beauty

'Dark everything... it's too much.' For years I was told I was 'too exotic' to model in Australia.

When I was 25, I was ghosted by the first agency to ever contact me. 

Today, I am Miss Universe Australia 2020, represented by a leading inclusive Australian agency and the Ambassador for their national diversity Unsigned Model Search.

We are living in an exciting time.

Side note: How to improve your daughter's body image. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia.

Within the Australian market, we are seeing strides made toward redefining outdated beauty standards – and for me personally, it has been my mission to challenge Anglo-Celtic perceptions of our national identity. 

As the daughter of Indian immigrants, I’m abundant in melanin, but scarce when it comes to ‘blue eyes, blonde hair and lightly bronzed skin.’ 

This is a problem when that is the blueprint for beauty, success and what a 'true Aussie' looks like.

For people of colour, searching for yourself in fashion, television, films and beauty can often feel like a futile endeavour as we are still not quite where we need to be when it comes to adequate representation of our rich diversity.

This has a direct implication for how people who don’t fit the mould are perceived, but importantly, how they perceive themselves.

At 15, I remember pulling a Kylie Jenner and making a 'model book' with photos I had snapped on webcam.

I donned heavy kohl, and my dark eyes and hair contrasted distinctly with my brown skin – and proudly, my parents told me that I was beautiful and would make a wonderful Australian model. 

However, these sentiments were not reflected in the experiences I had in my early days.

The first agency to initiate contact with me at 25 ghosted me after I told them that I hoped to use any visibility to talk about my story, diversity and inclusivity. 

I would’ve been one brown face amidst a sea of white on their talent board, and only in hindsight as I peruse their fair-skinned feed, do I realise that I was a box to tick.

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And when I wanted to accurately represent my story and that of many under-represented people like me, they didn’t like me trying to break out of the checkbox.

So when I was asked to model in my very first shoot with a jewellery brand, I organised it solo. 

I googled how to negotiate rates, drafted up a rate card (that was vastly under-priced) and was flown to Sydney for the shoot. 

I was told that the shoot was with a renowned photographer who had worked with famous Australian talent and publications, and I was excited. 

However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t enough on camera.

And I was right. 

The photographer frustratingly remarked that the photos weren’t right, and all he was seeing was 'dark everything: dark hair, dark eyes, dark eyebrows,' and it was 'too much'.

In that moment I knew I wasn't enough for him. 

'Dark everything' was all that I had, but 'light everything' was what he was searching for.

Image: Supplied.

I internalised his frustration and initially blindly accepted that maybe I was too exotic to model in this country. My 'dark everything' made me hard to place in the Australian market, but it was my fault because I was an 'other'.

However, even back then, after years of being told I didn’t fit the mould, I didn’t let it completely extinguish my fire, and I took to social media. 

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I started creating beauty content for people of colour, and shortly after, was noticed by my agency. 

When BELLA Management approached me, I still remember stepping out of my corporate office to take the call in the neighbouring café, my hands shaking as I told my now manager that if I was to sign with them, I didn’t want to be silenced when telling my story.

When she said she wanted to sign me because of the story I wanted to tell, it was the start of a catalytic journey. 

My career has since evolved after becoming Miss Universe Australia, and using the platform to revolutionise how we think about the Australian national identity and champion people who once felt like they don’t belong.

After years of subduing myself because of exclusive ideas of what beauty and Australian looks like, I got tired of it. And I knew that in the future, the pain of regret would’ve outweighed the fear of risks – and I didn’t stay silent. 

I have since become an ambassador and modelled for industry leading brands and the best part? They don’t just book me for how I look. They book me because of my voice.

It is a hard thing to have faith in yourself when you feel like the world around you doesn’t, but I can confidently say that in doing so, I’ve changed the game.

And all it has done has add fuel to that once flickering flame to evolve into a roaring fire. 

A fire committed to revolutionising these industries, to amplify other voices and change what 'Australia' and 'beauty' mean to us. 

And this is why I am an ambassador for the BELLA Management Unsigned Model Search. 

It is the time for Australians who haven’t seen themselves in the modelling industry to be the representation they needed. 

They might have once felt like they were on the fringes because of cultural or linguistic reasons, their sexuality, physical ability, gender identity, age or other markers of their social identity – but I’m championing this search because these are the things we are embracing about them.

Because they are vital parts of our true national identity. 

So, being ghosted all those years ago wasn’t too bad after all. Because I believed that appreciating beauty is synonymous with appreciating differences, and that got me here.

From being told that my face was 'too exotic' to place, to becoming the face,' change is on the horizon and I can’t wait.

Enter the Bella Unsigned Model Search here. Registrations close October 31.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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