Not too long ago, I was at an event with my 9-year-old son Blais. As usual, I had my makeup on. He was looking at me and then out of the blue, he asked: "Mama, why do you wear makeup?"
"Because I like to look pretty," I said.
"Who told you that you were ugly without it?" he asked.
I got silent and thought of the many people who, in some way or another, made me feel ugly without makeup.
I was guilty as well -- I had told myself many times how awful I looked without makeup -- my eyelashes and my eyebrows blending into the yellowish tone of my skin; my lips not as full as I'd like them to be; my cheeks that never ever get that 'natural' rosy glow.
Around the same time, I met Loretta Wilger while on a shoot of a music video in Chicago. Loretta was a high-end model featured in Italian Vogue, sharing the stage with Cindy Crawford, Iman, and many other top models, around the same time I was a teenager looking up to the supermodels and wanting to look like them.
As she did my makeup she shared with me her modeling experiences -- the glamorous and joyous ones as well as the hard moments of self-doubt and feeling of loneliness -- most of which I could relate to as I lived a few years as a superstar in my native Croatia. But Loretta also talked about how she turned her life around, found her deeper 'inside' beauty and is now empowering women to feel beautiful.
WHO MADE YOU BELIEVE YOU AREN'T BEAUTIFUL?
"Beautiful!" Loretta said inspecting my face, before she applied any make up. I felt a surge of tears coming and tickling my nose, which I knew made it turn red. I had been in the spotlight all of my life, always with full make up on. I almost never felt it was emphasizing my features, only covering them. Loretta smiled at me with her gentle and beautiful smile, which came not just from the outside but from her heart. And in that instant, I wanted to believe that I was beautiful.
Growing up, I wasn't one of the "pretty" girls -- I had broken my front baby teeth and for years I had an "ugly" smile.
As teenagers, my friends and I were often brutal in assessing our bodies -- I was the one with huge thighs and thick calves -- so different from the models' long and thin legs. At my very first "grown up" gig at a local soccer club, two gorgeous looking coaches approached me and said I had great legs for playing soccer -- thick and masculine. (From that moment I never wore flat shoes. Ever!)
The night I became famous, I underwent the biggest transformation in my life -- my curls were straightened out and heavy makeup was applied. Everyone gasped at how much I resembled one of the most beautiful women ever -- Marilyn Monroe.
"But I'm not Marilyn, I am Tajci," I said in one of the interviews, realizing I was now trapped in this beautiful image that everyone loved, but wasn't really me.
And then there was the "inner" beauty... of which so many talked about in the same breath as they talked about how easily girls can become "dirty."
A few years ago, I explored this subject with my therapist. She said: "To be affirmed, wanted, loved -- these are human needs. To realize that these things can come your way by simply being yourself, exactly as you are -- that is what you did not know."
But the lesson that simply being yourself is enough to be affirmed, wanted, and loved is the hardest life lesson of all. One that really can't be mastered -- because it's something we already know deep within. We can, however, work on mastering techniques to "unlearn" cultural conditioning and uncover, embrace and live our truth.
Without the awareness that we don't have to look a certain way, behave a certain way, or please our "audience" -- whoever our audience happened to be -- it's always going to be difficult for us to feel beautiful.
When we start believing that we are "enough," when we claim our "I am," our inner beauty will show up whether or not we wear make up, whether our eyes are blue or brown, cheeks big or small, skin wrinkled or smooth, lips full or narrow.
And that's what I needed to hear from Loretta exactly at the time when I first met her. But when she finished doing my make up and I looked at myself in the mirror, I felt too exposed.
I asked to apply a bit more. She listened without judging me. She sensed my insecurity, gave me enough courage and then let me heal at my own pace. She was like the teacher that shows up, gives you the lesson, inspires you with just the way they are, and then leaves you to absorb the lesson further on your own.
About a year later, I returned to Loretta to interview her for Waking Up in America. This time I asked her to do a very 'light' makeup for our shoot. She smiled at me and I smiled back with confidence and gratitude.
Loretta IS a super-model to me... A model of a super person who inspires, encourages, heals and empowers.
Loretta Wilger, owner of "Looks" cosmetics applies her experience as a professional hi-end model to help women and teens to better themselves and achieve a higher level of self-confidence.