Justine Biticon Talks Success, Self-Love and Representation
This week, I was fortunate enough to interview Justine Biticon, the Mexican-Filipino model taking the world by storm. At the ripe age of 18, she’s already been on America’s Next Top Model (cycle 23) and signed a modeling contract with Ford Models. Here’s what she had to say:
Can you talk a little bit about what kicked off your modeling career? At what point did you know it was something you wanted to pursue? What reservations did you have, if any?
I’ve actually mentioned this before in a few of my youtube videos. I had never really intended on modeling. I was always very comfortable in front of the camera; I had always done those cute little “ootd” photos on Instagram, but never full out modeling. My friend, Jentrie Bentley, had seen me during our summer classes and he asked me to do what would be my first real photoshoot. After that, things started coming up and people started to email me and asked to do more photoshoots and work with more people, and my career sort of blew up from there. I get a lot of questions about how much I pay photographers to take my photos, but never have I ever paid for a photoshoot before. As I started to do more photoshoots, I noticed that I had a real, intense, passion for making art. Thus, my love for modeling was born. I personally didn’t think I would make it this far because of my face. I was super insecure about my nose and the rest of my face. I had always been called a butter-face, and I never saw any models that looked like me in magazines or anything, so I guess the only reservation I had was that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with modeling.
Who are your role models/mentors? What advice have they given you?
To be honest, my role models are my mom and dad. My parents and I were never very wealthy, we struggled to live comfortably. They were always so strong and supportive, despite our lack of money. My mom taught me that no matter how hard things hit you, you have to keep going because no one but you is going to work hard enough for you to be successful. She taught me to have the courage to do whatever I put my mind to, and that I am a strong and independent individual. My dad taught me to have the patience when it comes to things like success and progress. He taught me that things come in time, but also that it comes to those that keep trying. My parents are the most inspiring people in my life and I take everything they teach me to heart.
Favorite song/artist at the moment?
I’m currently in love with the Tomppabeats album. There are about 30-ish songs, about 1-2 minutes long, of absolute bliss. They’re like those songs people put on those anime vines. They’re really awesome to listen to on a rainy day or when you’re feeling down!
What’s your favorite social media platform?
It might be Twitter just because I don’t have a filter, it’s very liberating. It’s kind of annoying sometimes, though, because (I suppose) people see me as a “public figure”, which I find funny because I don’t feel famous or anything of that sort. Anyways, they believe I should filter how I think and what I say. I, personally, believe that no matter how much clout or support I get, I shouldn’t filter or change the way I think just because people tell me to.
I feel like people lose their authenticity once fame kicks in, and it’s personally just not my thing. For example, I am a huge advocate of self love, and therefore I believe there is no such thing as “conceit” or being “conceited”.
I believe that humanity has put a negative connotation on loving yourself “too much”, but who the heck is going to love you other than yourself? I think I tweeted something about how much I love myself and everything about myself and people were complaining about how I need to humble myself. I just found it absolutely ridiculous to have to humble myself when I’m doing nothing but support myself. Another thing is that people forget that I have feelings and I’m human. I suppose hate is supposed to be “ignored” but I personally cannot stand being disrespected. I also hate when people complain about me feeling unfit just because of my body shape. It’s as if I’m supposed to hide my insecurities and pretend that I’m some kind of perfect orb of something when I’m not. I AM HUMAAAAAN PEOPLE.
Your story is very much one of self-made success, what motivated you to persevere through the harder times?
Getting into the whole modeling industry was a struggle in itself. I personally think I’m still at the bottom and I have a looong way to go. In high school, I was made fun of constantly for trying to do something out of the ordinary. None of my “friends” wanted me to persevere. I had grown to hate myself and believe the things people said about me. I was slut shamed a lot for being comfortable with my body and doing the things I chose to do as an individual. It got to the point where I moved schools, because I was so insecure and nobody wanted to be associated with me at school. It took me forever to find the unconditional love for myself. I
learned who were my real friends and who were my fake friends. I realized the people that hated on me were just lame and insecure about their own lives, I realized anybody that hated on me was just jealous. I grew (somewhat) insensitive to the hate and the people hating on my success, because I had grown to love myself.
What motivated me was my achievements and the progress I was making. I realized if I had stopped, or if I ever stop, all my work would be for nothing. Despite this, I still get insecure. I still sometimes look in the mirror and ask myself whats wrong with me but in the end, I realize that I’m the only person that will love me endlessly. So, I would say that self love conquers all.
Do you think others can find the same success, in other endeavors, if they put in the same type of work and passion? What advice do you have for them?
I believe anyone that believes in themselves, especially through the hard times, is able to be successful. The only thing that holds people back are their insecurities. If you say you can’t do it then you can’t. Your mindset is something that can either push you forward or hold you back. It’s up to you to become successful and to do whatever you can to be exactly that.
You obviously find representation for people of color in the modeling industry very important. What role did representation for PoC (in any/all media) play for you as you were growing up?
If I think about it, there were not too many PoC that I could look up to. I remember looking up to Lucy Liu, however now that I look at it, she has very European features (pale skin, nose etc). She was the closest thing to Asian that I could look up to. Even in any Filipino movie, many of them were very white-washed (pale skin, prominent nose etc).
I had never seen a Southeast Asian girl that looked like me (tan skin, flat/broad nose and a round face) in the media. I grew up wanting to be white so bad, I would try and bleach my skin.
I wanted a nose job for so long, because people would make fun of my flat nose. I remember also looking up to Selena Quintanilla from my Mexican side. However, she also doesn’t look like me. I just think it’s sad that the industry believes that their sorry excuse for diversity are people of light pigment with European features. It is not enough for me. I want little girls to see girls that look like them in the industry and be proud of their skin and features, not want to change them. This is why I strive for diversity and more representation in the modeling industry.
As you grow in popularity, how do you plan to use your platform to raise awareness about this lack of representation?
I plan on saying exactly what I feel should be said. Nothing is solved if one is quiet. I want to use my platform to amplify the people’s voices and let them be heard. I want to start something to show how serious it is for there to be representation for PoC in the industry, like a movement, or just something, because the people are frustrated. We have waited too long to get the credit we deserve, and it’s time we get it.
What do you think can be done about the lack of representation of other marginalized groups like the disabled and the LGBTQ+ community?
I believe including other marginalized groups, such as the disabled and the LGBTQ+, in runway shows and the media would be an amazing start. I walked LA Fashion Week and the designer, Janina Urussowa, was disabled. She included disabled models, and it was amazing to see something like that because it might be a small step, but it makes a huge statement to those in the industry. Just by including people that are disabled, in the LGBTQ+ community or PoC, it just opens the door to the industry so much wider for those that try to succeed in it.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?
Hm, I’d like to say yes because I’m definitely one for the girls, however, I don’t want to title myself a feminist unless I can prove it and help support my fellow women. It’s one thing to call yourself a feminist, but another thing if you can’t act on the views.
What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
It’s funny, because it’s in my bio on every single one of my social media accounts, but I am half Filipina and half Mexican. My mother is Filipina and my father is Mexican.
What advice would you give to those who want to be models, but are insecure about their features/body type?
I believe that you can look up to someone, but never ever want to be exactly like them; you only become a carbon copy. There is no set rule or set of instructions that come with being a successful model. If there was, everyone would be a successful model. You must go out into the world with confidence and love for yourself. For the girls and boys that have trouble with their body, body type, or even height, know that only your insecurities are what hold you back. Self love takes time to find, and you should never beat yourself up about it. I can’t explain how many times I’ve had to pick myself up and dust myself off from the insults I got back in high school. You only get stronger from people and things like that. If you want to be successful you must completely and truly believe in yourself, for you are the one thing that will keep you going at the end of the day. I wish you all good luck my loves.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave? What’s your biggest goal?
I aspire to be a face of diversity. I want to be able to help anyone that looks up to me to think, ‘Oh, if Justine did it, I can.’ I want girls to remember me, not only for my modeling, but for the struggle and hard work I put in to help the voices of PoC. I want every girl and boy to believe in themselves because they have someone to look up to and someone that looks like them made it. I want these kids to follow their dreams, not to have them crushed by unrealistic views on their bodies or because of the color of their skin or the shape of their nose. I only dream to become something reminiscent of this, and I hope I can succeed in this journey (also walking the Victoria’s Secret fashion show wouldn’t hurt hehe).