When Carmen Williams, 17, was approached in Wollongong and asked if she would consider entering Illawarra’s Top Model it was a dream come true.
The invitation was a big boost in confidence for the teenager who was born a boy but has always felt she should be a girl.
“I don’t have to think about the gender or anything like that. She is my daughter and that is how I introduce her”
Carmen made the transition to changing her name and wearing women’s fashion at 16.
“When I was little I always liked to play with dolls and play with girls’ things and wear girls’ clothes. I didn’t know transgender was a thing back then,’’ she said.
‘’I kind of thought I was just a boy that liked girls’ stuff. Over the years I just kind of got on with things but then I would just revisit it. I have always liked make-up. And as the years went on I always liked long hair.’’
Carmen just wants to be accepted for who she is. And she has found that in the model competition raising money for and awareness about mental health. Although nervous about the first heat in Crown Street Mall at midday on Saturday, fashion and entertainment have always been an interest.
When she was approached by scouts for the Highlights on Mental Health initiative raising money for the Light & Hope Mental Health Clubhouse it was the ultimate compliment. She felt like she had been accepted as a young woman.
When the Year 12 student spoke to her mother Catherina Doyle about it they wanted to meet event founder Robyn te Velde because it was important to them for everyone to be happy about her proceeding.
Robyn te Velde said she was so impressed with Mrs Doyle when she met her it was clear she was a mother who supported Carmen in her decision. Mrs te Velde said she had no doubt she would be an entrant who would do a great job supporting mental health awareness.
“A part of our mission is to be inclusive and to understand how different we all are and we all have a right to be able to be involved,” she said.
Carmen has raised considerably more than the $500 required to participate in the heats this weekend. And she is enjoying every moment of her journey so far.
“We thought it would be a good opportunity … to possibly in the future explore the field of fashion and modelling,” she said.
“I have always written songs. I have always loved acting and drama. This is good for my self-confidence and it is a lovely compliment as well,” she said.
Carmen is studying beauty at TAFE while she is doing the HSC and has been interested in entertainment since the age of nine.
Mrs te Velde said there was a personal development award sponsored by South Coast Private Hospital this year that was all about having a go and building confidence. That is one of the awards Carmen will be vying for along with all the other models. It will take the form of a $3000 scholarship.
Mrs te Velde said it was great to see how well Carmen was embraced by the other entrants.
She said they were all happy to share and talk about their own lives and mental health was something that affected everyone in some way.
Mrs Doyle said the competition was bringing awareness and acceptance to the many and varied mental health issues in the community.
“It is such a great fundraiser in building up awareness,” she said.
“Just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. I just think this is a really good support network and it is a great opportunity for these kids to get support.”
Mrs Doyle noted how everyone involved in the competition was there to support and encourage the young people who have entered.
“They are doing a great job and it is all voluntary. No one is being paid a cent,” she said.
Carmen said she felt comfortable entering the competition which was so accepting of something she had known for a long time.
Mrs Doyle said she knew how her daughter was feeling and that she would take the next step when she was ready. When that happened she just accepted it was time for Carmen to transition.
“And Dapto High School has been amazing,” she said.
“She has had so much support … and I think that has also given her the confidence to move forward with this. And she has found the same level of support with everybody who is involved with this event.”
Carmen said she started wearing make-up and dying her hair in Year 9. Then she started shopping for girls’ clothing during leave from school before she started her transition.
“I still always wore make-up and then the next year I started wearing nice girls’ clothing to school because I felt confident to. I then started painting my nails and everything,” she said.
By Year 10 Carmen was wearing unisex clothing before making the complete transition to girls’ clothes.
“Last year and this year (Years 11 and 12) I have just been living as Carmen,” she said.
“I changed my name at the beginning of last year.”
Carmen said she did watch the recent 60 Minutes story where the issue of puberty blockers was raised.
“I think it should be the person’s decision,” she said.
“It is their life, they need to enjoy it. It is not for society to tell them what they should and shouldn’t be doing. Otherwise they are going to go all that time unhappy.”
Carmen said she was presently thinking about her next step. She said it was a big decision and she wants it to be her own.
Carmen thanked her mum for being so understanding and supportive of her choices.
Mrs te Velde said the thing that impressed her about Carmen was her absolute confidence and ease about who she is and where she is at.
She described her as a capable and level-headed person.
Mrs te Velde said she was also impressed by her delightful manner.
“I would be proud if all young ladies had as much feminism and character as this young lady has,” she said.
Carmen said by doing a story she also hoped it raised awareness so that others felt confident to do what she had done.
Mrs Doyle said her daughter had the confidence to be true to herself.
“Carmen is my daughter,” she said.
“I don’t have to think about the gender or anything like that. She is my daughter and that is how I introduce her.”
Carmen said she was happy now to be living as a girl and feeling accepted for her choice in the Illawarra’s Top Model competition.
“I am going to take each day as it comes. I have a very supportive, loving mother and I love her very much for it.’’
Illawarra’s Top Model heats are at midday this Saturday and Sunday in Crown Street Mall between David Jones and H&M.