Nidhi Sunil speaks to Vogue India on Internet Trolling
Model Nidhi Sunil opens up about being trolled for having dark skin
The colour of your skin is a point of merit in a country like ours. If you were to take the popular opinion, the lighter your perfect shade of foundation, the better you look. Indian model and actor Nidhi Sunil—you’ve probably spotted her on local and international runways, in commercials around the globe, or in your copy of Vogue India—who’s been in the business for over seven years now, was recently trolled on her Instagram account because of her dark-coloured skin. On a picture from a shoot for a travel magazine, an Instagram account called @GoanForever (with 0 posts or followers, but following 1,091 accounts), commented about how she’s dark-skinned and needs to wear a swimsuit to get attention. Here, an unfazed Sunil talks about the incident, and what it’s like to be a dark-skinned model in a country that is obsessed with fairness.
On what actually transpired on Instagram
I uploaded an image from the shoot and a few hours later, I noticed a lot of comments. Most of them came from one account and other people interacting with that account. One of these was my friend and another person who I don’t even know, and they were just being very nice and standing up for me. The troll was going on and on about how I wasn’t good enough to be a model—it’s definitely an Instagram account made for trolling, because it has no posts of its own but follows over a thousand people.
See the Instagram Posts >>here<<
On modelling in India and overseas
When I started modelling in India, it was definitely a problem to be my skin tone. There were girls like Carol Gracious who were doing runway but that was because they were all super tall, which I’m not. You can’t do print or TV commercials [if you’re dark]—you basically couldn’t work with brands because the way you look would never sell anything. There’s the perception that if you’re a dark girl who wants to be a fashion model, you have to be very tall; and people won’t accept you on TV, print or billboards because you don’t look “aspirational”. There’s definitely not as much representation internationally for us, as there is for the fair-skinned.
It’s a very chicken-and-egg situation when it comes to what should change as opposed to what is the status quo. While people will say that this is not what the public wants, it’s also upon us to educate the public about what it is. It is changing because social media has given people a platform to speak out and be an activist; more likely to find themselves being in a situation where they become an activist like I did. When you have an opinion and people resonate with that opinion, you have a storm brewing about the issue at hand.
On the need for diversity
Even now a show overseas might have 16 white girls, three black models, three Asian models and maybe one brown model—now—one representing India. I’ve done a lot more commercial work abroad than I’ve done fashion weeks because my height is an issue, but I’ve worked for brands like American Apparel and Walmart. A lot of brands are now focusing on diversity, so they’re definitely pushing their marketing teams to put together a campaign that focuses on their brand being worldly and representing as many sections of society as they can. In fact, a lot of people don’t think I’m Indian, not even in India, which was another problem because then I wouldn’t resonate with the Indian market. Some people think I’m Nigerian, Ethiopian, South American and even Spanish.
On the reality of the bias
One of my bookers in 2011 told me that I wasn’t tall enough to be a runway model and wasn’t fair enough to be a commercial model, so they weren’t sure what they could do with me—that really stuck with me. I was asked to get rid of my freckles because your skin is supposed to be completely clear, otherwise it’s not “beautiful”. A lot of people aren’t as blatant though. When you go for casting, they won’t tell you on your face that you’re dark and that’s why they’re not hiring you, but that has happened. Now in Bombay, when I get a call for an ad commercial, I tell them to not approach me if they want a fair girl at the end of the day. A lot of times I’ve encountered directors who want to work with me but their clients don’t want to; they don’t think a dusky girl will work for them.
On working with beauty brands
When I signed a two-year contract with a leading beauty FMCG, they told me that I was the darkest girl they’ve ever worked with. As a dark girl, it’s a bit bizarre. Somehow because I’m born with this skin colour, everything a non-dusky person would do, that’s not much of an achievement, becomes one because I [as a dark girl] did it. Even when people are trying to be kind and generous, they don’t treat you like a normal person. I don’t know what they mean when they say things like, “Oh, you’re a dark girl and you’re doing so well.” What happened to just being a person who’s doing well? The prejudice is so ingrained.
It’s sad to say but everything I do, every milestone I cross, which might not be a milestone for somebody who doesn’t have dark skin, adds up. Things like winning the award for Vogue Model Of The Year, or a brand having a dark girl as their face for two years [are encouraging]—especially when the girl with the bad hair in my commercial was fair. I got a call from a whitening beauty brand to cast me. I never went for it—I’m not a fair girl, why would I? Turns out, the ‘brightening’ gradation you see in advertisements for fairness products is easier to show [in post-production] on dark skin than on fair.
On advice to upcoming models
It’s actually very brave to be a model. People don’t tell you this when you start out because it’s so glamorised. You have to learn to be okay with a lot of your own demons and the criticism—you’re never enough, even if you have everything. There are people who will put you down just to take their frustration off on someone, regardless of how good you are. If you have no faith or belief in yourself, you might as well give up. I was speaking to Bhumika Arora in New York and she told me about how bad of a time she had. We started at the same time in India and she started as a Delhi model, and there isn’t much work there for her besides walking for fashion shows. She would tell me how often she’d be in tears because of choreographers. You simply have to believe in yourself.
On what the ideal future of modelling would be
I’ve heard stories of curvy models being told they’re too fat to be a regular model but not fat enough to be a curvy model. Ageism needs to go—you should be able to model across ages. Things need to change, there are a few smaller shows overseas letting go of these paradigms. We like to put things in boxes so it feels safe. I want paradigms to fall, all physical paradigms.
Read the article on Vogue online >>HERE<<