Where are you from?

For some of us, the an­swer could be Bris­bane, Syd­ney, War­wick or Wagga Wagga, any num­ber of Aus­tralian ci­ties or towns. For oth­ers, it could be Aus­tralia, In­dia or China, and it may not be the first time they’ve an­swered it to­day.

In a mul­ti­cul­tural coun­try such as ours, it’s a ques­tion that car­ries weight.

Gold Coast model and make-up artist Esha-avan­tha Naidoo only has mem­o­ries of Aus­tralia.

While she was born in South Africa, her par­ents brought her and her brother to Aus­tralia when she was three, seek­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties and a safer life for their chil­dren.

Grow­ing up a per­son of colour in a pre­dom­i­nantly white com­mu­nity, Naidoo says she didn’t know where she fit in.

“For me in high school and in pri­mary school, I felt like I couldn’t re­late to any­one,” she says.

“I had dif­fer­ent TV shows, dif­fer­ent mu­sic I would listen to.

“When you’re a kid you’re very in­flu­enced by peo­ple around you and all you want to do is fit in.

“I had a great school and I had a re­ally great group of friends.

“There wasn’t any bul­ly­ing. There weren’t a lot of peo­ple of colour in my school, but there were some.

“But I felt that I had to adapt and change to fit in. And that went against what my mum would say to me, she would say, ‘Al­ways embrace who you are’.”

Naidoo saw it in her neigh­bour­hood and she saw it in pop­u­lar cul­ture — West­ern fea­tures of fair skin and light eyes or hair splashed across glossy magazines pages and in TV com­mer­cials.

She found re­as­sur­ance in Amer­i­can me­dia that the world wasn’t as ho­moge­nous as it ap­peared.

“See­ing the Fresh Prince of Bel Air or watch­ing My Wife and Kids, TV shows that have a very heavy peo­ple of colour fan­base and cast, I would look at them and say, ‘Oh they look like me’,” Naidoo says.

“It was eas­ier for me to re­late to Amer­i­can cul­ture. I would even go on Youtube and try to stream dif­fer­ent Amer­i­can TV shows.

“I think watch­ing Amer­i­can TV and lis­ten­ing to Amer­i­can mu­sic, adapting to that kind of cul­ture, in­stead of a true Aus­tralian cul­ture, was a lot eas­ier for me and I re­lated to it a lot more.”

While it was easy to con­sume me­dia that pro­moted di­ver­sity, com­ing face-to-face with racism in real life was a lit­tle harder to swallow for Naidoo — al­though she looks back at these en­coun­ters now and laughs.

“I re­mem­ber when my fam­ily had a lit­tle cater­ing busi­ness, I would go and help my par­ents,” Naidoo says.

“One of the ex­pe­ri­ences that re­ally stood out to me was I would ask (cus­tomers) what kind of food would you like? And this woman came up and was talk­ing re­ally, re­ally slow.

“’I … will … have … one …’ putting her fin­ger in my face with the num­ber one, go­ing ‘I would like one … but­ter chicken and rice …’

“And I just looked at her and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I speak English’. I let her carry on, she was mak­ing a fool of her­self.

“I fin­ished up her or­der. I said, ‘That will be $15, would you like a drink with that?’

And she said, ‘Oh, you speak English?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I live here’.

“When I worked in re­tail, a lot of the time I would go up to peo­ple and ask, ‘Am I able to help you with any­thing?’ And I would just get ig­nored, or they would say, ‘I don’t want help’. Just brush me off.

“My co-work­ers would go up to them, and they would want their help.

“For me, peo­ple are still liv­ing in this mind­set that peo­ple of colour can’t be in the same place.

“It does hurt, but it’s like, what can you do about it? You can only show peo­ple so much, you can only teach peo­ple so much. It’s their choice at the end of the day. It’s an ig­no­rant one, but you can’t do any­thing about it.”

As far as ac­knowl­edg­ing dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties, Naidoo’s ex­pe­ri­ences sug­gest Aus­tralia has a long way to go. But if there’s some­thing to be proud of about our coun­try, it’s our wealth of op­por­tu­nity.

Naidoo says, thanks to her par­ents re­lo­cat­ing, she was able to pur­sue a ca­reer in fashion — some­thing she never would have been able to do in South Africa.

“If you weren’t a doc­tor, or a lawyer, or you weren’t a teacher like both my par­ents are, there’s not many other ca­reers there,” she says.

“I know I al­ways wanted to be in fashion. I got an early ac­cep­tance into a de­sign school on the Gold Coast and I was im­mersed in fashion. There were make-up artists, there was models com­ing in and out of stu­dios. I got the taste for it.

“I was al­ways tall and lanky. When I was younger peo­ple would say, ‘She should be a model’, and my mum would say, ‘No, she’s too focused on school’.

“(When I started de­sign school) my mum said, ‘OK, if we’re go­ing to do this, we’re go­ing to go to a good agency’.

“That’s when I got in con­tact with Dallys Models Man­age­ment. That was 2012, I’d just fin­ished school. When I fin­ished my fashion de­gree, I went head­first into mod­el­ling.”

But be­ing a model with an eth­nic skin­tone brought out more of that cul­tural un­aware­ness — Naidoo found many makeup artists couldn’t match foun­da­tion with her skin tone. That’s when she de­cided to take mat­ters into her own hands and be­come a make-up artist too.

“(Hav­ing) coloured skin is com­pletely dif­fer­ent (to light skin) — the un­der­tones we have, the pig­men­ta­tion, the colours we need to use to cover up those things.

“I look back on it now and they would just grab the same concealer stick as another girl and would chuck it on me and say I was good to go.

“It made me want to learn and want to know what’s good for my skin and what looks good on me. I want to look as good as these other girls walk­ing down the run­ways.”

It was Naidoo’s de­ter­mi­na­tion and prob­lem-solv­ing at­ti­tude that caught the at­ten­tion of Khloe Kar­dashian’s Good Amer­i­can team.

Naidoo came across the cloth­ing la­bel’s call-out for models in

Aus­tralia on

In­sta­gram ear­lier this year.

She im­pressed the panel, made up


of fel­low Gold Coast in­flu­encers Emily Skye and Tammy Hem­brow and the Good Amer­i­can team, with her story of us­ing her ex­pe­ri­ences as a per­son of colour to fur­ther her ca­reer, and was later in­vited to fly to Los An­ge­les to model for the brand.

She was one of 10 picked out of 80,000 ap­pli­cants.

“It was so in­cred­i­ble. Khloe’s such a good busi­ness woman, that’s what I re­ally re­spect about her,” Naidoo says.

“She’s so down to earth and gen­uine. She came down and talked to all of us, we saw her in be­tween shoot­ing and her whole Good Amer­i­can team was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.

“Good Amer­i­can was al­most like my break back into the (mod­el­ling) scene. From there I im­mersed my­self in to the mod­el­ling side of things much more.

“I’ve al­ways loved this in­dus­try and I hope to work in it for as long as pos­si­ble.”

Naidoo has bright things on the hori­zon. She’s plan­ning on head­ing back to the US this year to link up with the Good Amer­i­can team again, and next year she’ll move to Syd­ney or Mel­bourne to fo­cus on mod­el­ling full-time.

In the words of Dr Suess, why fit in when you were born to stand out?

“I’m very proud to be from the Gold Coast and be an Aus­tralian now,” Naidoo says. “There is a lot more rep­re­sen­ta­tion now. “When I go to the shops, or I watch TV, there’s definitely more rep­re­sen­ta­tion of peo­ple of colour.

“My ad­vice (to young peo­ple who feel like they don’t fit in) would be don’t change who you are, just embrace who you are.

“That’s you at the end of the day, you need to own that.

“Al­ways re­mem­ber where you came from, just love and show peo­ple re­spect.”

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