Miss Earth SA regional semi-finalist, Tarryn-Kim Cornelius, was made fun of at school because of the way she looked.
The Peerless Park resident truly felt peerless at Eikendal Primary because of how badly she was teased and laughed at. She begged her parents not to send her to school and when they ignored her pleas, she pretended to be ill so she could sit in the sick bay, away from her classmates.
Today, the former tomboy and avid car enthusiast has 11 years of modelling under her belt and has taken part in a number of pageants. She won Miss Matric Western Cape in 2007 and reached the top 24 of Miss South Africa 2012. This year, she reached the regional semi-finals of the Miss Earth SA competition.
“It’s not a pageant, it’s a leadership programme,” she says of the competition. “It’s not about beauty, it’s about empowerment.”
Tarryn-Kim almost didn’t enter because at 27 she is a veritable old-fogey compared to her runway rivals.
“I was hesitant because I was thinking, I’m approaching 30. At this age, I’m supposed to be engaged. My friends, everybody, are all married and having babies,” she says.
As part of the competition, Tarryn-Kim needs to do environmental presentations and educational workshops at schools. Some of these include a community clean-up, a workshop about recycling and a presentation about reducing waste at Eikendal and Cavaleria primary schools and Eben Donges High School.
At the end of June, Tarryn-Kim will hear if she made it to the regional finals.
Tarryn-Kim says we all need to realise that just making the smallest changes in our lives – like switching off the light when we leave a room – can have a big impact.
“If you shower, you don’t have to sing the whole song. It makes a big difference because once the water is up, it’s up and I don’t think that people realise that. Personally, I’m going into stress mode about it,” says Tarryn-Kim about the drought crisis.
Tarryn-Kim chose to deliver her message at these schools because they are in the communities she grew up in and she attended Eikendal Primary and Eben Donges High.
At primary school, Tarryn-Kim was mercilessly teased for being very thin. “It was very hard for me, it really broke me. I was broken down inside because of always being made fun of.”
But while her fellow pupils didn’t like her look, a stranger at a hairdresser spotted her modelling potential and gave her the details of an agent she knew.
At the time, Tarryn-Kim was a tomboyish 14-year-old with an interest in quad bikes and cars.
“My father is a mechanic; I grew up around cars. While others were reading girly magazines I would push them aside for car magazines.”
Tarryn-Kim contacted the agent and started modelling with the support of her parents. By the time she was in Grade 10 she had had lots of local success as a model.
Still, school was no picnic. In her final year at Eben Donges, her school mates didn’t want her to enter the school’s annual pageant arguing that if she did no one else would stand a chance. A teacher, however, intervened.
“A teacher asked me why I wasn’t entering. I said the kids don’t want me to.”
The teacher then told her about another pageant, Miss Matric Western Cape. “And I actually won that pageant. That’s why I believe that if there’s a stumbling block, it means something better is coming. Nothing makes sense in the moment but as you look back, then it makes sense.”
Many better things awaited Tarryn-Kim along the line, including photo shoots with Sports Illustrated, finishing in the top 24 for Miss South Africa in 2012 and being selected as the brand ambassador for CapeGate Mall.
“I always wanted to be the face of a mall,” she says. “If you believe something, stick to it, what you believe, you can achieve. It’s a cliche but it is super true.”