Juniors Ja’nae (left) and Jala (right) Lenon wear matching floral wraparound crop tops with distressed skinny jeans, demonstrating their appreciation of everyday street wear with a feminine twist. Photo by Tyler Fata.
by Jayna Dias & Tyler Fata, STAFF WRITERS
28 November 2018
They each strut out in intricate hand picked clothing, tailored to their differing personalities. One looking fitted and feminine with sleek, long hair, the other dressed vibrantly with experimentation in the outfit accompanied by a short natural fro. The clothes hardly matter in the grand scheme of the moment, with bright lights illuminating their ethnic features and bouncing of their skin as they strike seamlessly, moving from one front page pose to the next. Their eyes bore into the camera, commanding attention and exuding confidence. The mixed raced twin models may have differing styles, but their captivity is just as identical as their faces.
Juniors and aspiring models Jala and Ja’nae Lenon immerse themselves in the world of fashion. The pair have always been affiliated with it, and have come to embrace their love for clothing in combination with their beauty, pursuing a modeling career while still in high school.
“My adrenaline starts rushing, and that just gets me excited. I don’t mind being in front of the camera at all … I love it, it makes me feel special,” Jala said.
But it took years for the twins to get where they are today: doing shoots at JC Penney seasonally, and organizing portfolios for potential agencies. The dream started with just a simple passion―and oversized dresses.
Left foot first: Getting started
“Fashion has always been my thing ever since I was a little girl. We [did] mini fashion shows … [where] we would take our auntie’s or my mom’s clothes and make them into dresses,” Janae recalled. “Ever since that, I have been into modeling.”
It did not take long for the girls to start coming into their own, and in turn, developing their own fashion sense. The girls’ mother Mia Williams explained how after the age of eight the twins began to become more independent stylistically, branching away from the clothing in her closet.
“Jala was more of what I would call, the ‘girly girl.’ She would like to wear the fitted clothing and the heels,” she added. “Janae was more what I would call the ‘risk taker.’ She would wear the clothes that … young females, teenagers, wouldn’t typically wear but she would make it look really good,” Mia said.
The twins continued to progress with coming into their own, and it was not until their freshman year of high school that the calling for modeling became their new focus. Both twins took inspiration from the exposure of different fashion styles, and started to become recognized by the people around them as well.
Jala recalled that she began to get into fashion, experimenting with clothing and makeup at the start of high school. She took more inspiration to become a model as friends and teachers told the girls they should get involved within the career.
“I liked that people told me that I could be a model and that I look like a model…that was when I thought, ‘Okay I should actually shoot for this,’” Jala stated.
And then the right: Support and stepping into the spotlight
Shoot for it they did. With help from their mother, Jala and Janae set out to pursue a modeling career, beginning with simply taking photos at the house, eventually progressing into investing in professional photographers.
Ja’nae described the way in which their mom worked to call agencies, schedule shoots, and plan for them. Mia said that she is very involved within her daughters’ careers and will continue to be there with the girls for every step of the way.
“If your child is wanting to pursue something positive … support them, as much as you possibly can. Invest in your children. That investment will come back to unfold,” she added. “I’m [the] momager … I will be traveling with them, I will be picking out outfits with them, I will be picking out different poses with them and let them know, ‘Oh yeah I like this one’ and ‘No that one don’t look too hot.’ Every step of the way, I will be right there with them,” Mia said.
Mia went on to explain the research that she put into ensuring that her daughters had a platform to pursue their desires. She found that they do not meet most height requirements, being 5’3 rather than the preferred 5’8 criteria, Mia worked around the issue and geared the girls towards commercials and print modeling instead.
Mia has invested her time and money within her daughters’ careers, but most of all she has provided them with unwavering support. The girls’ mom explained that she was fully invested with the pursuit since they were little, never putting a restriction on Jala and Ja’nae’s hopes for the future in modeling—something most parents would not be so inclined to.
“I’m not here to dictate their career, I want them to dictate their career and I’m going to let them do whatever decisions they make, so it’s just wherever they see themselves. I may have an opinion about it … [but] they’re old enough to make the ultimate decision,” Mia said.
However, the twins’ mother did not hesitate to add that momager would step in if their decision would not benefit their career, or them as individuals.
Although the girls have support from their mom and the rest of their family, they show independence and navigation within their career. Mia recalled how proud she was during their JC Penney shoot, explaining that the girls picked their own outfits, styled their own hair, and did their own makeup.
“I was just in awe … they were absolutely gorgeous and I was most proud of them, because in my mind, I said, ‘they did all of that themselves.’ And they can do it all,” Mia said.
Jala (left) and Ja’nae (right) model matching two-piece gray sets. The outfits are comfortable while remaining stylish. Photo by Tyler Fata.
Focus on the camera: Insecurities in the industry
The girls are currently working towards constructing modeling portfolios to send out to agencies. Portfolios must consist of full body, half body, full face, side, and ¾’s pictures―displaying a variety, and leaving nothing to hide.
Even though the twins may look beautiful and professional in front of the camera, the spotlight does not exempt the pair from their insecurities, only magnifying them.
Ja’nae admitted that she struggles with being overly critical of herself, and letting her doubts get to her―especially when she has to model with her sister directly next to her in a shoot.
“Loving myself [is hard]. Most of the time … I go to bed crying thinking about how insecure I am,” she added. “When it comes to modeling sometimes I think to myself that I can’t do it, or that my body is not good enough, but I’m trying to teach myself to love myself more, and that I can do it. That’s kind of the hardest part when it comes to the whole process of modeling. It’s just loving yourself,” Ja’nae stated.
Jala went into her share of personal faults as well, describing how she wished she was more comfortable with being her natural self. The twins are half African American and Puerto Rican, and Jala explained that she hoped to be more comfortable with her features.
“The only thing I would want to change, is probably wearing less makeup and less weave … sometimes I want to embrace my naturalness and I don’t like wearing makeup and having weave in all the time … [but] I feel like it makes me look prettier,” Jala said.
Their unique features from both backgrounds provides a new onslaught of problems that the twins are forced to faith, both having been told that they do not look black enough, do not look Latina enough. While at the same time, having that diversity makes the pair stand out among the typical face of pale skin, blonde hair and blue eyes that the modeling agency used to be plagued with, Jala had stated.
With the way the modeling industry works, it’s no surprise that these types of insecurities begin to surface. Janae explained that agencies turn down girls due to their appearances, which can be very harmful for models that do not have thick skin.
Additionally, Mia accounts for the fact that in this day and age, many models appear on Instagram, which allows for posts to be photo shopped or angled in a way that enhances the appearance of models. She accounts for the fact that people tend to have fake butts, hair, breasts and even eyebrows these day, which creates an unattainable stigma for beauty.
“There’s only so much that I can say as a mom, but I do tell them that they are beautiful inside and out, and don’t worry about if you’re not as curvy or you’re not as ‘thick’… and you don’t have that straight hair, but this is what makes you unique. This is what makes you even more beautiful, and this is what sets you apart from everybody else,” Mia said.
But when the camera turns on, both girls are able to push their insecurities down, and strike pose after pose with confidence.
Ja’nae described the way in which seeing the way they look in their photos afterwards, provides her with a sense of security and reassurance. She said that all her self doubt and hesitation disappears after the connection with the camera, surprising herself with the end result.
“It makes me feel good … and that I actually am beautiful, that I can do it and that I actually do have a good body,” Ja’nae stated.
The twins’ aunt Angie Diaz explained the captivity that the girls have while taking pictures and preparing for their shoots, enhancing their strong points in order to diminish their flaws.
“I’m proud that even though they do have insecurities, now they’re starting to own it … it is just amazing to watch. How they pose, you actually see them make a connection with the camera. Whereas my daughter just might smile because the camera’s there…[but] you see them pose with their eyes,” Angie said.
The girls are excited for their career and future, both explaining an interest in become angels for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
“Their bodies are just amazing, the way they walk down the runway is just phenomenal,” Ja’nae said, after explaining that it would be a great way to advocate for girls to be comfortable with their bodies, something she herself has struggled with.
Finally the camera flashes: Making an impact
Before launching themselves into the large industry, the girls agreed to keep their endgame and message focused. Since they come in only at 5’3″ while most agencies have the minimum for models to be 5’8″, they find it important to advocate embracing their natural, unadulterated features, and having the confidence to take criticism without being defeated.
“For all the models out there, I would say, please do not let any of those companies get to you, and please just stick to being yourself … stick to what you’re used to,” Janae said. “Also inspire yourself. Don’t just inspire others, but inspire yourself in order to move forward.”
“Continue to inspire other people … basic models don’t inspire people anymore, it’s just the same old thing. But if you’re unique, outgoing, and different, then go ahead and inspire all those girls out there that want to be models,” Jala stated.
Strutting off the catwalk: A look to the future
The twins are hopeful for the future, both having the desire to get signed to a permanent modeling agency that aligns with their needs.
“We’re going to keep our same bodies and accept a modeling agency that’s willing to accept us,” Jala stated.
The girls will continue to model together, as the fact that they are twins adds to uniqueness within their photos, something that will separate them apart from the many other faces that crowd the scene, as said by Mia. The differences that they have will be what sets them apart to make them successful in the future.
Ja’nae and Jala both desire to become angels for Victoria’s Secret, and partake in lingerie modeling in the future, as they are both means of expressing security and confidence with their bodies.
“I’ll tell you this, size does not matter,” she added. “Today, a lot of boys would want thick girls, and so, it kind of makes us girls out here, who don’t have big butts or have no meat on their bones, insecure … so what I’m trying t do is just inspire girls to love themselves,” Ja’nae stated.
Ja’nae said that she would like to try branching out, doing creative and wild shoots with vibrant, neon colors. Jala stated that she would prefer doing a calendar shoot, preferably for an NBA team. However, the girls and their mother are gearing up for their next shoot, set to take place on Lake Shore Drive. The theme would tie back to their African roots, complete with traditional garments, hair and makeup.
Mia stated that she was particularly excited for this shoot, as it is one she has had in mind for the girls for a long time, photos that will clearly depict their background in a beautiful way. The twins said that they were equally thrilled for the upcoming photo shoot, and will continue their investigation within the fashion world and construction of portfolios until then.
The twins can be contacted at (773) 531-4310 for shoots and castings.
The girls may also be reached through Instagram:
Ja’nae Lenon: @janae_bbg
Jala Lenon: @jlbeauty02
Jayna Dias & Tyler Fata are staff writers for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.