Wel Come To The NEW Age

Glamour (South Africa) - - Think - Words by YOLISA MJAMBA

“com­pe­ti­tion is healthy. Col­lab­o­ra­tion is pow­er­ful.” With these six words, Thando Hopa, 29, poignantly sums up the mes­sage be­hind the cover of our Septem­ber is­sue. “She’s so smart, ev­ery­thing she says is quotable,” gushes fel­low cover star Na­dia Nakai – and she’s not wrong. A model, ac­tress, lawyer and writer, Thando re­sponds to each ques­tion with the elo­quence of some­one ad­dress­ing a gath­er­ing of schol­ars. “Women draw­ing strength from one an­other is a way of life. You don’t need to know some­one to em­power them. When you give power to a woman, it takes noth­ing from you.”

Thando comes across as ma­ture and evolved in so many ways: how she thinks, how she speaks, the way she deals with her emo­tions – no doubt a re­sult of a life­time of com­bat­ing so­ci­ety’s ig­no­rance. Cau­tious and mea­sured, yet pas­sion­ate and sin­cere, she ut­ters ev­ery word with in­tent, while sit­ting in the hair and makeup chair at Flash Stu­dios. The hairstylist tells her to face for­ward, but she can’t help but look up at me when she speaks, as if to ver­ify that her mes­sage is be­ing re­ceived clearly – it is. When asked about her ac­tivism and why she felt the responsibility of tak­ing on that role, she re­sponds by say­ing that be­ing an ac­tivist is not some­thing she does, but rather who she is. “A se­ries of ini­ti­a­tions in my life lead me to this point,” she ex­plains. “These took place in dif­fer­ent as­pects of my life: in my wom­an­hood, my African-ness and my al­binism.

“I re­mem­ber once, on my way to school, a woman was so taken aback by my ap­pear­ance she told me that I was the devil’s child. That’s the kind of ig­no­rance I was ex­posed to on a daily ba­sis, and that’s how I ar­rived at this point. I’m try­ing to hu­man­ise al­binism, but I also rep­re­sent a larger mes­sage of di­ver­sity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion.” Amongst the likes of mod­els Duckie Thot, Shahira Yusuf and Win­nie Har­low, the face of fash­ion is evolv­ing from the rigid blue­print that has ex­cluded large groups of women for years. In 2012, she be­came the muse of famed SA de­signer Gert-jo­han Coet­zee af­ter catching his eye while strolling through the mall. She’s since done cam­paigns for mega brands like Audi, and the 2018 Pirelli Cal­en­dar along­side Naomi Camp­bell, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Whoopi Gold­berg. Thando ac­knowl­edges the im­por­tance of her role in show­cas­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of beauty. “My in­ten­tion is to por­tray a beauty vari­a­tion, not up­hold an im­posed beauty stan­dard. It’s im­por­tant that young boys and girls who look like me un­der­stand that they are beau­ti­ful, too. That’s why I try to keep my look as au­then­tic as pos­si­ble.”

But in the be­gin­ning, it wasn’t al­ways as easy for her to em­brace this ver­sion of her­self. “I re­mem­ber when I was do­ing a shoot for Forbes, they wanted a clean look, so they stripped me down of all makeup and, to be hon­est, I was ter­ri­fied to even look at my­self. In that mo­ment, I re­alised that my con­fi­dence stemmed from val­i­da­tion and not from within.” It’s ev­i­dent now that she has come a long way in her jour­ney of self-ac­cep­tance. “Now I feel that it’s im­por­tant for me to keep my hair nat­u­ral and my eyebrows light. Be­cause of my hy­per-vis­i­bil­ity in the in­dus­try, I’m rep­re­sent­ing more than just my­self, but oth­ers who look this way as well,” she adds. I watch in awe as she cre­ates dif­fer­ent an­gles with her body, and as soon as the pho­tog­ra­pher says he’s got the shot, she walks off with­out look­ing at the photo reel. Her level of self-as­sur­ance is ad­mirable. “I’m enough,” she re­sponds when I ask her about this trait. “I re­move neg­a­tive thoughts and speak kindly to my­self – it’s an im­por­tant part of my self-love jour­ney,” she says. And an­other part of that self­love is al­low­ing her­self to just be. If she’s sad, she al­lows her­self to cry, be­cause tears do not equate to weak­ness. “I would cry now if I needed to, and then I move on.”

Be­tween shots, touch-ups and wardrobe changes, it be­gins to get in­creas­ingly eas­ier to pick up where we left off, and more of her per­son­al­ity starts to shine through as the day pro­gresses. There’s an en­dear­ing play­ful­ness about her; laugh­ing ev­ery time I try to press for in­for­ma­tion about dat­ing or ro­mance. “Right now, my ca­reer feels like my child. There’s no space for any­thing that re­quires com­mit­ment in terms of a re­la­tion­ship,” she says. Hav­ing signed to ac­claimed agency New York Model Man­age­ment and re­ceived a work­ing visa for the US, Thando’s ca­reer is on the up and up. “I love modelling, but I’m also pas­sion­ate about act­ing. I want to change the stereo­type and open up how peo­ple with al­binism are por­trayed, es­pe­cially in film.” Model Slick Woods, who stars in the Pirelli Cal­en­dar along­side Thando, has said, “We’re not one thing.” Thando agrees, “Those words res­onate with me, be­cause al­binism is a con­di­tion I fought hard to love, but there is more to me than that. I never want to feel im­pris­oned in my skin.” ➻

“i’m a very shy per­son,” are one of the first words she says to me – and I’m taken aback. I was first in­tro­duced to rap­per Na­dia Nakai, 28, through her verse on the remix of Kwesta’s song ‘Do like I do’. Even back then, I re­mem­ber be­ing struck. Not only by her abil­ity to de­liver bars that were on par with those of more ex­pe­ri­enced male artists, but the at­ti­tude with which she did it. “I was al­ways re­served, even at school I would wear longsleeved polo necks and cover up as much of my­self as I could. To this day, my mom is shocked when she sees me, be­cause that’s not the daugh­ter she knows and raised,” she says.

We’re on set of our shoot, and I have the luxury of spend­ing the day with ‘Bragga’ to get a real sense of who she is. I’m im­pressed by her abil­ity to turn on the su­per­star per­sona for the cam­era with ease. There are around 25 peo­ple watch­ing, but she is un­fazed by the at­ten­tion. How­ever, as soon as she moves outof-view of the pho­tog­ra­pher’s lense, she be­comes just Na­dia: a peer, a nor­mal girl. But long gone are her days of high-neck sweaters. “This gives me very Left-eye vibes,” she says while ad­mir­ing one of the looks she’ll be dressed in – a pair of over­sized bro­cade trousers from Ruff Tung, ac­com­pa­nied by a twill jacket from Selfi. She loves clothes that make a state­ment. “When I say I’m a fem­i­nist, I mean that I want to be one of those peo­ple who break through the bar­ri­ers im­posed on women,” she says. “We should be as lib­eral as we want to be in the way we dress, em­brac­ing our thighs, hips, stretch marks and im­per­fec­tions, es­pe­cially here in Africa.”

She’s be­com­ing a promi­nent fig­ure in the fash­ion in­dus­try and takes this role very se­ri­ously. Hav­ing launched her Bragga mer­chan­dise in early 2017, she has even big­ger things in the works. “I’ve part­nered with Sportscene and will be re­leas­ing a new cloth­ing line,” she says. “I was 100% in­volved in ev­ery step. I cre­ated mood­boards, picked out the fab­ric and met ev­ery­one in­volved,” she ex­plains. Her per­for­mance out­fits are also a big part of the Na­dia Nakai brand, and she is par­tic­u­lar when se­lect­ing those as well. Ad­mit­tedly, this has cre­ated a bit of an un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tion. “I’ll be gro­cery shop­ping and bump into my fans, and they’re like, ‘Why aren’t you wear­ing your plung­ing-neck­line body­suit?’ And I’m just like, ‘Re­ally guys? I’m at Check­ers,’” she says in­cred­u­lously.

I’m in­trigued by Na­dia’s abil­ity to be vul­ner­a­ble in a room full of peo­ple she only met this morn­ing. “I’ll ad­mit fan en­coun­ters can be nerve-rack­ing some­times, es­pe­cially af­ter that whole no-makeup-chal­lenge hash­tag in Fe­bru­ary,” she says. A bare-faced pic­ture of Na­dia be­gan to cir­cu­late and caused a stir on so­cial me­dia. At­tacks on her ap­pear­ance were vi­cious. “Even this morn­ing at the air­port a fan asked for a photo, and I thought to my­self, ‘Urgh, I wish I had done my eyebrows.’ But at the end of the day, these are my supporters and I can’t let them down.” When I ask her how she deals with all the neg­a­tiv­ity, she stresses the im­por­tance of be­ing sur­rounded by the right peo­ple. “I swear peo­ple look at me and think I’m a ro­bot who has no feel­ings,” she says. “Some­times you get so caught up in it that you start be­liev­ing what’s be­ing said and that can re­ally weigh you down, but my friends al­ways help to pick me back up,” she says. “I call on peo­ple that are in the in­dus­try that have gone through worse to ask them for ad­vice. Some­times you think it’s only you that gets bad press, or neg­a­tive com­ments, but it hap­pens to ev­ery­one.”

One of those sup­port­ive peo­ple is her boyfriend, Bandile Mbere, 27, of the fa­mous DJ duo Ma­jor League. “He helps me a lot with ev­ery­thing. In terms of music, he un­der­stands the sounds that work, but he also knows how hos­tile the in­dus­try can be. It’s al­ways good to have some­one who wants to guide you to suc­cess and is not try­ing to sup­press you.” But it’s im­pos­si­ble to not let cer­tain things get to you when you care about some­one, ei­ther. “I’ll be like, ‘Why didn’t you like my post?’ or ‘Why are you lik­ing this ran­dom girl’s bikini pics on In­sta­gram?’ And he’ll say, ‘I’m a DJ, that’s my job, I have to main­tain re­la­tion­ships with the fly hon­eys in Joburg so they can come to my gigs.’”

Na­dia doesn’t mind peo­ple be­ing cu­ri­ous about her per­sonal life, as it’s part of the lifestyle she chose. “I don’t just want to be a mu­si­cian, I want to be a su­per­star. I want you to care about what I’m do­ing, what I’m eat­ing, where I’m go­ing.” She em­pha­sises the im­por­tance of be­liev­ing in your­self, and when I ask her if she thinks she’s the best fe­male rap­per in SA, she re­sponds with­out hes­i­ta­tion. “Of course I’m the best. Ev­ery­one should think that about them­selves. If you be­lieve you’re the best and act like you’re the best, then you will be.”

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