Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say. Indeed, each and every person exhibits and values beauty in their own unique way. However, the advertising and fashion industries and the media sure know how to make us feel about it. And recently, the paradigm is changing. About beauty but also diversity, inclusivity and tokenism, we speak with model Naomi Janumala, signed to Models 1, who got her big break as the face of Rihanna’s Fenty line campaign. Coming from an Indian background, the nineteen-year-old model shares her views on discrimination, hard work, the lights and shadows of modelling, beauty standards, and the future.
Raised in Mumbai to a family of famous personalities, you were scouted through Instagram and are currently fronting global campaigns and magazine covers. But how did it all start? Was being a model something you ever thought of in a serious way?
Never! Until I was fifteen, I never even gave modelling a thought. It was only when I started growing taller and my hair texture became so big and different that people kept telling me to give it a try. And I was like, me? Lol, no way! But then, I don’t even know when, I started shooting self-portraits and it became a thing. And Gunita from Anima Creatives saw my Instagram account and approached me. That’s how it all began.
You are currently living every girl's dream by working with Rihanna and being the face of her Fenty Beauty campaign. Having a brown-skinned girl represent such a popular brand is not the most common thing, even nowadays, when beauty standards seem to expand and be more inclusive. Do you think that diversity is becoming more popular and will soon be the norm?
Diversity is becoming popular, yes, but shooting for Fenty by Rihanna, which is all about diversity inside out, is a different thing. She’s one of the few who really understands diversity and knows how to implement it. People still need to pull their socks up, work and talk about diversity, not because everyone is doing it to do it, but because you know what it means and how it can affect so many people of colour.
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Because of the pressure brought on by the public, companies have been starting to use a lot more people who are culturally diverse to model their products. Do you think that the current movement to integrate more diverse models is causing them to be fetishized?
Not really. I mean, it’s good that these brands and companies are working with models with different ethnicities and cultures, but do they mean it? Do they really appreciate a dark woman? A plus size figure? Or are they doing it because that’s what people want and that’s how they could get ‘publicity’ on social media? Get your diversity on if you mean it, otherwise, don't do it at all.
On your personal experience, have you ever felt ‘tokenized’? Meaning, if you’ve been chosen not because of yourself but because you were the ‘element of diversity’? Or do you know of any situations like that?
Personally, I have never experienced anything like that. I feel like everyone I have worked with to date has genuinely appreciated me. Even though I'm a hundred per cent sure that it definitely happens to other models.
What are some of your strengths and weaknesses as a model?
Modelling requires a lot of patience and you need to have thick skin in this industry. Luckily, I do have a lot of patience and I've gotten used to facing rejections. I can deal with my problems without involving anyone. My weakness would be trusting people too fast, to be honest. You really can’t trust everyone you work with, I know that for a fact. I tend to break away really easily. I’m working on it though!
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For someone so young, you seem to have already found your passion and are becoming very successful in your career field. Are you currently in school while working? What are your plans as far as your academics go?
Yes, I’m really happy with life right now, personally and career-wise. I took a break from studying the same year I got signed with Anima Creatives. My dad still asks me about studies, but I’m like, eh, I’ll see… I hate studying, I really can’t see myself with a book or giving exams anymore. I don't have it in me, which is ok because I know I’m not the only one – plus, travelling every one to two months to a whole different country and then settling in… Do you really think I'm gonna sit down and study? Nooope, that ship has sailed. Sorry, dad.
A source stated: “Naomi has Bollywood ties too, she is the niece of famous Hindi film actor Johnny Lever. Naomi’s father Jimmy Moses is a comedian who we have also seen on the big screen in the movie Soorma.” Do you think your family members' fame has helped you move up so quickly in your career? How has your family shown their support with your modelling?
My family’s fame hasn’t helped me grow in modelling. They belong to the Bollywood side of the industry, which has no hand in the modelling industry. It’s all the hard work from myself, my agencies, my managers, the people I work with, etc. My family has been so supportive in the past three years. I don't know if I'd be able to do this if I had no support from them. They’ve definitely pushed me to be a better person and how to carry myself in this field because they’ve been there, travelled the world, met different people; they know how it works, so they’ve talked me through the ups and downs, pros and cons. I’m pretty prepped like that.
If you weren’t a model, what would have been your profession of choice?
Many! A photographer, a dancer, an interior designer, an actress…
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Recently, Diet Prada has published some very alarming and shocking information about predator photographers and how they abused aspiring models. Have you ever witnessed or experienced sexism? Have you ever felt that being a woman would put you at risk? What do you think could be done to change that?
I read about that. I have never experienced anything like that, but all I can say is: be smart and play safe. Obviously, when someone is starting modelling on his/her own without any background, different people will suggest different things and they’ll listen because they want to do everything in their power to make it work. But think before doing things. Think before taking up a particular shoot. Speak up if things don’t sound right. Take action if you sense that something’s fishy. Many models tend to keep quiet because they don’t want to cause any trouble when starting a career. There are so many models who have had good and bad experiences that you can reach on social media. Like me, there’ll be hundreds of models that’ll be happy to help aspiring models and try to guide them from our experiences. Speak up, be smart and play safe.
There has always been a lot of controversy surrounding the size/weight of models and even the food they consume/diets they use to maintain a slim figure. Tell us more about your routines to stay healthy and in shape – from exercise to food, daily rituals, etc.
Let me be honest with you: in my whole life, I have been on two diets only. I don't compromise on food, but what I eat burns away with the amount of physical activities I do every day – dance classes, gym three times a day, dancing at home, walking instead of using public transport. It’s a balance for me. I've read crazy things about what people think models eat or do to keep a slim figure, but honestly, I have never seen or heard anything.
Any guilty pleasures you can confess?
God damn, I’m on Instagram six to eight hours a day. Trust me, I’m not proud of it…
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Even though your career is just beginning, do you have any goals that you want to pursue in the future? Do you feel pressured to achieve things that others may not even dream of?
There are definitely some brands that I would love to work with down the line, but no achievements as such, I go with the flow. There is a slight pressure, but it’s to myself by myself. I love proving myself, so I definitely want to do better things and do better jobs topping the other, and if the flow stops, that’ll be stressful for me. Even though I know it looks completely fine and it’ll get back on track, but I'll keep fighting myself for good and push myself to do better. 
Any advice you could give to aspiring models about how to get started or anything that can help them in this career?
Get. An. Agency! It’s the best thing you could do to start off with. If you’re clueless about how to start, read about it, reach out to models on social media, or reach out to me! Know and understand that it’s not easy, it takes a lot of patience to get moving. Not everyone you’re gonna be working with is going to be good. You’re going to face rejection. Snap your own pictures at home, know your angles, wear your heels, walk around the house and watch models work – Gisele, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Coco Rocha, Karlie Kloss, Cindy Crawford, and so many more. You got this!
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