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Jaslene Gonzalez on being a mentor both at home and in the modeling world

Jaslene Gonzalez with her siblings (from left): Javier Gonzalez Amaris Sanchez Steven Sanchez.

Jaslene Gonzalez with her siblings (from left): Javier Gonzalez, Amaris Sanchez and Steven Sanchez.

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Updated: October 18, 2013 2:25PM

Recently I’ve been asked what I think of the new season of “America’s Next Top Model.” In my opinion, this season’s theme is “understanding your competition.”

This cycle, the girls are competing with guys for the first time. So far, the men have been in for some challenging — and very funny — modeling challenges, like dressing up as women and sporting fake press-on nails. But I’m guessing you already know whose team I’m on: the girls. And up until her elimination in early September, I was especially rooting for Kanani Andaluz, because earlier this summer, she taught me something really important about myself.

In July, I was invited by “America’s Next Top Model” to the Cycle 20/20 anniversary party in Los Angeles. I thought it would be a great opportunity to catch up with everyone from “ANTM” — and to meet the guys! But I was also a little bit nervous. I won “ANTM” 12 cycles ago, so I was worried that I’d be forgotten.

Though I’ve had a great career since the show, I wasn’t sure how the new models would respond to me, or if they’d even remember me at all. Basically, I had no idea what my role was.

But then I met Kanani. She walked up and introduced herself, and immediately made me feel comfortable, telling me that she was from the same Chicago neighborhood as me and that we’d actually once met at the Puerto Rican Parade.

She told me that she looked up to me, and that I’d inspired her to model. At that moment, I recognized that my role in the “ANTM” process had changed. Rather than worrying about fitting in or competing with the new models, I could be more of a role model to them. In the vain world of modeling, I’m always looking for a way to make a meaningful impact, and Kanani helped me realize how I could do so.

This is something that’s important to me at home, as well — I feel strongly about acting as a role model to my younger siblings. There’s a quote that I’ve always loved: “If I’m strong with my family, I’m strong in the world; if I’m weak with my family, I’m weak in the world.” Staying close with my siblings has inspired me to make positive, healthy decisions throughout my life. In return, I want to show them — through my actions and words — that no matter how hard life’s challenges may be, we should always try and put forth our best work. (I’m also the annoying big sister who’s always reminding them to have tangible, real-life experiences, rather than playing on their iPhones.)

In a way, I consider Kanani to be a little sister to me now, too. As she just got voted off the show, I want to send her a message: Don’t give up, and I’m very proud of you. I have a lot of confidence in you, and think you can make it very far.

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