COVER STORY: NO TURNING BACK
Shikin Gomez made Malaysia proud by being one of the top three finalists of Asia’s Next Top Model Cycle 5, but her journey to being a supermodel was not easy. Read about her trials and tribulations on her path to fame.
WHEN SHIKIN GOMEZ WAS 15, SHE WAS TEASED FOR HER HEIGHT – HER SCHOOLMATES WOULD TAUNT HER WITH NAMES LIKE PANJANG. INSTEAD OF KEEPING QUIET, SHE WOULD TURN AROUND AND TELL THEM OFF, THAT THEY WERE UNFORTUNATE TO BE SHORT BUT SHE WAS AVERAGE ACCORDING TO INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS. TODAY, WITH THAT SAME SASSY ATTITUDE, SHE’S BEEN CROWNED THE RUNNER-UP OF ASIA’S NEXT TOP MODEL CYCLE 5. VASENTA SELVANAYAGAM GRABS THE OPPORTUNITY TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THIS OUTSTANDING YOUNG WOMAN WHO HAS GONE AGAINST THE ODDS TO MAKE MALAYSIA PROUD.
As we wrapped up our cover shoot, I was waiting for Shikin to change before I could bombard her with questions to find out more about her. In front of the camera, it was clear that she had zoned out from all the conversations we were having on which outfit would fit her best. Instead, she got into her ‘model self ’ by singing, dancing and even speaking to herself. Watching her antics, I got the impression that it was going to be hard for her to get out of that ‘persona’ and open up to me. But when I finally had her to myself, everything was completely different. Shikin transformed into this happy, chirpy girl who smiled, cracked jokes and to my surprise, poured her heart out to my questions. There was no air about her and what came through was the passion and deep love that she had for her career. Who would have thought that one day she would be living the same life as the characters in the novels she read as a teenager?
THE JOURNEY UP
FEMALE: HOW WERE YOUR GROWING UP YEARS LIKE?
SHIKIN: “When I was 15, I had to change schools because my parents shifted. So, from SMK Damansara Jaya (where the students were a li’l better), I moved to SMK Damansara Damai 1. I’m proud of the fact that English is my first language but the students here always referred to me sarcastically as the Melayu who spoke English. I was the new kid on the block who was thin, tall and carried the surname Gomez (my dad was a Christian). I was never really bothered about what the students said because I knew they had a different mentality but when they called me papan or panjang, I always turned back and told them off, that it’s really unfortunate that they are short and according to international standards, I’m average.”
F: WHAT SPARKED THE IDEA OF BECOMING A MODEL?
S: “On my 13th birthday, a friend gave me a book that narrated the life of a model. The book was filled with glitz and glamour. The model was travelling around the world in a private jet, going for shoots, walking on the red carpet… everything in that story was so beautiful. I then told myself that I wanted to be a model (at that age, you want to become anything you read!). Then I forgot about it until my friends who studied photography asked me to become their model. I did it as a favour and it felt great. I’m not a person who takes selfies but I didn’t mind people taking pictures of me and I liked how the pictures turned out.”
F: SO YOU’RE FINALLY A MODEL! HOW DID YOU MAKE THAT DREAM COME TRUE?
S: “After high school, I worked in retail before I got accepted into UNISEL to do my Diploma in Communications and Media. I didn’t know anyone in the modelling industry and had no clue how to start being a professional model. So realistically, what would a 19 year old do if she didn’t know anyone?
Go up on Facebook, of course! I joined different Facebook groups and whenever they had castings, I’d go and try my luck. At that time, I mostly did runway shows for malls in Shah Alam (e.g. Digi SACC Mall and Plaza Alam Sentral). I didn’t get paid that much, but the only thing I expected to be covered was my food and transportation. I was just hungry for the exposure.”
F: WHAT WAS YOUR NEXT STEP THEN?
S: “After finishing my diploma, I worked as a personal assistant for Caprice (the rapper) and he was also doing a start-up for an IT business. His project manager was Shana Azzura and when I saw Shana for the first time, I knew she must be a model. True enough, I asked her and she said YES! She explained to me how the industry worked and that she had a booker who got projects for her to work on. She volunteered to pass the booker my comp card. At first, he didn’t pay much attention but when I sent it to him the second time, he must have noticed me because I started to get more projects. From the one to two bookings I got initially, I went for more castings and made more contacts. I networked my way through and started to get more bookings. That’s when I decided to make it a full-time job.”
F: WAS MODELLING ALONE ENOUGH TO SUSTAIN YOUR LIFESTYLE?
S: “To be honest, with one or two bookings per week, it wasn’t. After working for Caprice for a year, I worked part-time at a jewellery company before starting work at a market research company. In 2015, I won the Malaysia Supermodel Search, which was when I started to get more bookings. So I decided to follow my instincts and plunge into modelling full-time. I felt torn
because when I was at work, I was thinking about modelling and when I was on the runway, I was thinking about my office work. When things got more hectic, I left my full-time job to model. At first, it was a li’l challenging as I had to keep track of payments and roll my income. But as more and more bookings came through, it wasn’t that bad after all.”
BEHIND THE SCENES
After a li’l persuasion from her friends, Shikin decided to join Asia’s Next Top Model ( AsNTM) in 2015. She spent her savings and travelled to Bangkok to audition but sadly, she wasn’t chosen. That didn’t discourage her as she decided to give it a second shot in 2016 since age was catching up and she only had two more tries before hitting the age limit of 27. In 2016, she was finally chosen to be in AsNTM Cycle 5.
F: HOW DID YOU BRAVE YOURSELF TO JOIN AsNTM ESPECIALLY AFTER THE CRITICISM THAT NURAINI NOOR (ALSO KNOWN AS TUTI) WENT THROUGH THE YEAR BEFORE?
S: “I’m really blessed to have people who support me, especially my mum. When I got into AsNTM, my mum’s only advice was ‘don’t come back until you’re done!’ I knew I had my family’s support and I went ahead. Honestly, I feel Tuti was a human shield for us Malaysian girls. She went through the worst and I’m so grateful that she overcame it because of the support she received from family, friends and people in the industry. It’s a real shame because as models, we are trying to reach international standards and to make Malaysia proud, but it’s really sad when your own people don’t support you. If Malaysians can be part of the SEA Games and Olympics, why can’t people be happy for us when it comes to modelling? I want to break out of the norm! There are so many Malaysian girls out there who have the talent and it’s all being wasted because of our mindset. I want to break that and I want to prove to the world that we can do it!”
F: WHAT’S IT LIKE WHEN YOU’RE WITH THE OTHER GIRLS? IS IT ALWAYS ABOUT THE COMPETITION?
S: “In the beginning of the show, it was really fun. There were 14 of us and although I was friends with all of them, I mostly kept to myself, but when I had to mingle, I did. I even asked for advice from some of the girls. There were so many things to talk about with everyone and so many different personalities too! I’m one of the oldest girls on the show so I usually love to cook for the other girls. When we’re not on the set, we have a boom box, which we hook up to our phones then sing and dance to feel better. But as the numbers went down, it started to become stressful. You’re forever being watched and even the crew members and the production team are looking at you. You can tell they have a small part to play in the decision-making process and you need to be constantly nice and proper. Towards the end, I kept questioning myself if I did enough and if I’ve proved myself enough every week.”
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A FAMOUS MODEL. ALL YOU NEED IS CONFIDENCE AND PASSION. YOUR LOVE FOR ART AND FASHION PREVAILS WHEN YOU WALK ON THE RUNWAY AND IF YOU HAVE THAT, YOU’RE GOOD TO GO ANY TIME. ATTITUDE GIRL! – Shikin Gomez
F: WERE THERE ANY MOMENTS WHEN YOU FELT DOWN ON THE SHOW?
S: “The saddest time for me was when Alicia (Amin) left! That hit me hard. I had tears rolling down my cheeks to the extent where the executive producer told me he can FINALLY see some emotion in me. I wasn’t very attached to the other girls but with Alicia, it was more like letting go of a family member. We were in a different country and having another Malaysian there felt like family. I could completely be myself with Alicia but after she left, I felt all alone.”
F: WHAT WAS THE HAPPIEST MOMENT FOR YOU THEN?
S: “This happened two episodes after Alicia left. When I was announced as the winner of the fashion film for Zalora on the show, I was shocked! I wasn’t expecting it at all and I didn’t know how to feel. I was shaking and excited at the same time after I came down from the stage.”
F: WHAT IS THE ONE CHANGE YOU’D LIKE TO MAKE FOR THE MODELLING INDUSTRY IN MALAYSIA, AND WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?
S: “Given the chance, I’d love to set up an agency that represents Malaysian girls. I want to make a change by sending our young talents out and getting them recognised internationally. We are stuck but we don’t know how to get out. We have good talents and most of us models work as freelancers because the amount we get paid isn’t enough to be part of an agency. I really want to change that. As for future plans, I’m getting a mother agency soon and hopefully, I’ll get to start travelling and working around the world!”
1. A TEST SHOOT BY JASMINE ABDULLAH AT EMPIRE DAMANSARA
2. AT A ZALORA CAMPAIGN SHOOT
3. A TEST SHOOT BY JASMINE ABDULLAH AT ONE UTAMA ROOFTOP
4. BACKSTAGE FOR ARDANA HARAN: FLEUR LEBARAN
5. PUMA ‘JUST DO YOU’ TV COMMERCIAL CAMPAIGN