I could not wait until it struck one! Every day there would always be that battle going on in my head for moments. It was a choice between sitting in the sixth form common room glaring in admiration at the popular boys and girls, or it was hanging out with the same two art students in the Art room over at the Design & Technology block. Today was not any ordinary day. It was four months into the New Year. Every four months we would run down to the newsagents during our lunch break with our packed lunch in our rucksacks. The new issue of Asiana magazine would be out. It was like the Asian version of Vogue, only cheesier. Thick, smooth, shiny and glossy was 'the' magazine glowing on the third row shelf at the local newsagent. The moment we set eyes on that magazine we would stare at the front page for a whole minute and examine every inch of the page. Every page was like a dream. Slender women with such elegant posture. Did they look like this all the time? Did they actually exist? Flicking further in we went straight to the fashion and beauty section. It was pretty corny, but we loved looking at the colours, angles, lighting, backgrounds and locations of the shoots - it was fascinating! We were getting ready to get booted out any minute now. After three minutes of flicking, Mr. Shah came over to us like he usually does.
“Oi! Does this bloody look like Kenton library to you!? It’s a bloody confectionery store, now get out unless you’re going to buy it!” said Mr. Shah. Inevitably Mrs Shah didn’t say anything; she remained silent behind the counter. Come to think of it, I never heard her say a word in all my time visiting their shop!
It was like our saviour. All of a sudden we had come out of the doom and gloom and transformed into new kids after three minutes of Asiana. We ran back to the Art room and tried to figure out whether we would be able to recreate such heavenly shoots! But it was no use...we just did not have the equipment nor the courage to recreate such divinity. It was official - we were the most hopeless losers alive.
So back to reality, I had to go to pick up a CD from my friend Leanna’s house. She told me to pop around after school to collect it. Oh no, it was Rakesh and Bhavesh with their group near the school entrance. I wished so hard that they would not notice me - why could God not make me invisible at times like this.
“Oh look who’s rushing home - Godzilla the hairy beast!” they shouted.
The whole crowd roared in laughter. “Look, how about I bring my dad’s Gillette Mac 3 in and we carve those eyebrows of yours? I’m sure he won’t mind”.
The laughter grew loader and uglier. I wanted to die! I tried to walk through the staggered crowd which then drew closer together. They knew perfectly well that I wanted to get past. It was like a helpless fly struggling to set free from a spider’s web. Suddenly, my prayer was answered. I heard one of the guys in the crowd discretely saying, “Katrina’s coming, quick get the mints in!”
Finally, they did not notice me anymore. During high school and sixth form, that was almost the same drill I would go through with those boys if not others....it was humiliating.
Sweat dripping down my back, I finally arrived at Leanna’s house. She only lived eight minutes away from the school but it ended up taking me double the time with those swines at the entrance. I went in and her whole family were sitting around the dining table drinking tea. My face turned red.
“Hello, Mr. & Mrs Fiole, I’m so sorry to have disturbed you,” I said. Leanna’s three younger sisters politely greeted me. They were the kindest and well mannered family I had met. They offered me tea and biscuits but I kindly declined and told them I had to be on my way. Truth was I just wanted to get home, kick my shoes off, put my CD on and get lost in the moment. I collected the music CD and approached the front door, when suddenly the door bell rang. It was Leanna’s Aunt Shelly. She was tall, with a firm physic and had black thick hair. I said hello and she greeted me back with a long sharp stare. I could not quite tell why she stared at me for so long. It was as if she was studying my body posture from top to bottom. Leanna interrupted her aunt’s rude glare and introduced me to her. At this point I just desperately wanted to leave and go home! I think even Leanna noticed my anticipation and quickly said goodbye.
Leanna had always sat beside me in tutorial class. We were best friends throughout sixth form. She was in class before me as usual. She was so excited to see me. What I loved about her the most was her enthusiasm first thing in the morning. But today, she seemed ecstatic. I greeted her and asked her how she was. She completely ignored what I asked her and squealed like a seven year old child, “Remember my Aunt Shelly you met at my house yesterday?”
“How I could I possibly forget. Yeah, what about her?” I said.
“Well, she owns a hairdressing salon called the ‘Crown Academy’ and she has just recently opened one of her academies in Paris. She launched the academy with a stunning catwalk show,” Leanna says.
“Yeah, so?” I replied.
“So, she's launching her second academy in London and wants to use you as one of her models!” she exclaimed.
Was this some kind of a sick joke? Was she saying this out of spite? How could my one true best friend play hostile jokes like this? She knew how conscious I was about what I looked like. Not to mention the boys and girls constantly taking the mick out of me all throughout high school and now sixth form! I thought I could confide in her about anything. Yet today she pulled a nasty stunt like this?
She went on to convince me that it was not a joke and that her aunt thought I had a good posture and distinct features. How could that possibly be when the whole world thought I was damn right ugly? It took her a few days to persuade me - I eventually gave in. I went to rehearsals. I was the only Asian girl there. All the other models were black Caribbean. All twelve of the girls were 5ft 9" and above, with curvaceous bodies and molten brown skin. On the side of the hall there was me, a skinny, 5ft 4" seventeen year old Indian girl. So what part will I play here? - Probably the music girl!
I had never walked in three inch high pointy shoes let alone do a catwalk in them! My feet and back were aching after each rehearsal. It was like being a part of the Army. I soldiered it out.
Finally, it was the day of the show. We had one performance which was scheduled for 8pm and apparently the local newspaper tabloids were going to be there along with Kelly Holmes, a UK Olympic gold medallist who was the Host of the show.
But it was all going wrong! My hair looked a mess and my makeup was catastrophic. I looked like a white clown with red lipstick and fat black eyebrows. I could not help but scrub the makeup off when I ran into the toilets. My teeth chattered so hard my jaw ached. I was so upset, I did not want to do this. The whole thing was ridiculous. Why did Leanna convince me into it! The audience will heckle me off the ramp if I went out looking like this. The makeup artist was a white, feminine male with curly ginger hair. His name was Terry, but everyone called him Cherry. Apparently he got really offended at me wiping his makeup off, so he went to report it to Leanna’s Aunt Shelly. Shelly was quite a strong looking woman, with a firm physique and character. She looked at me as if a storm just hit the sky - all that lacked now was the sound of thunder. I was terrified of her. I have gone and done it now! Strangely enough she did not seem as angry as she looked. In fact she was calm, like a flowing river. I managed to tell her I did not want to do this show and that I was not cut out to be in a fashion show. I hardly looked the part! I went on to tell her how stupid I looked and how the other models were laughing at me backstage. She calmed me down and helped me bring my tears to a stop. She said that she has a friend who will be working at her London based academy. Hair styling was his forte but occasionally he did make up for women.
His name was Jibraan. He was also Asian and happened to be coming to the show to help with the dress fitting that evening. So Shelly said she would get him to do my make up instead of Terry the Cherry. As promised, Jibraan did my makeup. He was a nice guy and very up front. He kept looking at my eyebrows and told me he had to trim the ‘thing’ down.
This was the first time that I had them threaded - it hurt and I wished he had never touched them.
“You know Jaya - right now you have teenage acne which clutters your face. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean you’re ugly or anything. I mean, I think you have nice eyes and a unique bone structure. Give it a year, your acne will calm down. Don’t look so worried, I’m sure by then you’ll impress someone”.
I ignored every word he had just said and thought he perhaps should go see a therapist.
The show had already started and I was made the show stopper - this is apparently meant to mean the most striking and impressive model, and the one whom brings the show to a gasping stand still at the beginning/end of a show. Clearly, it was the ugliest in this case.
The show went on and it was my turn. I walked out onto the ramp. My hands were sweating, legs turned to jelly and stomach churning. I wanted to drown myself! Why did I agree to do this? I was on the verge of collapsing on the ramp.
I managed to focus myself on Leanna who was sitting with her family in the front row seats of the audience. It was my cue...I walked on. The reaction of the crowd was phenomenal, they went wild. It was a crazy success! Despite having a great reaction, I vowed to myself at the end of the ramp that I will never go through this again.
A year later, I found myself at an Asian Mela at Wembley Exhibition Hall with a friend. You would never guess who I bumped into! It was like fate kept its promise. It was Jibraan. He was impressed with how I looked and wanted me to be one of his models. He handed me his card and had booked me for a photo shoot at his studios for the next day. Jibraan had stopped working for Shelly and started his own business as a hair and makeup artist.
The next day I attended the shoot. It was such a weird yet wonderful experience. I felt pampered with my hair and makeup being professionally done. The photographer was my friend Kay. It was a great shoot and Jibraan decided to use me as the face of his Beauty Campaign. He then dropped the bomb on me, by saying that it would be advertised. A full page at the back of Asiana magazine!
You do not want to know my reaction. At this point I did not know what was going on. I was shocked; I could not fathom what he said was actually happening, until I saw it with my own eyes.
A month later, I was holding the new issue of Asiana magazine. I turned to the back page and there I was staring back at myself. For a split second a ray of joy shone over me, yet simultaneously my heart sank. I remembered back to when I was at Sixth Form. I used be in awe of the beautiful women in the magazine. I was so dejected throughout my past for being ugly, that today I felt like I did not have a right or feel worthy of being in this magazine. I was caught in an emotional war between the past and the presence. I needed to release myself from this cumbersome.
I began getting more and more work which was advertised in almost every Asiana magazine within the advertisement section at the back of the magazine.
One Saturday after a shoot, I got home at around 7.30pm. My parents had just finished cleaning up after dinner and had sat down in the lounge as I walked in. I greeted them both. After I had indulged in a nice home cooked Gujarati meal, my mum had come into the kitchen to talk to me. She noticed that I have had quite a bit of modelling jobs lately and wanted to talk to me about it.
“How did the shoot go today?” she asked.
“It was good. Really tiring.” I replied.
“Your Dad was asking me where you were when he got back from work. I didn’t know what to tell him.” she said.
“Oh. Didn’t you just tell him that I went for a shoot?”
“How could I?" She paused. "You remember when you were picking your subjects for your GCSE’s and you wanted to study Drama. He didn’t think there was anything wrong with acting but he didn’t think that one could make a consistent living out of it. But he told you to do as you wished. Don’t you think he’ll say the same thing when you tell him that you’re pursuing modelling?”
“Mum, modelling is different. Anyway, I’m not doing this as a career. I’m at university doing my Fashion degree as well - it’s not like I’m not leaving my options open.”
“Well I think you should tell that to your Dad”.
“But Mum, I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m not losing my dignity by being the face of someone’s company or modelling a couple of sarees for a few fashion houses! We all watch TV, we all read magazines and we all enjoy looking at nice dresses, don’t we? So why would dad be offended by that?”
“Jay, I’m not saying that you can’t model. All I’m saying is that you ought to inform your dad of what you are doing and where you are going. It’s not my position to lie to him or make excuses for you when you’ve gone out on a shoot. Just tell him, he’d appreciate you telling him”.
“Fine, I will”.
“Good, that’s all I wanted you to do”.
In the end, I did not actually tell my Dad. I was too scared. I gave off this bravado to my mum that day, but never verbally told him. My father is not a man to be feared; he is the kindest hearted man I know. The only thing I wanted to avoid was his reaction. It could have been a good reaction or a bad one, either way I did not want to face it. I did not exactly lie to him about anything, I just told him in a different way. I remember my first shoot that was in the magazine. Before he sat down for dinner at the dining table, I opened the magazine up to my page and left it on the table where Dad sits. I legged it upstairs and sat on top of the stair case straining my ears hoping to hear some sort of a reaction when he sat down. All I heard were two muffled voices; I could not quite make out what they were talking about. Mum and Dad finished having dinner. I went back into the dining room and the magazine was closed and put to a side.
Through time, I think my father had come to terms with my profession as a model, but was far from fully embracing it. He never confirmed his acceptance in person and neither did I confirm my profession in person. Amongst us, the silence lurked between the walls of our home.
As time passed by, I found that my modelling career had become pretty serious. I applied to become a model for Asiana magazine. I bombarded the chief editor with my emails and pictures every so often. I was constantly calling and emailing for a period of eight months, all to NO result! I could not ask anyone for help, I had no contacts within the industry. I had no one to rely on but myself.
I had almost lost hope, when out of the blue, I was sent a letter through the post from Asiana asking me to attend an interview stage. I attended and through perseverance, I was invited back for a second interview.
Finally a few months later I received an email saying that I had passed the interview stage and had been accepted as an Asiana House model. I had to sign and return a contract of agreement. I was over the moon. However, three months down the line I was concerned as I had not heard from them in regards to any work. I called the office and asked for the editor. They told me that she no longer worked there and that I was no longer found on their system as a model. This just did not add up. I disputed it of course as I had signed contracts and had worked really hard to pass their long interview process.
Subsequently, they did not succumb. Apparently, if I wanted to be on their books again, I would need to pass two audition stages. Then upon successful completion of the auditions I would need to pass a further two interviews, which then goes through for deliberation. Only then I may determine a contract with Asiana. It sounded like some sort of a military course. I surrendered! I could not go through all that again. It took me almost one whole year of perseverance and hard work just to get a contract signed with them. Was this really the end of my career?
A few years later, I had completed my Fashion degree. I moved away from fashion and into the real estate sector - something my father and brother had given me an insight into. I worked really hard and started earning good money. I had worked my way up to managerial level. By then I was managing two different branches. Throughout those few years I continued finding my own work for modelling whilst working full time within the real estate sector. The hours were getting longer at the office and the shoots kept coming. It was hard juggling the two. I started landing big commercial modelling jobs for companies such as Victoria Beckham clothing range, Jasper Conran, Merrill Lynch Bank, Swarovski, an Asian music video, TV commercials and a few American fashion companies. I even managed to join a few modelling agencies and got some work through them.
Every time I walked into any newsagent, I would purposely avoid acknowledgement of the Asiana magazine on the shelf. But this time it was different, I was drawn closer. I saw a girl that I knew who was on the cover of the magazine. In fact, I had done a music video with her not so long ago for H Dhami, namely Sadke Java, an up and coming Asian singer. Suddenly I felt like I was swallowed into a black hole and spat back out as I remembered how Asiana had discarded me. Why could it not be me on the cover? I have worked so hard. Fury, anger and frustration - they all churned at the pit of my gut. I managed to turn that burning flame of fury within into a ball of passion and desire. I became adamant that despite being left behind by Asiana, I would ignite my own fire within and drive my career further without them.
One afternoon I arrived home from the office. I was on the phone to a friend and checking my emails at the same time. A particular email stood out. It was from Asian Woman Magazine. Asian Woman Magazine? They were the rivalry magazine of Asiana. The email read that they had seen my portfolio on a model agency online, and that they were extremely impressed by my work. They wanted to meet me.
Thereafter, I went to see them in Chessington. No, not the theme park! The town Chessington. It was pretty amazing. The editor, Salma, had welcomed me in as if I was Shahrukh Khan or someone! OK, maybe not to that extent, but she sure made me feel special. They had asked me to bring a portfolio of my work. This usually consists of many of your great shots which are put in an A5 leather folder to present at interviews. The exterior of the head office looked like it was an industrial warehouse. However the interior was rather plush. In fact, it reminded me of something out of a James Bond movie. To enter any door, Salma would need to get her thumb scanned on this strange machine. I felt like I was definitely Miss Bond!
We sat down and spoke about many things such as hobbies, likes and dislikes, interests and so on. Salma did not want to see my portfolio.
This was not good. Instead she brought out her own version of an A5 folder which to my surprise contained all of my up-to-date modelling work. Shocking! She had done a lot of research on me. Salma was really impressed with me and my work. By the end of the meeting, she had offered me an exclusive contract with Asian Woman and Asian Bride Magazine.
Three weeks later, I received a call from the magazine. It was Salma, she asked me if I was available to shoot for the Asian Bride Magazine. We agreed a date, time and a location for the shoot. The thing that surprised me was that the editor Salma had assigned one of my friends from high school to be the photographer at the shoot. We worked well together, and the shoot went according to plan. Salma flicked through the images on her camera and was not really happy with the result. She said she would like to re-do the entire shoot with a new model. Considering it was my first shoot with the magazine I thought I had done exceptionally well. I was really cut up with the way she responded to the images!
It was freezing outside and slightly drizzling with rain. I was not in the mood to even take a second glance out of the window. I had called the office to call in sick. In my room, down with a flu, I lay in my bed the day after Diwali. My phone vibrated on my bedside table, I picked it up and looked at the screen. It was a picture message. I opened the image - it took a few seconds to upload. I stared at the image for a moment. This does not make any sense, I do not understand. How could this be? It was a poster, of my face...on the cover of Asian Bride Magazine! What is going on?
I immediately called my aunt Jas who sent me the image. She was screaming down the phone. Jas said she was on Ealing Road going into a restaurant called Maru’s Bhajia House and she saw a poster of me on their window. My heart pounded against the wall of my chest. Is this actually happening? It took me a few moments to absorb what just happend. My sister Anj thought I was nuts when I went running around the house screaming.
I called my friend, and told him to meet me at Kingsbury Station. We went to the newsagent right next door to the station. It was true. My hard work finally paid off. I saw a stack of Asian Bride magazines with me on the front cover. I flicked inside and I had a four page beauty spread. We drove down Ealing Road to pick up some Mithai for my family and on almost every shop window my face was on it. Big boards, posters, magazines, leaflets, they were everywhere. It was overwhelming, I could not believe my eyes.
Finally reached home. I walked in with the magazine up against my face with the front cover showing. There they were, my entire family waiting for me in the kitchen. They cheered and congratulated me as I walked in. How overwhelming, my entire family were there with me at such a special moment. My dad in particular stood out in the crowd, the happiest I have seen him in a long time. He gave me a big hug and smiled. His smile spoke a million words. He finally accepted me for what I was striving for. We celebrated thereafter with a few bottles of Champagne and a cake which was made just for me...
No matter how many obstacles are thrown your way, you have to keep fighting for your dreams and never give up believing in yourself. If you truly want something, visualising and feeling it on every level of your being will lead you to your ultimate dream.
If you have been there in the mind, you will go there in the body.
Here is to your success, see you at the top.