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A Model’s Journey

Fashion’s newest find is on her way

By Toccara Castleman • June 20, 2008
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Model (mŏd’l) noun—a person or thing that serves as a subject for an artist, sculptor or writer.

        It may be easy enough to define her occupation, but the woman, Mila Kamour, is truly indescribable. At a moment’s notice she can be ambition, intrigue, and more—all wound tightly within her petite frame. She is the image of what hope would look like if it had legs.
        Yet the optimism and brazen attitude were hard-won. Her journey as a model is only now truly beginning after slaying the proverbial dragons of abuse, doubt and criticism, and financial woes.
        Mila arrived in the United States—Maryland to be exact—from her native Guinea in 1999 with her then fiancé. Her happiness in coming to the States was short-lived as her partner began to grow controlling, cold, and physically abusive.
        “He took advantage of the fact that I didn’t know English,” Kamour recalls. I would stay at home all day with no money to go to school. He would record my phone calls and go through my things. He was really trying to suppress me.”
        Thoughts of her career as a model, her happiness in a strange land and more important, fear for her life, flooded her mind, but her options seemed limited. She was raised in a traditional Muslim home by a mother who was from Algeria and a father who was from the Mandingo tribe.  Therefore the notion of leaving her fiancé was not a choice in the eyes of her father, whom she describes as her “light at the end of the tunnel.”
        “He flat out told me that he would exile me if I left him [her fiancé]. To him, since he’s very old-fashioned, what I was trying to do was absurd.”
        Yet she took the chance, no matter the repercussions. Like a scene out of a disturbingly familiar movie, she waited for her fiancé to go to work, packed up her belongings, and fled with the help of a friend.
        She has never looked back since.
        Once free from the shackles of her fiance and embraced again by her father, it was on to the matter of modeling. Without contacts or prospects she wasn’t sure that she could do it.  She had traveled back and forth between Washington, D.C. and New York City trying to get signed by agencies who told her “no” on every attempt
        “People would say that I had to be really dark-skinned or they wanted me to be really light-skinned, with a certain look.”
        She began to ask herself, “Is modeling really for me?” Fate would answer while she was working at an Au Bon Pain in D.C.
        “There was a woman who would come in every day and told me ‘you should be a model.’” “She would tell me this every day not wanting anything from me, but just to tell me that. And it gave me such a level of confidence that I needed.”
        Looking at her, you might find it impossible to understand why the boisterous beauty with flawless skin and an affable personality would ever have issues with self-esteem. But this wound, unlike the others caused by her ex, was inflicted by someone close to her whom Mila would rather not name. “It’s really difficult because when you hear something so harsh from someone that you trust, it’s hard to get it out of your mind.”
        Affected by not afflicted, she would meet Manty, a successful model from her tribe in Guinea who encouraged Kamour to pursue her dream and also gave her tips on how to walk, pose, and look professional. It was also Manty who urged Kamour to move to New York and try the agencies there again.
        And here she is. Nearly 10 years after coming to the U.S., Mila Kamour is finally arriving. She works catering jobs that allow her the flexibility to focus on her modeling career and even though she has not signed with an agency as of yet, she has no plans to give up on her dreams. Despite the naysayers in her life or the impossible-to-please industry executives, this is a battle that Mila is determined to win.
        And now, thinking about it more clearly, there actually may be a way to describe her.
        “My friend summed it up best for me. He says that I’m not a damsel in distress, but I’m a woman in demand. I like that.”
        And so she is. 

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