“I’m not tired at all, I love talking!” That’s the first thing Diya Prabhakar said during our interview, which happened right after a two hour-long conversation with Faz Gaffa-Marsh who wrote the cover story for our debut print issue. It’s almost hard to fathom how this affable, chatty Singaporean is the same global glamazon who struts down the international runways of Alexander Wang, Oscar de la Renta, Dolce & Gabbana and the like, and faces campaigns for beauty giants like Sephora and MAC Cosmetics with her masterful cool girl smize.
Standing at 182 centimetres with luscious, jet black curls, the widest smile and big, bright eyes, Diya radiates with an infectious glow and positive disposition—beautiful traits that have been nurtured from a very young age by her supportive parents. “I grew up in a very compassionate, loving, caring household. My parents taught me never to put too much focus on looks, and that beauty isn’t reliant on physical appearance. I feel most beautiful and confident when I feel loved and appreciated”, she says. “And honestly, I couldn’t even imagine how I would do what I do all this time without my family’s support. I know models, some friends even, whose families don’t approve of their careers because of how conservative they are or all sorts of various things, but my family is my rock.”
Here, Diya shares more of her skincare must-haves, curl care go-tos, modelling advice and the pressures of the industry—and how she’s speaking up for herself in hopes to better educate and evolve mindsets on diversity, inclusivity and standards of beauty.
On beauty at home and growing up
My parents taught me never to put too much focus on looks, and that beauty isn’t reliant on physical appearance. I feel most beautiful and confident when I feel loved and appreciated. And I’d use that term to describe someone else only after I’ve gotten to know who they are on the inside and out, when I discover their individual traits—the little things—and that’s when I’ll be like “wow, they’re so beautiful”. In terms of products, I think I only became aware of them right before and while I was pursuing modelling. That said, natural beauty treatments were a common sight at home growing up. I remember my grandmother loving those natural Indian remedies and homemade face masks with ingredients like honey, avocado and lemon.
On her skincare, haircare and make-up must-haves
Less it more. I stick to the essentials for skincare: Cleanser, serum and moisturiser. And when I feel like it, I’ll put on a natural face mask. I have really sensitive skin so I’m not huge on trying too many new products. I am, however, obsessed with anything with vitamin C—my skin loves it. For my hair, I use Moroccanoil and Sebastian Potion 9, a leave-in conditioner that defines and treats my curls without weighing it down. I also love masking my hair in oil every once in a while. I do a little concoction of olive, argan, castor and coconut oils (something my mom always used to do for me when I was a child) and comb that evenly throughout my hair.
Make-up wise, I tend to go pretty natural most of the time, with lip balm, brow gel and mascara—I love mascara. It’s the one beauty product I have multiples of at home, and I love trying new and different formulas. I rarely use foundation but when I do, I like the options at Dior and the It Cosmetics CC+ Cream which evens out my skin tone and provides SPF50 protection.
On zooming in on the positives instead of the negatives
Now that I’m becoming one of the older girls in the modelling industry, I feel like a little mom to them—especially in the model apartment while staying overseas. Most of them are around 16, 17 years old, trying to reach a certain goal or prove themselves, and I see many models struggling because they’re focusing too much on trying to fit into a certain mold. We need to realise and accept that no one’s going to be 100 percent happy with you no matter what. There will always be something they’d want to edit. And I actually feel clients appreciate you more when you be yourself—the more insecure you are, the more you try to hide anything, the more people will pick things apart.
I’ve had people tell me to lose weight, but the second I started stressing about it, the harder it became to actually lose weight. And then I reached a point where I was like, if it’s not happening, it’s not happening. I made up my mind to focus on what could be done rather than force myself to do something I couldn’t, or didn’t want to. I chose to focus on happier ways to achieve my goals. Instead of going to the gym, which does not make me happy, I take lots of long walks, like to the grocery store which is a good 40 minutes away from my house, and that’s shown better results for both my body and soul.
On dealing with the pressures of modelling and the best advice she’s received
I’ve been really lucky to have parents and friends who have been there to guide and advise me from the start. Some of the best advice I’ve received is that I shouldn’t take things to heart because everyone has their own opinion, and if you’re going to care about what every single person thinks, you’re never going to be able to live your life fully, and happily. Another good one that was instilled in me at a very young age is that I should never compare myself to anyone else—you’re not competing with them. Like why would I compare myself to another person, when they’re most certainly different (whether obvious or not) from me? Everyone has something to bring to the table, you just have to have confidence in yourself. If someone doesn’t pick you, it might be because you’re not right for that brand. You shouldn’t take it as a personal attack on yourself and be like, “oh, it’s because of me”. Being happy with yourself is way more important than getting validation from anyone else.
On racism, microaggressions and how we’re evolving from it
Beyond what we hear in the media (and see on social media), what’s more important is the conversations we’re having in our smaller circles, rather than what we’re posting. I feel people who aren’t willing to change aren’t going to change based on a couple Instagram posts. A personal conversation and individual experiences are what’s needed to change and shift their mindsets. My friends and I make jokes with each other all the time, and while we have a mutual understanding, those statements can cause some sensitivities. But we’ve agreed that if something actually hurts us, we should explain it. And the same goes for standing up for ourselves with others—I feel in the past I would brush things off as “that’s just what people say” but now I’m like, “no, that’s not ok, let’s talk about it now”. I feel if someone says something not too nice to me, they might not be aware of the meaning of their statement, and that becomes a situation where I can help educate them and hopefully change how they approach certain topics in the future.
On tokenism in the industries of fashion, beauty and the media
When I was growing up, I never saw people who looked like me on TV or magazines, but my parents raised me to not be affected by that in any way. Having been in the industry for a while now, I can honestly say there aren’t as many models of colour as we think or hope for. It goes both ways—for example if a client wants to book an Indian model here, there needs to be Indian models to choose from, and sometimes there just might not be enough options that meet their specific brief. I definitely see myself getting more jobs now, but I can’t say it’s because of any one particular reason. It might also be because it’s the first time I’ve been in Singapore for more than three weeks. Change happens slowly, and we can’t expect things to change overnight. I see that people are trying, more and more, and I acknowledge and appreciate that.
I’ve also learned to look at things from a business perspective. If you want to sell as much as possible, it makes sense to target the majority of any market, which in Singapore would be Chinese. I understand where brands are coming from. I’d only think differently if a brand (any brand, around the world) has only worked with one specific type of model for every single campaign without any diversity. I feel people do want to see, work with and represent models of colour, but many are still figuring out their ways to do it and that’s ok.
On work situations where her hair and skin tone might not be understood
For me, it’s very much like “I’m here to do my job”, and that each person on this project has their individual job to do. The make-up artist and hairstylist should be prepared and equipped to create looks they’re happy with (and the photographer should know how to light both fair and dark skin tones), and as long as the client is happy with how I look, I’ll do my part to model. Each shoot has a certain aesthetic so I feel trying to change what the team creates for you might be unprofessional, and the last thing I want to do is offend anyone on set.
If you tell me to bring my own foundation or beauty products I gladly will, but I would never say anything like “your foundation doesn’t fit me, make it fit me”. If you think it’s suitable for the shoot, then it’s suitable for the shoot. That said, it’s never been that bad—there have been slightly mismatched shades, but that’s not racism, for sure.
On speaking up for herself
It’s not that I felt I couldn’t talk about it, it was something that didn’t really cross my mind as much before. I figured it was a way of life, that there will be stereotyping no matter where in the world you are. But now I’m noticing all the little things, and I realise that you don’t have to be ok, you don’t have to get used to it—you can say something. Whether or not you’re actually offended, speaking up is a way to educate people.
On the pressures of changing her look for the job
Every model has the pressure to change for the job or put on a persona to fit a brand or brief. At one point I got a keratin treatment done that completely relaxed and straightened my curls, but I didn’t mind that because I felt like I had the opportunity to show a different side of myself. I actually enjoy trying different looks and personas to show “these are many Diyas you can get”. For six months I had straight hair, and I liked how it looked like freshly done, in between with waves, and when it was springing back into my natural curls—and I managed to comfortably work them for shoots. Different hair didn’t change who I am as a person and as a model. But I think that kind of self-confidence comes a lot from the people you surround yourself with as well—you shouldn’t be around people who want you to change.
Photographer: Bryan Huynh
Stylist: Desmond Lim
CGI artist: Rodolfo Hernandez
Motion design: Aníbal Díaz
Director of Photography: Vanessa Caitlin
Hair: Christian Marianon
Make-up: Cheryl Ow
Production assistants: Andy Leow, Zhan
Stylist assistant: Joey Tan
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