“It feels good to be somewhere that’s been around a really long time.”
At the end of Grand Avenue in Williamsburg, there sits a small park that doesn’t greet its visitors with large fountains or anything you’d find in Central Park; its offer is simple: trees and peace. Just beyond the trees are benches, cold from the winter air, that look out over the East River.
People walk in and out, sipping coffee while they take their dogs on morning walks. I sit with Denka Obradovic, the skyline across the water reflecting in her sunglasses.
“It’s just packed with so much history. It feels good to be somewhere that’s been around a really long time,” says Obradovic. She takes in the view before adding with a smile, “Does that make me a romantic? Am I a romantic?”
This park holds a special place in this New Yorker’s heart. She first moved to Williamsburg from Queens with her boyfriend almost two years ago. “This was one of the first places we walked to,” she says.
Obradovic had been living in San Diego when work brought her then-boyfriend to New York nine years ago. She decided to take the risk and move with him. “I wasn’t doing anything in San Diego I couldn’t do in New York,” she says.
Obradovic is a model with the curve division of Wilhelmina Models. Before starting there, she was at a different agency where she remembers meeting with Susan Georget, forerunner of the curve movement. “She looked at me, she threw a contract at me, I signed it, and that was it,” she says.
Being a model wasn’t always Obradovic’s plan. When she was little, she wanted to be a cartoonist or an opera singer, though she never had any real experience singing. Not only have her career aspirations changed since childhood, but her overall persona as well. Having had a difficult childhood, she has grown much and doesn’t think the child she was is representative of the woman she has become.
As a child, she was surrounded by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. “I wish it didn’t happen,” says Obradovic. She notes that, though it was a troubling time, it has made her a stronger person. She finds comfort in writing about her experiences, and since she recalls them with a foggy memory she considers it creative nonfiction. “I started writing a book in college. I thought I was going to be a writer,” she says before adding, “Still can be.”
However, life guided her toward modeling. “I was scouted,” Obradovic says. “Good old fashioned scouting.” Though modeling comes with a certain amount of stress, she is happy with the path she is on. “You’re a freelancer. Nothing is guaranteed,” she says. “I haven’t considered doing anything else. I’m in this for as long as they’ll have me.”
She loves the work she gets to do as a model. “If you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit in, and now here you are, this example of beauty and what beauty can be: that’s pretty nice,” she says with a smile. For Obradovic, the most important thing is feeling good. “I do it for women who don’t feel beautiful. It’s a terrible way to live.”
Obradovic remembers there was a time when she didn’t feel beautiful. She recalls the Pretty Woman quote: “People put you down enough, you start to believe it.” In contrast, social media today can act as a platform for spreading positive messages about beauty, among them, that there is no single type of beauty.
Obradovic is happy with her body, but tries to practice a lot of self-love when that feeling fades. “I just try to be kind to myself when I feel myself getting judge-y about my body or the way I look. I just take a moment, speak to myself, and keep going,” says Obradovic.
Another way she shows love for herself is by making time to be with her self. “I give a lot to people,” she says. “My self-care is my alone time.” In this free time, she gravitates towards reading memoirs because she finds people to be fascinating. “Sometimes we think ‘oh, this is just my life.’ Yeah, and your life is vastly different from mine,” says Obradovic. “It makes for a good read.”
When she has a bit more time, one of her favorite places to get away from everything is the Catskills. “We’re starting to explore little towns up there. New York is so big. You go from this,” she says, looking out at the skyline, “to trees and creeks and nature, and oh, the Hudson River is so beautiful.” Living there full-time isn’t a possibility for her, but she cherishes the moments she gets to spend there.
Obradovic is proud of her decision to move to New York. This risk-taking behavior is something she never wants to grow out of. “I think what scares me the most is being scared,” she says. “I don’t want to be afraid to do something.”
She is a big believer that now is the time to do what you’ve always wanted to do. Waiting is never the answer. “I just feel like anyone can do anything,” she says before adding, “I feel that way about myself.”
Right now, she is happy with her life as she lives it: full of walks to Grand Ferry Park, ferry rides at sunset, and time spent with her boyfriend. “I just feel so full and complete,” says Obradovic. “I made a home here.”