As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer.
This is Bianca Golden's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.
Representation is so important. And it actually created the trajectory of my life. I grew up in a very traditional West Indian household. My mom is from Turks and Caicos and I spent a good amount of my early childhood actually in Turks and Caicos. Education was the most important thing, and hard work followed directly behind that to support your education. My mother never cared about beauty or any worldly stuff. All we knew was 'be a doctor' and 'make your family proud.'
Although I was a very shy child, as I got older I began to question society more, which completely went against the West Indian values I was raised in. But I was curious, and I wanted to know, "Why?" I pushed boundaries, and stressed my mom and family out a lot by simply asking, why.
Why is this taught this way?
Why did that happen?
I was always tall, and did things my way, which got me in trouble at home, and I didn't fit in anywhere. Home, school. It was a weird dynamic: "You're West Indian but you're in America, but you're not American, you're West Indian."
I just didn't fit in.
One day I saw Tyra (Banks) do an interview when she was younger where she expressed the same feelings, and I just gravitated towards her. She gave me something to aspire for instantly. So, I decided then and there that I was going to be a model.
And then, America's Next Top Model came along.
Much of it was a blur, in a good and bad way, of course. Keep in mind, this was a time before the Kardashians and before Instagram or most social media was even a thing. We worked hard, with no recognition for that hard work, and because of that, it's difficult for me to call ANTM a memory at all, simply because I didn't live in the moment. I just wanted to be a model, I wanted to be considered good enough. I was just happy to make it on the show to be honest. All I knew was I had a goal, and that goal was to win, simple as that. And honestly, with being so young (18), I don't even think I knew at that moment what that meant.
Even today, I'm asked about about ANTM: do I keep in contact with cast members or Tyra, or if I feel Tyra owes any of the girls apologies for how they were treated or any stereotypes that may have been perpetuated by the judges. Yes, I keep in contact with many of the ladies (Angelea, Isis, Laura, and Lisa, who will all be at my upcoming wedding) and, no, I don't feel Tyra owes anyone an apology. Were some moments insensitive? Possibly. But at the time, we were not where we are as a society today. We have evolved.
Why are we holding her accountable for something that was acceptable at the time? It's just now in our evolution in society that we're able to say, 'Hmmm, maybe you could have taken a different route about that.' I think it's unfair to hold people to a standard that was not even around.
The only time we should hold someone accountable, is if they don't evolve with society or with time. If another season of Top Model comes out, and the same happens, then we can have the conversation. Right? Right.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that everyone is experiencing life the best way they know how. Everyone is doing the best with what they have—including Tyra. I was deemed a bitch. I was called evil. Just, a lot of disgusting names. And to be honest, I was really hard on myself as well, like, I am being myself, why is everyone mad at me?
Towards the end of my career, I started feeling like modeling wasn't for me, my jobs started slowing down, I started missing my family. I went maybe a year without booking any modeling jobs. It was time to live out a new calling. I left my agency and moved back home, which was really hard for me. I felt like a failure.
I didn't know what I was going to do. I was 25 years old and I was retired. So, I did what all Black people do when you need answers: I talked to Jesus.
I started a ministry at my church for young girls and it really opened my eyes to a new life, a new purpose; it gave me purpose. And I loved it. I went back to school and entered education. Best decision I ever made.
My students know my background, they know I was on reality television. They just don't care. At the beginning of every school year, I introduce myself to my students and I think it's extremely important for me to do so; to stand in front of them and say, "I am a woman who is flawed, who comes from where you may come from, who makes a lot of mistakes." I tell them I was on the show and I was a hot mess and from here they typically Google me and return with questions or tell me I'm famous or something, but ultimately they're still kids. They still miss assignments, or roll their eyes when they're having a bad day or whatever the case may be. None of my previous career affects our relationship.
I love my students, I want them to question everything and not buy into everything society feeds them. Check on your teacher friends, though. We are drowning. We don't know where the state of education is going after what we've just experienced (pandemic remote learning), and it's taking its toll.
Ultimately, ladies, do I have any regrets? My immediate answer is 'no', I try to live as authentically as possible. But in reality, we all have them. Sometimes I wonder what could have happened had I taken modeling more seriously; I never worked out, I didn't care what I ate. I didn't really study my craft. I was just kind of tall and skinny and it worked in my favor.
Sometimes, I wonder, what if? What if I put that extra time in?
Fortunately, I can quickly cut that thought off and remind myself that everything happens for a reason and I wasn't supposed to be a supermodel, but it does cross my mind. In the end, I know I was only supposed to have those experiences so I could come back and pour into young kids who I teach. I want to leverage those moments and be remembered as someone who never gave up, instead. Someone who challenged the system and urged others to do the same.
The founder of Spiked Spin--her name is Bri--she has this saying: "Insult the standard." That's what I want my legacy to be. I want to be known as someone who did that. I want to be known as someone who encouraged others to do that.
Walk in purpose. Even if it isn’t pretty for everyone else.
Bianca is currently in nuptial mode as she is marrying her partner of 13 years. She is an avid advocate for the culture and fulfilling her life's purpose, one student at a time. Follow her on Instagram @biancagolden to keep up with where her journey takes her next.
Feature image courtesy of Bianca Golden/Instagram