14th May 2019

Nidhi speaks with Harshvardhan Shah, offering insights into her creative journey & navigating identity….

How different have your experiences been working in Mumbai and New York as a model?

When I started modeling in India, we were (and still are generally) obsessed with fair skin and it’s the more bankable commodity. My first agent wanted me to get laser surgery to remove my freckles so that clients would consider me for commercial work. So I just created content for free with friends, photographers and other creatives until I booked my first editorial and magazine cover and eventually campaigns. As much as I found being dark skinned was unattractive and generally not aspirational back home, in New York I felt ‘exotically beautiful’ though that didn’t guarantee campaigns either.

Do you have any favorite shoots or moments on set you will never forget?

Well my first cover back home for Elle where they put two very dark-skinned girls on the cover was really special. I felt like I got to be a part of something that was bigger than myself. I honestly didn’t even understand it at the time. The first time I shot with Vogue was special. That time my work visa to the United States was approved was special. These things felt like mountains to a middle class Indian girl until I found I’d crossed them. My Grandfather still thinks I’m basically a prostitute though.

How have you navigated issues regarding colorism in India?

I navigated it amongst other things by choosing to like myself. I just heard a lot of No’s and I decided to respond with curiosity and creativity. Just create, work, live and love. Even in the south of India where people tend to be darker than they are lighter-skinned, my nickname in school was ‘Kalia the crow’. Can you believe there is actually a report called the “India Fairness Cream & Bleach Market Overview,” that anticipates the women’s fairness cream category in India to earn 5000 Indian crore by 2023. I wasn’t really surprised when I got intensely trolled about how ugly I was or average I was because of my skin color. Besides I always see things as veiled blessings, because it forced me to talk about my experiences and it made me realize there were a ton of women out there who resonated with them. It’s been amazing to make brown girl friends over the internet.

What advice do you have for young women getting into the modeling industry?

To never stop being creative. To not think about the money so much as the experience and growth. To help and support the other girls and not see them as competition. To realize that it’s really not just about being pretty.

See the article online >>here<<