Vanizha Vasanthanathan tells Nadia Badarudin how she embraced her height and dark features and made good her passion for modelling and the performing arts.
“ARE you Malaysian? A visitor asks catwalk model Vanizha Vasanthanathan at the New Straits Times Press photography studio, where this interview is conducted.
The question came as no surprise as Vanizha – or Vee as she is fondly known among the fashion fraternity – stands slim and slender at 181cm, a height uncommon among most Malaysian females.
Perhaps the guest is puzzled to see the Indian beauty conversing fluently in Mandarin with Cat Yong, the make-up artist.
“I get that all the time because of my features,” says the polite and composed 25-year-old, sporting her latest groovy, curly hairdo.
“When I was a kid, I used to feel down when people talk about my height and my dark skin. At school, I got unnecessary attention because I was way too tall compared to other girls. I felt like a fish out of water.
“But, now, it’s a different story. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t because of the two traits that I used to hate. Modelling and dancing have changed the way I look at myself,” says the former SJK (C) Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur student.
Vanizha is among the nation’s trailblazing young talents who are making their mark in fashion and performing arts.
Born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Vanizha is carving her niche as a full-time model.
Vanizha, who signed up with Art of Pout modelling agency recently, is also a Sutra dancer and known for her talent in the Indian classical dance of Odissi.
In fashion, she started rocking the runway in 2014 at Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week and was the only Indian model at the event.
Her international debut was in India, where she modelled at 2016 Lakme Fashion Week and was the only Malaysian strutting down the runway.
In March, she spread her wings to China as she landed a gig at China Fashion Week and modelled for renowned designers like Eve Cina, Chen Wen and Jiwenbo.
Since then, the world has opened up more doors for her to shine in the industry.
Recently, she did a campaign for Malaysian designer Farah Khan where the latter’s collection of paintings-inspired couture pieces were exhibited at Halcyon Gallery in London.
A stunning snapshot of her donning a dress inspired by Henri Matisse’s art was featured on Vogue.com.
BOOST OF SELF-ESTEEM
Observing Vanizha’s style and confidence in strutting her stuff, one may think she is a natural born talent who has always been eyeing a spot in the fashion limelight.
However, modelling only came into the picture when she turned 20 – after she eventually managed to overcome her low self-esteem.
“I was spotted and hired for a modelling gig when I was doing my final year in multimedia studies at Kuala Lumpur Metropolitan University College. I modelled for a fashion designing student for her final-year project, and that was how my career started,” says Vanizha, the youngest of four children of N. Vasanthanathan and M. Sarathambal.
“I struggled with low self-esteem throughout my school years because of the way I look. I stood out in the crowd because I was that odd, lanky girl.
“I thought I was adopted because my skin is the darkest compared to all my family members. At school, some students used to call me names like ‘Darlie toothpaste’ or ‘coconut tree’.
“I used to cry a lot because of that. It turned me into a quiet and timid person,” admits Vanizha.
Her interest in modelling sparked after she watched the first season of America’s Next Top Model when she was nine years old.
“I was inspired and started to feel good about myself and the way I look after watching that series which feature aspiring models in all shapes and sizes and skin colour. It makes me realise that it’s all right to be different.
“I felt good about myself when I did my first fashion gig in college,” says Vanizha, adding that she looks up to Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell. On the local front, she adores models Kavitha Sidhu, Tanuja Ananthan and Lakshmi Appadorai.
Vanizha started dancing first before she dived into modelling. She signed up to learn Indian classical dance at the Sutra Dance Theatre group at 15. Her first big stage performance as an Odissi dancer was in Ganjam at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur in 2015.
“I fell in love with Indian classical dance, especially Bharatanatyam, after watching performances in temples. My parents tried to get me into sports like basketball due to my height. But dancing has always been my passion. It’s my first love,” she says, adding that with her physique, she was advised by her teacher to switch from Bharatanatyam to Odissi.
Besides boosting her confidence, dancing has helped her in maintaining a high stamina in modelling.
“Walking the runway in heels is not as easy as most people think. Dancing helps me to maintain my stamina, flexibility as well as good posture,” says Vanizha who is set to rock the China Fashion Week again next month.
It is a challenge for the beauty to juggle her time between modelling and dancing. But her passion for both keeps her going.
“I can’t choose between the two because I love dancing as much as I love modelling.
“My passion keeps me motivated to do my best. It’s a matter of getting your priorities right, and making wise choices,” says Vanizha who dreams about catwalking at Fashion Weeks and starting her own modelling agency.
“For instance, I had to make a decision between China Fashion Week and touring India with the dance group. That was a tough one but at that time, I chose to model because it’s important to beef up my portfolio.”
Her advice for aspiring models?
“In modelling, you have to grab whatever opportunities that come your way. Just go for that first test shoot. Don’t feel bad when you don’t make it because good things will come eventually with patience and perseverance. I was rejected many times but I never gave up.
“Most importantly, don’t feel down if you’re different from the rest. Embrace your uniqueness and do what your love.”
OWN THE MOMENT
1. WHAT ARE THE THINGS YOU REGARD AS ‘LIFE-SAVERS’ IN YOUR HANDBAG?
My handphone, hand cream, lip gloss, hair pins and safety pins. The pins always come in handy during a photoshoot.
2. WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT WALKING THE RUNWAY?
The attention makes you feel like you own the moment. You feel like a star and you feel good about yourself.
3. WHAT’S THE SKINCARE PRODUCT THAT YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
Sunscreen. I use it daily and apply it even when I stay indoors.
4. DO YOU LOVE DRESSING UP?
I’m lazy when it comes to dressing up and I admire those people who put in the effort to look good and post snapshots on Instagram. But being a model, I’ve an image to maintain so I do my best to appear presentable at all times.
5. DO YOU FOLLOW A STRICT DIET?
No and I don’t starve to maintain my weight. I eat lots of vegetables and fruits and I try to eat home-cooked meals. I avoid eating rice at night.
6. IF YOU’RE NOT A MODEL/DANCER, WHAT WOULD YOU BE?
I will be a chef. I have a passion for Indian cuisine.
Photos by Mahzir Mat Isa
Bomber jackets by Farah Khan (@farahkhanofficial)
Pantsuit and dress by Syomirizwa Gupta (@syomirizwagupta)
Make-up by Cat Yong (@catyongmeow) and NARS (@narsissist)
Hair by Replacement Boutique Salon (@replacementboutiquesalon)