Her Pain Became Her Pearl
One tends to believe that if you have a difficult start in life, your future is doomed. But oysters teach us that if you keep your head up and continue working, you will eventually find a pearl inside. We believe that people are like oysters and that we can channel our difficulties and obstacles in such a way that we take an ordinary – and sometimes not so ordinary – life and turn it into a pearlescent legacy. In honor of this unique human quality, we are publishing a series looking at women who have lived their lives like pearls. This is another installment of the Living like a Pearl series. Find the other stories here.
Many people look down on finishing schools as by-products of a time when a woman had to carry herself in a certain way or dress beautifully to impress. But as with all things in life, context makes all the difference. And that is probably why the teachings of June
Dally-Watkins were still in demand – as far as China – when she passed away in
February of 2020 at the age of 92. Dally-Watkins wasn’t just a pretty face and she didn’t sell beauty, but self-respect and confidence. Because when she was born, no-one was thinking of her ambitions.
June Dally-Watkins was born to a single mother in 1927. Her mother was from a small farming community called Watsons Creek in Australia, which is where Dally-Watkins was raised with the help of her maternal grandparents until the age of 13. It couldn’t have been easy to be an illegitimate child in the 1930s.
It is in Sydney in the 1940s that June started her career as a model. Her first job was to model hats for half a day. In 1949, just five years after that first job, she won Australia’s Model of the Year, effectively becoming Australia’s first supermodel. And it seems the lesson Dally-Watkins took from her own journey is that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you can be beautiful. In fact, that is what the first advertisement for the June Dally-Watkins School of Deportment, which she started the year after she won, said: “Every woman has a right to be beautiful.”
Later she started a modeling agency and after that a business college. In 1993 she received an Order of Australia for her contribution to business. When she died earlier this year, she was still traveling to China regularly to offer classes in deportment.
One is tempted to say that she left her status as an illegitimate child behind her. But when she died, the Guardian reported: “The stigma of illegitimacy lingered. Dally-Watkins wrote in her 2002 autobiography, Secrets Of My Smile, that ‘the hush-hush surrounding my father and my identity became deafening and continued to echo throughout my life ... So I masked my shame and buried my self-consciousness with a smile – something I’ve done all my life, on and off the catwalk.’”
Oysters teach us that our greatest challenge or pain in life is often the thing that makes us stand out. And that is especially true of June Dally-Watkins. Who better to teach the world that every woman deserves to be beautiful than someone who was made to feel embarrassed about her mother’s marital status?
Her story embodies the slogan in her school’s advertisement. Her pain became her pearl – and because of it, many a young woman can walk into a new job or a roomful of strangers with her head held high, knowing that she, too, is capable of becoming a pearl.