AS the only Malaysian chosen to walk for India’s celebrated Lakme Fashion Week, model Vanizha Vasanthanathan is strutting down the runway on cloud nine.
Having missed the Mumbai auditions, the 23-year-old journeyed to Guwahati in the Assam region, where for the first time auditions in the North East of India were held. Vanizha was the only Malaysian who made it to the top six, beating out more than 100 girls but she did not make it into top two, where the winners will have a guaranteed spot on the runway.
Weeks later, she received a surprise in her inbox.
“I received an email informing me I was selected to walk for Lakme Fashion Week.
“I was surprised and speechless because it was one of my dreams,” she told Malay Mail in an exclusive interview.
Decked out in a black tank top, matching black pants with a terracotta longline sleeveless jacket, Vanizha looked every inch a model.
At Lakme Fashion Week, she will be walking alongside the likes of top models such as Archana Akil Kumar and draped in designs by the country’s best.
Vanizha starting making waves in the modelling world when a make-up artist at her collegemate’s fashion show introduced her to a photographer. From there, she went on to do test shoots and soon enough, her photographs became popular on Instagram and Facebook.
She got her big break last year when she was the only girl of Indian ethnicity to walk for the Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week as organisers wanted to introduce fresh faced girls on the runway.
Since then, doors flung open for her and she started booking high profile magazine shoots. More notably was landing a shoot with GLAM for its September issue, the local glossy’s biggest issue, where Vanizha was featured in more than 20 looks.
“It was a new experience for me and really bulked up my portfolio,” she said.
The Kuala Lumpur lass revealed she had always wanted to be a model, since age nine, after watching the first season of America’s Next Top Model.
Its host and creator of the reality TV show, Tyra Banks, left a lasting impression on the young Vanizha.
“I used to think models have to be fair and beautiful but once I saw Tyra on ANTM, I was like ‘Wow, she’s dark skinned and she can be a model’. I thought I should try.”
For her, Banks and Naomi Campbell made her feel that dark skinned girls had a place in fashion.
Between the time Banks and Campbell fiercely stomped their way through race barriers and now, inherent discrimination is still commonly faced by darker skinned models. A few years ago, Victoria’s Secret supermodel Jourdan Dunn spoke out on discrimination she faced in the early days of her career and the scarcity of black models on the runway.
Similarly, the fashion and beauty scene in Asia is not spared from the obsession with fair skin.
“Generally, the industry prefers fair skinned models, it’s an unspoken thing but you can see it happening.
“It’s slowly changing but we have a long way to go.”
Unfortunately, it was not the lanky beauty’s first encounter with discrimination.
“During my school days, my classmates used to call me the Darlie toothpaste black man,” said the former Jalan Imbi Chinese school student.
Vanizha said she was “really offended by the remark back then”.
Another stereotype she wishes to change is the perception of the modelling industry, as it is a career path often met with disapproval from family members.
“Parents these days are more supportive but change also has to come from the industry so that parents are assured that it is a safe career choice,” said the youngest of four.
There are those too, according to Vanizha, who want to be models for the wrong reasons.
“They think modelling is taking pictures and uploading it onto Instagram and getting likes,” said the Multimedia graduate.
“Everyone wants to be a model but they don’t want to be a role model.”
Vanizah said, unlike many Asian parents, she was lucky her parents supported her aspirations from day one.
Her father, Vasanthanathan Nathan, 62, was always the first to buy a magazine if she was featured in it while her mother Sarathambal Maruthan, 58, displayed every magazine in the family’s vegetarian cafe in Jalan Ipoh.
“My mother will show her customers my pictures and share it with her friends,” said Vanizha, who helped cook at the cafe sometimes.
Asked how she stays trim being surrounded by food all the time — ironically the cafe is called Let’s Fat — the full-time model said the key was to skip rice at dinnertime but consumed whatever she liked for breakfast and dinner.
On top of being a food lover, Vanizha is a self-confessed cook.
“My father loves it when I cook. He will have seconds.
“I’m very close to my dad, I’m definitely daddy’s girl. He will never say no to anything and he is there when I need him.”
When she is not modelling or cooking up a storm, Vanizha is also an accomplished Odissi dancer at the Sutra Dance Foundation.
Having danced since she was 16, Vanizha said dancing helped in maintaining a high stamina, good posture and varied expressions.
“Walking in heels requires a lot of stamina and the warm-up exercises definitely helped,” said the dancer who once had to model in eight-inch high heels.
In case you were wondering, she did not fall.
“Even if we fall, we have to know how to continue and keep a straight face.”
Sounds like good advice for life,