FROM FEELING LIKE AN OUTSIDER TO WORKING ON THE WORLD STAGE WITH A KARDASHIAN, THIS MODEL WAS NEVER DESTINED TO BLEND WITH THE CROWD
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
Instagram earlier this year.
She impressed the panel, made up
MY ADVICE WOULD BE DON’T CHANGE WHO YOU ARE, JUST EMBRACE WHO YOU ARE
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.”