September 2019 / grace tells 001

“Suddenly people start to look at you in a completely different way.”

Images by @edwinsmulders, @fredericpinet, @kikireijners & Anouk’s private archive 

As a kid I was always a bit of an outsider. I was raised in a small town, with a very close, warm family. A family that takes care of each other. We were very strong, and it was very safe. But I was always the smallest, tiniest, most skinny girl in school and had a bit of a hard time. I was an underdog. When I left school I planned to study marketing, and I went to France to do an exchange year abroad. That’s where everything changed for me.

Just a couple of months before I was due to leave France I met a photographer who wanted to take my pictures. Then a scout from Paris saw the contact sheet by accident, and wanted to meet with me. So I went to Paris, all expenses paid by the agency, and within two weeks I had a meeting with the casting director for French Elle and got a cover shoot. After that, everything exploded.

It started as a weekend job, I just wanted to earn some extra money to go see my boyfriend who was living in America. I was still living in Brittany for University, so I went to Paris to do my traineeship at the agency I was with as part of my study programme.

But after the French Elle cover I got a worldwide Christian Dior contract, and the next thing I knew I was standing in Saks 5th Avenue and my picture was there for Dior. I was only 20. Suddenly people start to look at you in a completely different way. I went from a shy, skinny, unpopular girl, to being approached in a totally different way, and treated differently.

Left image: My first test photoshoot | Image right: My first international campaign

I finished my traineeship at the agency and had one year left at University. I asked my parents if I could take a half-year break – I wanted to go to America to be with my boyfriend, but my parents suggested I go to France. So I did that, but I went to New York a few times and loved it, and my career was booming.

I still tried to make it work with University and to finish my studies, but they weren’t very helpful, so I decided to leave, and I moved to New York. I lived in New York for eight and a half years. And then I bumped into a Dutch guy, and it was time to come back to Europe.

“I got the invitation to present Holland’s Next Top Model, which I had wanted for a long time.”

Image 1: Company dinner with Edwin, Fotospersbureau Peter Smulders anniversary 
Image 2: Family holiday Curacao 2014

I got married and started a family, and my career slowed down. I didn’t want to pick modelling up again and be away from my family. So while I was pregnant I started in TV – on Show News. I went from TV to starting an events company – sold my shares to a cofounder and went back to TV, and was doing a show called Boulevard on RTL, and then finally I got the invitation to present Holland’s Next Top Model, which I had wanted for a long time. I did that for 4 years and loved it.

I did that for 4 years, and then it was time for my contract with Next Top Model to end, which I was prepared for and ok with, but I was very unhappy with how RTL handled it, so I quit Boulevard and left the station.

Left image: Beau monde award | Image right: Beau monde by @OttoVanDenToorn

“I realised I had met so many people, and so many interesting people, throughout my life and career.”

Left image: Editorial shoot | Image right: Rayzor sharp editorial shoot

After that I reached a point where I almost had a burnout. That period was really hard for me. And someone said to me, you know you have been in front of a camera for over 20 years, and people have a perception of you that is not who you are, nobody really knows you. And I realised I had always just rolled from one thing into another – so I stopped to figure out what actually made me happy and what I wanted to do.

I realised I had met so many people, and so many interesting people, throughout my life and career. People who really inspired me and made me feel something. But now we live in a “perfect” filtered world and we miss out on that sense of realness and insight.

I wanted to find something that gave me energy rather than taking it, and something for my age. Sometimes when you keep going and going you don’t stop to stand still and take in what is happening and what actually makes you happy – it was difficult around that time working those things out. I wanted to do what I like to do, and to be doing it with the people I want to do it with.

I had been thinking about the idea of ‘Wereld Wijf’, it’s a phrase I use all the time, in Dutch it’s something that describes a really amazing woman who you admire. It is a person who lives through experiences and has ups and downs, it’s a word for people you appreciate, that give you energy and inspiration. This was the kind of idea and message I wanted to spread.

Yoga trip with wendy magazine, @wendyonlinenl @kikireijners

 “It really hit me, and I went to bed thinking about it that night. I messaged the woman and we ended up chatting.”

Then one day a woman left a comment on a post on my Instagram. I was trying to be honest in my post, and said I was having a bad day. And she left a comment to say you know what’s a bad day, when your son has cancer. It really hit me, and I went to bed thinking about it that night.

I messaged the woman and we ended up chatting over messenger for the next days. I happened to be in her neighbourhood one day, so I called and asked if I could visit. We met, I met her son, and we had such a deep connection. Just afterwards my sister was also diagnosed with cancer. And it felt like I had met this woman for a reason, and these were the kind of connections I wanted to be aware of, to help bring people, women, together in this way. And the only way to do that is by being open, authentic and honest.

I decided I wanted to use the platform I have to do that, and create a community or organisation that propels that. To share these stories and moments that make us human. And so now, we have Grace&Us. I’m turning 45 and I feel like I’m doing something meaningful.