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Gisele Bundchen launches shantytown model search

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen on Tuesday launched a contest to discover new talent in Brazil's shantytowns, promising to reward the winner with a modeling contract.

“I feel privileged to be the sponsor of this project,” Bundchen said, recalling that she had been rejected by 42 agents in London at the start of her career, when she was only 17.

“I was finally taken on the 43rd try,” said the now 34-year-old, on hand for the contest launch with 30 women aged 18 to 22 vying for fame and fortune.

The contest is organized by the Central Union of Slums (CUFA) and a beauty products maker and aims “to boost slum dweller's self-esteem.”

“You have to know your good side for photos ... to feel comfortable in your own skin to be beautiful and to have a lot of perseverance,” she told contestants.

In a second phase of the challenge, a jury will choose one model from each of Brazil's 27 states. The final will be held in Rio in August or September.

“Even if she is white, Bundchen's being here is important because she is from Brazil where there is great racial diversity and she is renowned worldwide,” contestant Rafaella Lemes, 19, from Rocinha shantytown, told AFP.

Annual summer fashion shows in Rio that opened on May 22 with bikini collections celebrating beach fun were marred this year by protests against the under-representation of black models on the catwalks.

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