I vividly remember the day I stumbled upon a photo of Lily Collins on my Tumblr feed circa 2011. It was the first time I had seen a celebrity with unruly thick eyebrows. The same eyebrows that, as a child, were a constant source of teasing and insecurity for me. And while I had spent a lifetime pining for thinner brows, here was someone the media had deemed beautiful sporting hers with pride.
Representation matters — but up until a few years ago, you would be hard-pressed to find a South Asian celebrity making headlines. That is until 2012, when we were given “The Mindy Project,” created by and starring Mindy Kaling — FOX, the first major cable network to showcase a South Asian woman as a protagonist. In 2015, Bollywood legend Priyanka Chopra became the star of ABC’s FBI drama “Quantico,” which was especially exciting because now I had someone to dress up as for Halloween. (There are only so many times you can re-wear your Princess Jasmine costume!) And then Netflix blessed us with Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None,” “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj,” and just last month, ordered a coming-of-age comedy series written and produced by Mindy Kaling about her childhood. Finally, the South Asian experience is being prized and recognized by American media.
I went to sleep one night and woke up in a world where my culture was suddenly trendy. A world in which ghee and golden milk lattes run amok. And in this new world, South Asian women are starring in beauty campaigns and thriving on social media. As diversity becomes commonplace and brands are held to a higher standard, we are seeing an influx of new talent that would not have been given a chance years ago.
Inspired by the change — and my excitement of seeing people who look like me on the big screen — I spoke with four women on representation in the beauty industry, challenges that come with the job, and their beauty secrets.
Diva Dhawan is a 29-year-old supermodel originally from Long Island, New York. After graduating from Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) with a degree in fashion merchandising, she uprooted her life and moved to India to pursue modeling. She can be seen as a TV host and stylist on FOX Life’s hit show “Styled by Neha,” where people with fashion emergencies are given makeovers. She is also one of the #GirlsofHRX and can be found in fitness brand HRX’s womenswear campaigns.
Q: How does it feel to have taken the non-traditional path in your career?
Honestly, I never looked at it like that. Growing up in New York helped with that because although my parents are traditional, I was brought up in a society that was fast-paced and open-minded. New Yorkers are always thinking out of the box, and we make our own rules. [But] when I first started working in New York, I was told to lie about where I was from. Being Indian was looked down upon and it made me feel bad about my background. [And then when I moved,] it was tougher in India because I always got scrutinized for modeling when I was a teenager, but I learnt to deal with it by learning it came with the job.
Q: Do you feel underrepresented in the beauty industry?
One hundred percent. I feel the beauty industry is still toying around with the idea of Indian skin representing their brand. You see big beauty names signing on actresses as brand ambassadors, but let’s face it: it’s because they are actresses. I think brands are feeling pressured to represent Indians, but they don’t really know how and are only now figuring it out slowly. I used to feel racially fetishized by people on the Internet while growing up in New York, but not anymore. I think people initially had no understanding of India and the people, so they automatically assumed it as nothing. That’s changed now since we’ve become well-known on the global map for various reasons.
Q: How does the makeup from photoshoots affect your skin?
It’s the number of hours and climate you are shooting in. You also have to make sure the makeup artist is using products that suit your skin type — I am aware of all the things I’m allergic to. It’s also important to take your makeup off thoroughly as soon as you’re done. [But] there are no skincare tricks. You have to work at it and take the time to nurture it inside and out. Rest, eat well, hydrate and keep your skin makeup-free as much as possible, if you can.
Q: What is your hair routine?
One Hair Spa [treatment] at the salon a month. And a leave-in Kérastase serum I use at home after I wash it. I have dry hair, so I always have to keep it hydrated.
Australian-native Mishti Rahman is a 26-year-old fashion and lifestyle blogger with over 300,000 Instagram followers. The Bengali gal can be found in eyewear brand Oscar Wylee’s campaigns and is a member of the Good American #GoodSquad. Having studied TV and film in both Sydney and Los Angeles, Rahman is working on independent films and using her platform to put Bangladesh on the map.
Q: What is your favorite part about being Bengali?
The concept of ‘adda’ — which means informal conversation amongst family or friends, often for hours at an end, and usually accompanied by yummy food. There’s a lot of love and heart in my culture, and I feel so lucky to be a part of it.
Q: What does your name mean?
My full name is Faize Mishti, which translates to sweet success.
Q: Do you ever feel racially fetishized by people on the internet?
All the time. I meet people who reach out to me purely because I’m brown. But I can also appreciate that people can be curious about others who don’t resemble themselves. Humans can be both strange and wonderful.
Q: What is your overall approach to beauty?
When I hear the word beauty, I can’t help but get mental images of a great physique, dope clothes, cosmetics, perfume, etc. But honestly, what I’m learning is that industries have taken the concept and turned it into a marketing tactic. When I really think of ‘beauty,’ I see character and behavior; how you treat others, how you handle misfortune. It’s smiling during times that are not easy.
Q: How does it feel to have taken the non-traditional path in your career?
I used to view it as the non-conventional route, but my mindset has changed to “I chose a path that suits me.” Now reflecting back, it couldn’t have gone any other way. What is next for me? Becoming the superhero I always needed as a young girl.
Q: Do you have any Bengali beauty secrets?
This face mask has been passed down from my ma and sister, which is super easy and homemade: it’s turmeric, yogurt and honey. Mix together, apply on face and leave for 10-15 minutes.
Anaa Saber, also known as Our Second Skin, is a 23-year-old New Yorker who dabbles in a variety of creative projects. She was dubbed Who What Wear’s rising star in 2016, and her unique style is showcased on her blog (which began as a requirement for a FIT class) and Instagram. In 2018, she started OSS Creative, which is a way for her to work with her existing clients in a more expansive way. Her projects include copywriting, styling, planning events and working on marketing strategies for small businesses.
Q: What is your favorite part about being Pakistani?
[My] list could probably go on for days, but instead, I will give you the short version. My culture is so rich in traditions, from clothing, to food and family. I feel so lucky [that] as a Pakistani-American I get to experience my starkly different worlds at the same time. I also feel very fortunate I get to share my narrative with people, friends and media. The best part of going to Pakistan is, of course, getting to see my extended family. I have so much family there, lucky enough we get to stay in contact through social media but getting to see everyone is something that’s so dear to me. That, well, and of course, food! The food is just insane, biryani, barbecue, tikka, and of course, the karahi.
Q: What is a typical day like for you?
Like most, my day starts with meetings, phone calls, the works. … But on certain days I’ll have photoshoots or events to attend. It may all seem calm and collected on camera, but it’s actually quite hectic — especially running around from point A to point B in Manhattan. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything!
Q: Do you have a hair mask/oil/treatment you swear by?
I swear by almond oil. It’s the key to silky South Asian hair! Lather, rinse and repeat monthly, if not weekly.
Q: How do you practice self-care?
For me, self-care is all about listening to how my body is feeling and giving myself time to relax and catch up on anything I feel like I’m missing out on. A lot of times people tend to ignore the red flags their bodies are signaling. [As for skin,] my skincare routine at the moment is very minimal. Once a month I get a dermal infusion facial from Glo Spa in Financial District.
Q: Do you think there’s any truth to only certain people being able to “pull off” outfits or pieces?
Every person has a unique perspective when it comes to dressing, you know what works and what doesn’t work for yourself. I don’t think only certain people can “pull off” a look. Each individual can make it their own.
Q: What are your packing essentials?
I’ve recently come to appreciate the true beauty of travel-sized items. I am actually obsessed with anything and everything mini. I never leave for a trip without a neck pillow, SPF, Susanne Kaufmann leg and vein spray, and Byredo hand sanitizer.
Australian born Amrit Sidhu – DJ Amrit – lives an exciting life in New York City. From opening for Jorja Smith, to singing alongside Tommy Genesis, running a foodstagram, covering SNEEZE magazine, and serving as the Director of Talent and Engagement for Starworks Group, this multitalented artist can do no wrong.
Q: What is the coolest event you have DJ’d at?
A recent highlight would be getting invited to play at the Guggenheim for the Dior Gala. The building itself is designed by one of my favorite architects, Frank Lloyd Wright, and I was also dressed in a full Dior runway look, so it was a surreal experience.
Q: What is a typical day like for you? Do you have any daily rituals?
I travel a lot for gigs and constantly on the go/on tour, but when I’m home — my daily routine is usually: walking my dog and grabbing a coffee first thing in the AM, working out (yoga, running class, boxing, Nike workout — always mix it up) and starting my work day around 9/10 a.m. I’m usually consulting and working across a few different projects, so it’s usually catching up on those, and if I have a DJ gig or radio show that day, [I’m] organizing my music, finding new tracks and getting everything prepped to go.
Q: When do you feel the most beautiful?
Beauty to me is something that comes from within, I know it sounds cliché, but I feel the most beautiful when I’m proud of the person I am, what I’m doing and what I stand for. When I’m using my privilege and platform to advocate and give back, when I’m leading by example — these are the things that represent what beauty is and feels like to me.
Q: Do you have any South Asian beauty secrets?
Threading & henna for the eyebrows. I recently got microblading done, but up until now I would get my brows threaded and filled in with henna every fortnight. Most Indian threading places will do that for you, and it’s better than any brow product you can purchase on the market. I also love the oils, castor oil for hair growth and coconut oil for the body (except in summer, that’s a no go!).
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