It is unthinkable to get ‘discovered’ while riding your bike in the streets of Amsterdam and end up with a successful modeling career. But this is exactly what happened to the Aruban beauty Ilonka Prawidlo-Toppenberg at the time she was studying in the Netherlands. Ilonka travelled the world as a professional model, something she had never ever imagined growing up in Aruba.
Ilonka Prawidlo-Toppenberg was on Aruba recently to celebrate her parent’s birthday. Yubi Toppenberg celebrated his 80th birthday and Ilonka’s mom, Frieda, celebrated her 75th birthday in March. Ilonka and her sister and their families came to Aruba to celebrate life, their parents, their love and marriage and their health and vitality. Both mom and dad still play tennis and have active lifestyles. I sat down with Ilonka for a conversation and to find out where she is in life right now.
What are your ties with Aruba and why do you keep coming back?
“I was born in Aruba and lived here till I was twelve, then we moved to Holland. My father went to study. My roots are here, my parents live here… so I come back to my island at least twice a year and I feel completely Aruban although I live abroad. It is as if I live between 2 worlds, France and Aruba, and it always takes a couple of days to re-adapt to Paris. Each time I leave I feel like I left a piece of me behind. I recharge my batteries with positive energy when I am here”.
You moved to Paris in the late eighties… (Before that you lived in New York for a while) You still live in Paris, you are married to a French man, Jean Michel Prawidlo and you have three children, Jade, Lanna and Liam.
What is it like to live in different cultures?
It wasn’t easy in the first years in Paris but I have since found my way and I call it home now, even though it’s my second home. The French are more reserved and the French culture is much more individualistic than the Dutch or Aruban culture. It’s hard for me to get used to that even now. As they say, the French complain and criticize a lot. And they are known for always going on strike 😉 But I am Parisian; Aruban and Dutch mixed together which I also passed on to my children.
How do you see Aruba now in 2016?
“I see Aruba completely different compared to let’s say 25 years ago. Aruba has developed so much; you can get and do anything on Aruba nowadays. I think it is great. Also for the people who live here, you can develop and educate yourself in every way. Such abundance of opportunities. Aruba has a lot to offer”.
Should we be careful about something while all these changes are taking place? Well, I think Aruba is becoming more conscience of the challenges with waste management and environmental issues. I hope Aruba will develop more facilities for the elderly and disabled and handicapped population. I am not really up to date with the political developments so I can’t really say much about that”.
Ilonka remained active in modelling till after the birth of her second daughter. she then decided to dedicate herself to raising a family but today has a new profession.
Ilonka, what is Sophrology and why did you choose this profession?
“Sophrology is a method that uses breathing to restore or bring about, harmony between body, mind and spirit. The word Sophrology is based on the Greek words: SOS: harmony, PHREN: consciousness, LOGOS: study of science. It can be described as the study of our consciousness in harmony. It offers visualization exercises, static and dynamic techniques and strives to create an alert mind in a relaxed body. It teaches you to think positively. It is used by all kinds of people to reach balance, also professional athletes. It is also used in hospitals and very helpful for people that are in stressed or experience anxieties. I came in contact with it during a difficult time in my life and was looking for stability. It changed my life and I would like to help other people with Sophrology because I know it is really beneficial. You can really heal yourself by breathing better, anchor in your breath, bring your heart rate down and ease yourself. One will experience more balance and rest. We are too stressed nowadays. We could use more focus”.
What do you plan to do in the future, career wise?
“I educated myself in this work field over the last few years. I will start offering Sophrology this year, I rented a small space in a clinic and we will see where it goes. I also studied EFT, Emotional Freedom Technique. This is a technique with tapping 9 times on energy points; it has the effect that acupuncture has. This also releases stress and I plan to combine the two. I would like to specialize in treating children. To me a stressed child will be a stressed adult. In France the demands on children are high and this brings about stressful situations. Children get performance anxiety, sleeping problems and other anxieties. I am interested in working with children who are victims of bullying, which is a problem in France, especially in schools.
What did you want to be when you were little?
“I wanted to be a doctor. I didn’t do science so I couldn’t go to Med school. So, I let go of this dream”.
You have been a model for many years with a wonderful career. Probably Aruba’s most well-known model… How do you look back on your model career? And what did it teach you?
“I was a model at the perfect time, because a modeling career nowadays is much more difficult. I am really thankful for my career and all the opportunities and all I have learned working all over the world as a model. I see it as a life lesson. I learned so much that you don’t learn at school. I learned from the different cultures I lived in (USA, Italy, Japan, France) I learned to be independent and strong, to be comfortable on your own because it is a bit of a ‘lonely’ profession.”
What about rejections? “It is difficult and hard to handle rejections. You have to learn not to take it personally. It is all about being the right ‘face’ on the right ‘time’ and ‘setting’.
Any advice for young aspiring models?
“Go for it!” Chase your dream. But be realistic. (I gave myself a year at the time) If after a year it doesn’t work out, evaluate and maybe try something else. It was a demanding career but also a very enriching experience in my life. I traveled the world and met a lot of interesting people.
Where are you in your life now?
I am in an energy flow where I want to create a next chapter in my life. The children have grown up and I want to start my Sophrology practice in Paris. I am looking forward to be actively involved in life, in the community, in the work field.
Best childhood memory?
“Sinterklaas celebration” (a typical Dutch tradition). This was such an exciting celebration. My mother would make all these handmade gifts and surprise us. The table would be filled with gifts and surprises.”
You practice African dance. Why African dance? What do you like about it?
“Practicing African dance, which I do with my daughter, is like a “mindful” experience, I go in it with my whole body, it consumes me, I forget about the world and am completely in the experience of the here and now. I cannot think about anything else, it gives me so much energy. I am so happy I discovered African dance”.
How do you feel about food and weight (body size)?
When I was modeling I was very disciplined about my weight because it was my job, but I love and enjoy food and it is very important to me.
How do you feel about the terrorist attack in Paris? Are you scared for your children?
“It was very traumatic. We all knew people who died, so it came very close. The ambiance is still “loaded” in Paris; you can feel the effects of the attacks. There was panic for a long time. People were fearful. I think it’s a problem that needs urgent and close attention. When French citizens turn against their own country, the system isn’t working right. I believe it is a core problem. It is a complicated situation. A week after the attack, we felt like going out again because we believed that we needed to go on with our lives but by being more careful. We don’t want to give in to this fear because that is what they want, to terrorize us. We will go on celebrate life!!”
If you were the interviewer, what would you ask yourself?
“Where will you live in the future?” “I probably won’t stay in Paris. I see myself living somewhere where it’s sunny and warm. I am an island girl after all.”