SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Singapore-based photographer Raiyne Kim found herself embroiled in controversy last weekend when what was supposed to be a regular fashion photo shoot spiralled into a social media disaster.
The South Korea-born Australian, who is in her 40s and has 12 years of experience in her line of work, tells The Straits Times that she was 15 minutes into the Oct 5 session when her model, Singapore-based British influencer Brie Benfell, stormed out in tears.
Several hours later, Kim saw that Benfell, 34, had posted a series of stories about her on TikTok and Instagram.
In Benfell’s posts, which have since gone viral, she alleged that Kim had fat-shamed her by pointing out the size of her post-partum tummy.
Benfell, who moved to Singapore seven years ago with her husband, had given birth to her second child about three months ago.
However, Kim says it was not her intention to put Benfell down.
“Right from the start, she was saying things like, ‘Let me know where I need to tuck’ and ‘my arms look fat’. My exact words were ‘Don’t worry, you look beautiful, your arm is fine. You gave birth (a few) months ago so you just have a little baby belly, that’s all.’
“I said many positive things before that to comfort and reassure her, but somehow she just heard the word ‘baby belly’ and went berserk.”
Kim, who has no children, claims she apologised several times to Benfell the moment she realised something was wrong, but that Benfell refused to acknowledge it or even look at her.
“We’ve worked together before, and our professional relationship has always been friendly and courteous,” she says.
Benfell tells ST in a separate interview that she did not hear the apologies as she had already walked away.
“I was already very emotional and had lost all confidence to do the shoot. I am aware that in my profession as a model, critique is often part and parcel of work. But there is a difference between constructive criticism and a personal attack,” she says, adding that this was the first time she had walked out of a shoot after more than a decade of modelling in Asia.
It was then that Benfell decided to relate her experience on TikTok and Instagram, without mentioning Kim’s name.
She says she has since accepted Kim’s apology in a private message, and received messages of solidarity and support from hundreds of followers in return.
On the other hand, Kim says she woke up to more than a dozen hate e-mail and online messages the next day as a result of Benfell’s posts.
“I tried to explain to her that it was a cultural misunderstanding,” the photographer says. “I’m Korean and I had no idea that ‘baby belly’ was such a horrible word. It is perfectly acceptable in Korea to comment on other people’s appearance and say that they’ve lost or gained weight when you haven’t seen them in a while.”
But Benfell feels people should be more sensitive with their words, especially when it comes to new mothers.
“We are not the sum of our body parts, and often, women who have just given birth are struggling with so many things. The Internet and social media have also given rise to the unrealistic expectation that all women should snap back and have a supermodel body immediately after birth.
“It is medically impossible for most humans to house a baby for nine months and look runway-ready without the help of a team of nannies, nutritionists, personal trainers,” she says, adding that everyone’s journey is different.
Kim says the incident took a toll on her and affected her sleep and well-being, but both parties are ready to move on and leave this episode behind them.
Benfell also apologises for the way the situation panned out.
“The brand owner witnessed what happened and called me for a reshoot, and is using another photographer. However, I would like to say sorry to them for any inconvenience caused. And I’m sorry the situation has escalated, especially if it has any negative impact on the brand. It was definitely an emotional reaction and I own up to that,” she says.