“I remember going to castings in Europe and getting turned away because of my skin colour,” Shanina Shaik tells us on set of our January cover shoot. “They said I was never going to be a high-fashion model. I would go to castings and never get the jobs that I wanted, and it really affected me – especially as so much of it was because I look so mixed,” she says of her aesthetic – a striking, quite possibly unprecedented combination of Saudi, Pakistani, Lithuanian and Australian.
“That was only six years ago,” she tells us with disbelief. “We’ve come a long way, and we are moving towards a better future. But there’s still some jobs I don’t book because I don’t fit into a certain category. I’ve had to bang down so many doors for people to embrace me. The fashion industry has to find a voice. Look at Halima Aden – she’s had a huge impact. Beauty doesn’t just have to be one segment or category – it should be international. Why does it matter what colour your skin is? It should matter who you are.”
Why would anyone argue with such fundamental truths? And yet: “There’s jobs I’d love to get, but I can’t, and that makes me feel really insecure. It’s really up and down. There’s been three times – once even last year – where I wanted to just quit. I thought, ‘That’s a wrap!’"
It’s a powerfully honest message from, frankly, one of the most beautiful women in the world, whose life could easily be perceived from the outside as a bed of roses. Failure. Doubt. Adversity. All things we don’t speak about enough in an age of hyper-filtered perfection – and all things that Shanina owns with absolutely zero shame.
Rings (from left to right), Joséphine Aube Printanière in white gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds and 1 pear-shaped diamond, POA; Joséphine Aigrette Impériale in white gold set with brilliant-cut diamonds and 1 pear-shaped diamond, POA, both Chaumet
Dress, Dhs22,000, Kristina Fidelskaya. Headpiece, POA, ESArte Event
It could be a natural resilience. It could be a built-in openness. Or it could be that offering your private life up for reality TV (twice), building a career in one of the most competitive industries in the world, and swapping Melbourne’s sleepy suburbs for New York’s bright but brutal lights at the tender age of 17, toughens you up a bit. Especially when you’ve been told repeatedly that you’ll never make it.
In addition, 2020 marks 20 years in the industry for Shanina. An auspicious alignment, we’re sure – particularly since she tells us no less than three times on set that 2019 was the hardest year of her life. Things, it seems, can only get better.
“I’ve had a really rough year,” she half laughs, referring, of course, to her recent divorce to Greg Andrews – aka DJ Ruckus – after their year-long marriage. Today, she is full of hope – no doubt due to a new, strong-jawed mystery beau that she only calls ‘P’, but mostly, we’d like to think, because she’s emerged on the other side of heartache, battle-scarred – but all the better for it. A life lesson for the ages.
“When you deal with really hard things that happen in life, you feel much stronger. I do. I try to look at the positive and see what I can learn from it, what I can take from it, and how I can help others,” she explains with a stoicism that has only intensified since we last met and she told us about how badly she was bullied at school.
“It was because of my race,” she says without missing a beat. “And I was really embarrassed because I used to watch movies where bullying was all about kids being beaten up by the lockers... but this wasn’t a physical thing. It was totally a mental thing. It was emotional abuse, every single day. And once one of the popular girls starts picking on you, it’s like a domino effect. So I became so insecure, my grades dropped, and eventually I just stopped going to school.”
It begs the question – has she come face-to-face with her bullies since? “Yes, I went back to Australia after my rst or second year in New York and I saw them. It really doesn’t bother me anymore,” she says, the picture of class. “In fact, I’m quite glad it happened to me. It made me tough, independent and know that I can deal with a lot. It gave me extra confidence, ironically.”
It makes complete sense. Be it overcoming a gut-wrenching breakup (“I’d given up on love,”), battling emotional abuse, or struggling to make it in your career, there’s an unparalleled power that comes from knowing you’ve fought and won; that you’ve walked through the fire and proved to yourself that you could even do it all again if the stars so happen to align that way.
Click here to read the full interview.