When supermodel Patricia Velasquez was growing up in Venezuela, she lived in poverty, one of six children raised by educators. After high school she studied engineering, but was sent off course when a local hairdresser noticed her modeling potential, leading to a casting call and a turn in the Miss Venezuela pageant. Suddenly, Velasquez found herself at the precipice of a successful modeling career — and she chose it, wanting to earn money for her family. In the years that followed, she walked runways for Chanel, Gucci, and Carolina Herrera; modeled for Victoria’s Secret and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue; and acted in the various incarnations of “The Mummy” movies. She lived in Paris before moving to New York as a Ford model, falling in with a glamorous crowd and finding much success in the fashion world. But behind the scenes, the model was struggling with a newly discovered secret — that she was gay.
Rumors flew from time to time, and mainly she stayed quiet, until now. Velasquez, 43, is telling all in a new memoir, “Straight Walk,” inspired by her daughter, Maya, 8. “It’s very difficult to face your past, so I put off doing anything like this for a long time,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “But as my daughter started growing up and I was teaching her to be honest and proud, I knew it was time for me to set an example — and that meant facing my truth. For me, living life with truth and honesty is the one thing I want to make sure she understands.”
Below, read more from Yahoo Parenting’s conversation with the model, actor, writer, and mom.
On the runway for Ralph Lauren in 1995. Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images
Did you always want to be a mother?
Never! I never saw myself as a mom. Then, as it happens to 99.9 percent of women, when you’re reaching 40, 39, all of a sudden you want to have kids. But it was really my girlfriend [at the time] Lauren, she wanted to have a child, and she gave birth, and now I could not be happier. Maya is the biggest joy in my life. Lauren and I separated after eight years together, and I’ve been with my current partner, Ileanna, for a year. She’s also Venezuelan. We were friends first for 12 years. She was with guys for a long time and…something evolved, and this is all very new for her. We are learning together about these new types of families: She’s come into a relationship with someone who has a kid, but I have an amazing relationship with my ex-partner, and her partner has a little boy who’s 6 who is now Maya’s half brother. All of us really get along — they go away, we take the kids. So it was a little bit strange for her at the beginning, for sure.
What are the chances that Maya will follow in your modeling footsteps?
She dances and she does gymnastics and she’s a very pretty girl. But I want Maya to have as normal a childhood as possible, and to keep her conscious that there is a world out there, and that kids here have a lot. We have a foundation for more than 3,000 children who live in extreme poverty. [Velasquez founded the Wayuu Taya Foundation in 2002 to assist Latin-American indigenous children]. So you want to give back. Before we go to bed I say to Maya, “Tell me three things you are thankful for, and one act of kindness.” She used to say things like, “My blankie, Mommy, and Mama.” So now in my book’s dedication, I say, “The three things I’m grateful for are you, you, and you.”
Velasquez doing charity work in Venezuela.
You write that while you were achieving fame, living a lie about your personal life was “torturous,” and that it “was eroding my soul bit by bit.” When was the height of that for you?
So, I have a problem with my feet. I grew up as a dancer and I had had bunion surgery on my feet when I was 13 years old — they shortened my toes — and my feet were never the same after that surgery. So as I started modeling, and the more successful I became, my feet started killing me. I used to do these shows and I would have tears running down my face — you can probably see it in some of the videos — because I could not walk. Then I had more surgery. I had neuromas [pinched nerves] taken out. And I still have this thing with my feet and shoes and wearing high heels. But going back to your question, there was one time when I was walking down the runway in a Karl Lagerfeld show in these heels that came all the way up to the knee. They had to be cut off with scissors in between clothing changes because there was no time, just bam bam bam all the way up my leg. And my feet were in so much agony in that second! I don’t know what it evoked in me, but when I talk about “eroding my soul,” sometimes I’d wonder: Was the secret I was hiding, about being gay, manifesting itself with the issues I had in my feet? I related the heels with femininity and being straight, but now that I live my life fully I know those things have nothing to do with each other. Now I can own my feet, and own my heels, and own my femininity. But it was in that moment, in that show, that I felt the most pain, and really felt my soul was eroding.
Photo by Jenny Woodman
You were also Latina in a not-so-diverse modeling world. How was that?Fortunately, the fashion world was and still is a very open environment, so I never really felt like a weirdo in the fashion world. It was the opposite, actually — the only world where I was accepted because everyone was accepted. But in New York, I realized the white world was what was in all the magazines, and if there was going to be a minority on the cover it was going to be an African-American, an Asian, or a Latina — the three of us were put into the same pot. And they would usually give it to Naomi [Campbell]. We were definitely way behind other counties in terms of diversity. But there was one time when I was walking on Eighth Avenue [in NYC], and this woman ran up to me out of the blue. She hugged me and then started crying, and I was like, what the heck? She said, “I just have to thank you. You’ve changed my life. Because you have now made me understand it’s okay to be Latin, and to be who we are and not try to look like other people.” And I thought, my God, this is way bigger — it’s not even about accepting myself anymore. I’m a Kabbalist for many years, and Kabbalah teaches you to be a better person, and to understand why you’re going through what you’re going through. So for me, that was a sign from the universe.