[Photo Credit: Instagram/Neelam Gill, Bhumika Arora, Sabrina Behl, Pooja Mor]
In today’s day and age, it’s no exaggeration to say that there is barely any representation of Indian-Americans in the media, especially for the amount of America we comprise. Obviously, there is the occasional Mindy Kaling on the cover of Vogue, which is sure to put a smile on your face—but that’s about it.
In the beauty industry, we rarely see any brown beauties (which means a lack of luscious hair, brows, and glowing, sun kissed skin). But now, it’s all about to change with the presence of these beautiful babes who are stealing hearts and representing major designers on the runway and magazine covers. Be sure to look out for them…but warning you, if you set your eyes on them, you’ll have trouble taking them off!
1. Neelam Gill
Gill, previously Neelam Johal, didn’t have much of a passion for modeling at first. She graduated high school with A levels and walked her way from the stage to receive her diploma to the runway. This past September, Gill walked the Burberry catwalk at London Fashion Week for the first time, and she rocked it. Just like that, Neelam became the first ever Indian model in a burberry campaign and most importantly, she did it well. Today, at 21 years old, she has been selected by Kanye West to model in his Adidas Show event during New York Fashion Week.
[Read Related: “10 Things You Should Know About British-Indian Model Neelam Gill“]
To Gill, becoming a model was sure to surprise her peers, who jeered at her as a once braces and glasses wearing geek.
“I didn’t think I could be a model! I had glasses and braces,” Gill confessed. “I was not one of the hot girls in school.” When her peers found out about her scouting, they remarked, “What? Her?!” Looking back, Gill said, “There was me joke about me in school: ‘Oh, Neelam’s a model—she’s a foot model!'”
Today, as the definition of beauty and brains and as one of the youngest but most confident, kind and loving models gracing Vogue and walking major designers, Gill laughs at them.
2. Bhumika Arora
At 28, Arora was the cover model of Vogue India’s February 2016 issue and had major appearances in Teen Vogue, Elle, Marie Claire Italia, and many more. She walked an international runway show in Paris and even debuted for Alexander Wang and Vera Wang at New York Fashion Week last year. Since then, she has walked for Hermes, Chanel, Viktor & Rolf, Maz Azria, H&M, Balmain, Fendi, Versace and so many more.
Arora’s rise to fame, however, is a little different. She is from the conservative north Indian town Karnal, where today, Arora mentions her passion and career is still seen as inappropriate and immodest. Although her parents were encouraging, the townspeople convinced her that it was a disrespectful career, and she rendered her dream futile. Later, she decided to get away from her small town after feeling alienated and attended college in Chandigarh, where she was sure to find more like her. She attended college for business administration, and there, she submitted some silly selfies to a local cafe magazine. Arora used this educational expertise to convince her parents of her passion, and they reluctantly agreed.
Looking back, Arora remembers secretly watching models on Fashion TV walking and getting goosebumps. Today, she is one of those models.
3. Sabrina Behl
Behl, an Indian by ethnicity but born and raised in Cleveland, is one of the few models who speaks her mind.
In fact, she was told by agencies that they could not hire her because she looked “too Indian”, that she could not be hired because certain agencies “only liked blondes.” In fact, she comments on a recent encounter: “One of my most heartbreaking experiences occurred recently, when an agent outright told me that the only reason they couldn’t sign me is because I’m Indian. The agency already represented two Indian girls, and a third one would just be ‘too much.'”
This raised a lot of questions for her, as she worried if she should dye her hair blonde and wear blue contacts. It became especially hard for her, because she had abandoned her dream of playing professional tennis (in fact, she was in the top 40 in the nation). Behl attended the University of Cincinnati on a tennis scholarship and secretly applied to Parsons in New York. When she was accepted, she convinced her parents to allow her to quit tennis and pursue modeling while studying fashion.
Today, she speaks against unfair biases in the modeling community and is sure that all are aware of her Indian heritage and identity, no matter the consequences.
4. Pooja Mor
Mor hails from Bareilly in India where she experienced artsy, encouraging vibes that thrust her in the direction of her dreams—but after completing an engineering degree in Ahmadabad, of course. In college, Mor was one of the organizers of a modeling hunt by the name of Fresh Face where a friend jokingly submitted Pooja’s name as a contestant. The judges urged her to go up and strike a pose, and she, as her good natured and loving self, walked for fun.
Mor was scouted through Instagram by major labels such as Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney and has modeled for Givenchy, Tory Burch, Ellie Saab, Narciso Rodriguez. She continues to walk for many more, and we are so excited to watch her prosper.
These four extraordinary models have finally began to make a dent in the modeling universe and although I am proud of them, I can’t help but wonder: where have they been all along?