Ethiopian-Somali girl – America’s Next Top Model

“Fatima!” screamed one girl from a passing school bus on Hyde Park Avenue.

“You go Fatima!” hollered a motorist on the same Boston street.

“Can I have a hug?” gushed a starstruck girl who posed for a photo with Fatima Siad, a finalist from the latest season of the popular reality show “America’s Next Top Model.”

Siad didn’t walk away with the wordy title (she came in third), but to her hometown fans here, she’s the next big thing.

“This is crazy!” said Siad, 22, of her brush with fame one recent afternoon.

As she strolled her Hyde Park neighborhood, Siad said she was relieved the show’s over. She wants to forge ahead with her plans: The political science major has one semester left at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. She plans to finish after moving this summer to New York with two other models from The CW reality show. Siad’s determined to pursue a career in an industry she stumbled upon last summer when a friend urged her to attend a Boston casting call.

Siad also wants to raise awareness about the dangers of female genital circumcision, a procedure she underwent when she was 7 years old in her native Somalia.

On her first episode, Siad broke down in tears before show host Tyra Banks and the other judges as she explained how the practice is a positive ritual among African women who have all or part of their external genitalia removed. The tradition is believed to promote chastity and cleanliness.

“Yes, I got circumcised. Yes, I am not sad about it. It happened to me, but I am going to try and do something to raise awareness,” Siad says.

Siad was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, to an Ethiopian father and Somali mother. As a young girl, Siad enjoyed playing with her friends on red-hued dunes that dot the shores of the Indian Ocean. But when the country erupted in civil war in 1991, violence and civil unrest gripped the capital.

“When she was 5 years old, the civil war started in my country, and she never had the opportunity to go to school,” says Halima Musse, Siad’s mother, who taught her at home. “People were fighting and killing each other. It was horrible.”

Just as Musse prepared to leave the country with Siad and her two sisters, ages 8 and 10, militiamen stormed their home and fatally shot the two younger sisters, Siad recalls.

“I love my country, but when I was living there, it was hard,” says Siad, whose mother applied for political asylum in the United States. Her father remained behind. “My mother basically wanted a better life for me.”

In 1998, mother and daughter, then 13, fled to Boston, where they had to adapt to a new culture and language. Their first year here, they lived in the YMCA on Huntington Avenue.

Siad learned English within a few months and worked hard to hide her accent. In eighth grade, she became part of the Boston Area Health Education Center, a city program designed to groom minority students for careers in health care. Siad had an interest in medicine.

“She’s always been that person who picks a goal and strives for it and succeeds,” says Keith Gross-Hill, a friend who was also in the program. At Brighton High, Siad took part in Upward Bound, a college prep program for low-income Boston high school students who take summer classes at Boston University.

After high school, Siad won a scholarship to Bryn Mawr College. She later transferred to New York University for her junior year.

Then, as she was almost done with college, she tried out for “America’s Next Top Model.” When the show’s producers told her that she would be one of the 13 women chosen to live in a New York City loft for the competition, Siad decided to drop out of school for a semester. The show was taped last November and December and began airing in February.

Immediately, Siad stood out because of her energy and her classic features, which Banks and others compared to Iman, the famous Somali supermodel. That’s a comparison Siad has mixed feelings about.

“[The other contestants] kept calling me Baby Iman,” Siad says sternly. “First of all, I don’t look anything like Iman. She is beautiful and amazing, and she is such a wonderful woman, and I wish I could be like her. But just because we are from Somalia doesn’t mean we look alike. I want to be known as Fatima.”

The show thrust Siad into the fast-paced world of high fashion. At times, photo shoots were anything but glamorous. One shoot involved contestants wearing slabs of meat as couture. Another involved colorful paint dripping down their faces.

“It was so intense,” she says of the show’s schedule. “It’s not as glamorous as it looks, not even close to it. We were working constantly. . . . The hardest part for me was taking the pictures. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

But now she does, as she strikes casual poses for a photographer and little girls who stop her in Hyde Park, where her mother lives in a triple-decker.

Between takes, Siad reflects on the competition. She doesn’t feel bad that she didn’t strut away with the $100,000 modeling contract or the coveted spread in Seventeen magazine. Siad says she won in so many other ways.

“I found the show to be so therapeutic for me,” she says. “I shared my life. I learned about modeling. It was definitely one of the most amazing journeys of my life and therefore, I don’t need someone to say ‘You’re a winner.’ This is the highlight of my life.”

Johnny Diaz, The Boston Globe

11 comments on “Ethiopian-Somali girl – America’s Next Top Model

  1. Hagos Araya on

    Good Luck Fatuma. And dont forget that there are millions of somalian and ethiopian girls that are smart and beautiful as you but dying with weyane( The Current ethiopian government) anti human actions. Therefore, make sure you raise this issue in the places you get the chance to expose thier situations. Since, you might would’ve been one of the victims if you still had lived in somalia.

  2. Chala on

    Is being cicumcised the worst thing that can possibly happen to a girl in life?

  3. Barud on

    congra ! you are really very pretty girl from ethiopian
    mixed race is paramount important having had
    such a chance acquainting east africa.your pride is our pride. i hope you mention that there are millions of beauties in Eth and som who can give true picture of
    our country either good or bad.i hope your beauty should
    be backed up by you internal charisma and intelligence.
    do good anyways !!

    Did you find your father ? or ask about where he is
    living? if we know him nice !!!

  4. Unity on

    Watch it Fatima, The business you are in is like a sugar factory that uses a sugar cane and dispose of the very fiber that provided the component to make the sugar. This is very temporary and dangerous business.

    Get some education and try to lean on that. As you know there is nothing “holly” in Hollywood or show biz. Wake up!

  5. Abegesa on

    Well said Hagos:
    Fatuma should use this opportunity to talk about the atrocities of Weyane in Somalia (her mother’s nationality) and Ethiopia (her father’s nationality).

    “Good Luck Fatuma. And dont forget that there are millions of somalian and ethiopian girls that are smart and beautiful as you but dying with weyane( The Current ethiopian government) anti human actions. Therefore, make sure you raise this issue in the places you get the chance to expose thier situations. Since, you might would’ve been one of the victims if you still had lived in somalia.”

  6. Tesfa on

    I have only small regards for “models”. I feel they are spending so much time on their lower body than the “upper”, i.e. their brain. They romanticize themselves; spending much time worrying whether they will have some bumps on their face or add 1/100000 “extra” pound and leaving their brain empty. Please watch Miss Congeniality (2000)to see what a joke they are!

  7. babei on

    i think is cool that ethiopian or somalians for this instance to succeed because i haven’t heard so much successful stories from ethiopians. we need to stop club hoping and do some school work and strive to improve ourselves and our family situation how many of you know that many ethiopians are starving right now. nope and if you did you aren’t doing anything about it.

  8. Lila on

    I think fatima should have won hands down this girl exudes confidence, self esteem she’s definetly got what it takes to become a top model. Also i feel that tyra and the panel made major mistakes in choosing americas next top models i also feel that they may have some regets in choosing them especially when all these runner ups have major contract with big time modeling agencies. For i.e. Gina choe, poor gina who got knock down by jade i think that jade should have been kicked off the show i don’t like her i despise her no one should be put through what gina went through especially all these girls come so far away from home and they have no family who can give them support. Its hard when u don’t have anyone u can lean on for support. Anyway getting back to runner up models beside gina who got major modeling contracts such as: bianca golden, fatima siad.

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