Garfene Grandison, assistant Lifestyle coordinator
The success being enjoyed by young Jamaican models on the international scene is due to a great extent to the trailblazing work by Althea Laing. In the 1980s, this elegant model became the first Jamaican to grace the cover of an international publication - Essence Magazine. Since then, her sense of style has always been worthy of emulation.
Fast-foward two decades and this runway diva is still 'fabulous.' Now a English literature teacher at Belair Academy in Manchester, the 57-year-old is looking as good as ever and is ready to embark once again on another unfinished chapter in her life: teen empowerment workshop for girls. She first started the workshops back in the '90s but took a break to focus on her spirituality and ridding herself of a toxic relationship. It was after that she was told by God that it was time for her to relaunch her grooming workshops since they were so fulfilling.
Young women can expect to walk away from the two-day workshop feeling like a "total woman". According to Laing, "image is everything and people often judge you based on your appearance, so that's the reason why such a workshop is important." She notes that the timing is also important. "As an educator, there is a lack of morals and social decay in the school system and I think that it's time for us to take our girls back. Everybody wants to be like the girls in the music videos and I think it's time for us to get them back to being ladies, valuing themselves and creating the right image for themselves," she told Outlook.
The three key components that girls will walk away with are confidence, self-esteem and communication skills. "Too many of our officials are fighting with subject-verb agreement and it's absolutely horrendous. It is very critical for them to deliver themselves very effectively."
One of the most interesting questions that was posed to Laing and one at which she smiled was, "What sets you apart from others who are doing the same thing?" With confidence she notes, "I'm the trendsetter, darling." She continued, "Let me first say that I was trained by Bev Corke. I give her all the credit. However, the fact that I was Jamaica's first international model and that I trained four former Miss Jamaica Universe, that's something big and people know that I'm a good trainer. Many people can imitate but they certainly can't duplicate," she ended with a smile.
The workshop, which was held on February 15 and 16, is slated to be held every other month at the South Beach Café. However, the next time around Laing has decided that she will be focusing on a different group as well as trying to host women empowerment workshops.
Take another perspective
According to Laing, "There are some persons who think that money is everything but as Professor Rex Nettleford once said, a buttu in a benz is still a buttu, so there are certain things that we need to get and go after. It's not about Jamaica, it's about the global perspective and we need to be able to take a certain level of behaviour and decorum into the international market," she ended.
Outlook also spoke to Marsha Baker, who started lessons with Laing back in the early '90s, who confessed that she only started because her mother always thought that she should always be pretty and feminine. "My mother saw the course and immediately signed me up. I topped the class and as a result I ended up being an assistant to Althea." She continued, "the lessons I learnt developed my personality. I now have a very confident and well-rounded personality," something that she has passed down to her two daughters Mahya and Jada-Shae who recently did classes with Laing.
Baker tells Outlook that a workshop of this nature is vital because "this grooming class will be uplifting and will have a positive impact on the girls, especially those in the inner city".
The course included motivational talks, basic poise and posture, social graces and etiquette, the art of communication, wardrobe and accessorising and make-up application for teens.