From Cape Flats to catwalk: Cape Town model says Top Model win is for her dad watching over her

Image: Radz Photography
Image: Radz Photography

It’s hard to believe that the woman sitting in front of me is only just about to turn 23. She has the unsuspecting confidence of someone with a lot more life experience. 

Melissa Magiera just won Top Model South Africa where she was the only model from Cape Town to make the Top 38. “It was very overwhelming. I couldn't always go to the events that were in Joburg,” says Melissa.

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So what made her enter the competition she was fated to win in the first place?

“I didn't actually know about the competition. A friend of mine tagged me in a post on Facebook about it. I entered mostly because I thought I've been modelling for so long and I thought I needed my big break. And I thought even if I don't win, I can get a bit of exposure and somehow it might open doors for me.”

“For the competition I knew I had to focus more on my body. I knew there was going to be a lot of competition. I didn't know how the other girls looked. "

She had a serious game plan from the very beginning. “For the competition I knew I had to focus more on my body. I knew there was going to be a lot of competition. I didn't know how the other girls looked. My mindset was: body, body, body. I would go to gym every morning at six and workout for an hour, and then every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday as well as Saturday mornings I would run with my mom,” she says with a twinkle of determination in her eye. 

READ MORE: 'Plus size' models who were shamed for losing weight

"So that's my favourite moment, seeing my mom so proud of me. She was crying, she was so happy.”

Her mom's reaction to her win was everything. “My mom came with me for the competition, and when my name was announced and I got to the end of the stage, my mom was off her seat and standing close to the stage and she was like 'You won! You actually won!'.

So that's my favourite moment, seeing my mom so proud of me. She was crying, she was so happy.”

But it’s not just her mom who was extremely proud of her. Melissa’s entire extended family and friends had a welcome back gathering at the airport for her when she arrived back home the day after the competition.

Her family has always been very close, but especially so after Melissa’s father died of motor neuron disease when she was just 8 years old. The tragedy brought herself, her mom and older brother and sister closer together.

“It was very tough and I had to grow up very fast as an 8-year-old, but I think that big change in our lives basically made me and my family quite strong. It also motivated me because everything I did, in the back of my head, was 'for my dad. I would constantly think about how he was watching over me'. Things like that. That's what pushes me most of the time,” says Melissa with a sadness in her eyes.

“I love being in front of the camera."

As I ask Melissa why she decided to become a model in the first place, she smiles and says to me “I love being in front of the camera and my cousin's a photographer, so we had a photoshoot and we sent the pictures to different agencies hoping that something would come out of it.”

Melissa was very young at the time so she didn’t take modelling that seriously at first.

“As the years went by, I was more inspired by each shoot, and then I realised after each one and each casting, how much I actually loved it.”

"It was like I was never going to be good enough. I did second guess modelling for a bit."

Being a model is not as easy as it looks and Melissa had to face her own share of adversity.

She was told by her previous agency that she needed to lose weight and would never get jobs unless she did. Melissa says: “I was with them for about 3 years then I left because I wasn't getting jobs. I was booking small jobs. I was in matric and it was hectic. So I wasn't focused. I was trying to lose weight and it was still not good enough. The industry is really tough.

READ MORE: “I lost 14kgs in 4 months to enter Miss SA” - local curvy model

“It was frustrating to be told that. It was like I was never going to be good enough. I did second guess modelling for a bit. I have big bone structure, that's never going to change, but my new agency now knows that. It made me feel like I was never going to be the perfect model and it demotivated me. I felt a lot of pressure. I wasn't starving, but I wasn't eating healthily and it eventually put a strain on me because I wasn't feeling healthy. I was tired all the time, I didn't have enough energy. My mom used to shout at me because I wouldn't eat properly.”

But then she made it her mission to use those negative words and thoughts to improve herself and do better.

Issa facebeat by the beautiful @nuzhahjacobs ???

A post shared by Melissa Magiera (@melissamariamag) on

And now she really has proved them wrong and has her eyes set on the international stage. In April, Melissa is due to participate in Top Model Worldwide where the winners of all the individual Top Model competitions around the world will compete against each other for the top spot and a chance to walk the runway at London Fashion Week.

READ MORE: Models who refuse to shave despite society’s aversion to female body hair

“If I could be in London Fashion Week, I'd be the happiest girl. And then there's also the contract in London. It's always been my dream - to work internationally and to travel for something that I completely love.”

So where does Melissa see her future going? “I have certain modelling dreams. I want to do Victoria's Secret. I want to do Vogue. I want to do London Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, Milan. My dream is to accomplish all of that and then when I'm done with that then I'll retire,” she laughs. “And I would like to have my own agency one day.”

Remember the name Melissa Magiera as you’ll soon see her strutting down the ramp at international fashion weeks for top, top designers. 

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