The Jakarta Post
When Indonesian model Ayu Gani walked the runway in the final of the Asia's Next Top Model modeling contest, she won over the judges and made the final her own with her 'catstalk'.
Harper's Bazaar Singapore chief editor Kenneth Goh, who was one of the guest judges for the contest's third season finale, found Gani's strong and confident walk ' which won her the coveted title, the first for an Indonesian model ' similar to a tigress stalking her prey.
Another judge, Australian designer Alex Perry, who had constantly doubted Gani's runway walk due to her 173 centimeter height, was also impressed, saying Gani's runway walk made the final hers.
'Before the final catwalk began, I was very unsure of myself. But all the girls who had been eliminated before told me I had to walk the runway not only for me but for them,' Gani said.
'I thought at the time I had no chance of winning so I just did the walk and had fun. It turned out great and I won.'
In real life, Gani was not always the tigress that the judges saw in her or the confident woman she is now. Her teenage years were filled with rejection and loneliness.
'I was bullied,' said the model, who was born in the Central Java town of Surakarta on Aug. 13, 1991.
The bullying started when she entered junior high school. Other students, starting with her seniors, disliked her for no apparent reason, throwing bottles at her and calling her 'cockroach' or 'garbage can' whenever she walked by.
'Nobody wanted to be my friend. If people approached me to be my friend, the seniors would threaten them so they would stay away from me,' Gani said.
'I kept telling myself it was okay for them to hate me because they just did not know me and that one day, I would show I could achieve so much more in life than them.'
Amid the constant bullying, Gani developed a passion for fashion. Her parents, however, did not support her wish to study fashion and pushed her to study English literature at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta instead.
But after six semesters, she finally convinced her parents and got their blessing to move to Jakarta to study fashion business at LaSalle College Jakarta.
Her fashion career started to blossom ' she began modeling and was named readers' favorite in the 2011 Wajah Femina beauty contest organized by Femina women's magazine.
The experience helped in her journey to becoming a top model, though Gani said it was slightly different as Wajah Femina had a sorority girl feeling where participants became friends and had fun while in Asia's Top Model, it was very competitive.
'I have never been a competitive person in my life,' Gani said.
But being the least competitive girl turned out to be somewhat positive for Gani during her 12-week quarantine time in the top model competition.
With no cellphones or Internet allowed, she spent time cooking for other girls and helped other participants out as best she could, winning their hearts in the process.
She attributed the support from other contestants who had been eliminated as a key factor in her victory.
Winning Asia's Next Top Model marked her full transformation as it not only brought prizes but also landed her a contract with one of the largest modeling agencies in London, Storm Model Management, which has brought supermodels like Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne into stardom.
'Those who used to bully me have been adding me on Instagram and some of them said 'Hey, remember me? I was your friend from junior high', and I was like 'Who? I do not remember having friends back then',' Gani said with laughter.
Gani hopes her experience will make bullies more aware of how wrong their actions are and inspire victims to stand up against bullying.
'For those who bullied me in the past, please do not teach your children to bully other kids. Do not be judgmental toward other people. You will never know what a person might become in the future,' she said.
'And for bullied victims, never be afraid. Be confident in yourself. I am the solid living proof that being bullied as a kid did nothing to stop me in achieving success.'