina has many positive aspects in regards to her profession. "As a Latina, you have the advantage of being a Latina. Not only do you have this corporate job, but you can relate to many groups as a person."

When asked if the fashion industry forces Latina models to change certain aspects about themselves, she remarks that she focuses on always staying true to herself. "Modeling is a difficult job because of what you go through. 80% of the time it's a no...When I go in, I go in like me, I don't have to change anything. Any time I get a chance to show who I am, I do. I am a Spanish girl, trying to pursue my dreams. I try to be the best I can be," remarked Gonzalez.

It is that same confidence and will to succeed that she seems to appreciate in other woman. "I find women beautiful. I find a girl with no makeup, not worrying about her style and appearance, I find that sexy. I find confidence beautiful...Its so simple. It's being natural and confident," said Gonzalez.

As a role model, she has two key pieces advice that she offers women: nurture your mind with positive thoughts, and identify and foster the principles in life you value.

It is not surprising to see why Gonzalez's family is proud of her. "My family is so funny. They are so happy. I've never seen them so full of life. My mom acts like she won. My grandmother screams 'mi flaca' every time she sees me. They are so proud. Especially my grandparents. I was practically raised by them. To see them see you so happy and successful, there couldn't be a better feeling," said Gonzalez.

She adds that her grandparents would be extremely happy if she appeared on Cristina, the Spanish-language talk show whose host is referred to as "the Spanish Oprah Winfrey."

In the coming years, Gonzalez plans to continue on the path she is on. She wants to continue gracing magazine covers, as well as dedicating herself to helping young teens develop self growth and esteem. "Every time I wake up, God gives me the opportunity to be a better me...Life gets better as it goes by."

This is the third in a series of articles with America's Next Top Model contestants.


Sources

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