Malaysian model and Odissi dancer Vanizha Vasanthanathan is a dazzling sight as she struts down the catwalk or glides across the stage during a performance. But there was a time when she was less than confident about her physical appearance.
“Before I became a model, I got a lot of stick (was criticised) for being too dark, too tall and too thin,” says Vanizha who stands at 181cm barefoot.
The 29-year-old from Kuala Lumpur was even likened to the ‘darlie toothpaste man’ by her classmates when she was in school.
“I was the only Indian in a Chinese primary school and was constantly teased and made fun of for being different. Although the other kids were doing it out of fun and not maliciously, deep down inside, it made me feel even less confident as I was already insecure about my dark complexion,” she recounts.
The youngest of four siblings reveals that she struggled with a low self image for “a good 14 years” and referred to herself as a “pretty average girl-next-door.”
“Nobody knew about the things I was going through as I never revealed it to my family or friends. It was just ‘me against me’ and I had to overcome it all by myself, telling myself it will be alright and I will somehow make it big one day,” she says.
The turning point for Vanizha was when she became a dancer and model. It has changed her life and given her the confidence to stand tall and be who she is today.
“Dance and performance has always played an important role in my life. The concept of being graceful enough to be on stage and being able to showcase something to the world is an unexplainable feeling,” she enthuses.
She started dancing 14 years ago and modelling seven years ago.
“My career changed my life. Being a model has altered people’s perception towards me when it comes to my height and skin colour,” she says.
The daughter of a retired medical assistant and housewife ventured into the world of modelling when she was discovered by a college senior doing her final year studying fashion design.
“She approached me to be one of the models for her presentation and fashion show. It was there that I was spotted by a makeup artist who then passed my contact to a photographer,” says Vanizha.
With the support and encouragement of the photographer and her college lecturer, she decided to try out for KL Fashion Week 2015.
“It was an eye-opening experience for me and I realised that I could pursue this career longterm. Because of the fashion week, I got noticed by several designers, photographers and brands, and was also asked to do some photoshoots and features,” she says.
But Vanizha, who graced the Milan Fashion Week Spring 2022 earlier this year, is quick to add that as a model, she has never faced any sort of prejudice or discrimination.
“The way people look at me is now somewhat different and they accept me for who or how I am, and especially at the Milan Fashion Week,” she says, adding that it was encouraging to see models of different body types, ages, and ethnicities.
Being part of the Milan Fashion Show was an amazing experience, she reveals.
“On one hand, I was rather nervous. But on the other hand, I was proud of myself because I’ve been on the catwalk of one of the world’s biggest fashion events,” she says.
“The whole event was memorable for me, and is the highlight of my modelling career thus far. If someone said to me when I was seven years old, ‘You’ll be walking in the Milan Fashion Week one day’, I would have just laughed it off as a far-fetched idea.
“But after actually doing the show, it’s like my dream came true,” she adds.
Vanizha reveals that one of the challenges she had to overcome was the tendency to compare herself to others and suffer from self-doubt.
“Everyone is beautiful in their own way, so I had to keep my head up and not let it get to me. The competition in modeling is also really high, so I always need to be on my A game and give it my best,” she says.
More than just physical
To Vanizha, beauty is more than physical appearance.
“Inner beauty is what defines a person – the character and the way one carries themselves actually shows how beautiful they are,” she says.
Vanizha’s life motto is to “be the change”.
The foodie who loves to cook something “special” or try new food, reveals that she is most inspired by American celebrity model and producer Tyra Banks.
“I was inspired to get into modelling because of her example. Being a dark-skinned person myself, I looked up to her because she never let that get in her way. She thrived in spite of the stereotypical thinking of what a supermodel should be. Her confidence proves that if you put your mind into something, you can definitely achieve it,” she says.
“Growing up, I didn’t see any models like me featured by major brands on billboards, in magazines, or in TV advertisements. There were times I doubted whether I could really do this, let alone succeed at it.
“But I told myself I don’t just want to be a model, I want to be a role model,” she says.
“I worked hard to achieve my vision and goals, and to be the change.”
Never give up on yourself but always push yourself to do bigger things in life, and eventually you’ll see the success that you’ve been longing for,” she concludes.