Kalaakriti: Asha Modha
The Kalaakriti series aims to highlight the stories of different artists with South Asian backgrounds. In today’s installation, check out Asha's story as a Model & Writer!
Asha is a British Gujarati-Indian model and writer. Her work predominantly focuses on body image and cultural inclusivity - also observing and exploring the quirks that come with being a young British Indian woman living and working in London through her series of short memoir-styled stories, Train of Thought.
How were you introduced to your work?
Modelling: I first started modelling during my final year of university after joining a modelling agency recommended to me by a friend. I didn’t know much about the industry but remember my mother saying “If you don’t give it a go, you’ll never know!” So give it a go is what I did and I landed my first campaign that summer with Shaadi.com!
Writing: I began writing a few years ago whilst at the peak of my so-called ‘quarter life crisis’. It was on a beautiful midsummer’s afternoon on the journey home from work after a hilarious incident at the beautician’s. I felt an urge to pen it down and although it was entirely unrelated to my ongoing internal dissonance, writing gave me an immediate release, it felt strangely and wonderfully cathartic. I shared it online, and quickly realised it was an identifiable experience for many others too. From then on I began writing about random and funny situations I’d encounter/find myself in and regularly shared my work online - which was the catalyst for my career as a freelance writer.
What are some stereotypes that you have seen, heard, or experienced about your work or about someone from your gender/social standing/religion/cultural background etc., choosing to pursue work in this field? How did you handle these critiques/comments?
My modelling career happened to coincide with the fourth and fifth waves of feminism, which puts importance on intersectional feminism and all that comes with it i.e. cultural inclusivity, body diversity. The industry was shifting towards celebrating our differences when I started modelling so the typical stereotypes that come with being a model (being intellectually compromised, having to fit an archetypal look) and those associated with the industry (it can be shady, indecent and exploitative), didn’t personally feel true, especially with the brands I’ve worked with.
From a South Asian lens, the immediate stereotypes associated with being a model are often compounded because of the expectations set upon women with regards to how they should behave. I think it can also be argued, that we have been taught to view everything for the purpose of the male gaze, which contributes to the stereotypes. My work as a model has also been about changing the narrative about how we as South Asians perceive ourselves and each other, questioning outdated traditions as well as unpacking contemporary Western-influenced issues.
With regards to writing, writing comes in so many forms - copywriting, content writing, ghostwriting, social media management, etc. you don’t have to be a best-selling author to be a called a writer, which is what many people will expect - I think that stereotype often stems from having a rigid understanding of labels. Also it can be argued that it's to impose a need to overachieve in order to be worthy of a title - again often compounded by South Asian thinking. I think it’s all just about taking back the power, giving labels your own meaning, and realising that opportunities exist in so many forms.
In the South Asian community, there’s quite a stigma against people choosing careers that are “non-traditional.” When choosing to follow your passion here, what are/were some challenges you’ve had to face? How did you get through them and what helped you through the process?
The uncertainty of going freelance/pursuing an unconventional career and everything that comes with that! Being self-employed, I am a business owner, and there is so much that goes into it beyond the fun and glam we often assume - I am my accounts department, marketing, HR, sales, then there’s the other stuff like maintaining physical and psychological wellbeing.
But for me, the key has been a shift in my thinking - knowing I bring something to the table and also trying not to worry about others and just getting on with it! Also, appreciating the freedom and joys that come with following my passion, and how lucky I am that I get to do that!
Are (or were) there any individuals that you have looked up to or directly had a mentor-mentee relationship with that helped you find your footing in this world?
I’m actually in need of a mentor, so if anyone reading this is looking to take on model and writer mentee - hi, I’m here! Nonetheless, my agent Marcus Flemmings has always been there to encourage and guide me on both my modelling and writing journey, alongside my closest friends and parents.
How is your identity affected by the work you do in this field?
I feel as though my work both as a model and a writer has helped me to bridge any gap I may have felt between my culture and work. Writing has given me an outlet to explore my heritage and culture, modelling has allowed me to represent that culture and heritage.
And in doing so, I’d hope that it has informed those outside of the South Asian community about our culture and heritage, and also that the South Asian community has learned about non-conventional careers.
Also, it sounds counterintuitive but venturing away from traditional career paths (or atleast traditional according to South Asian cultures!) has helped me to feel more rooted in my culture and community. Stepping back has helped me to see traditions from a slightly more external perspective and decide what works for me, and what doesn’t.
What’s something you’d tell your younger self? What’s some key advice that you wish you had or wish you had heard? What’s something you wish you didn’t do?
Ask yourself what your ‘five years from now’ self would benefit from, and start doing it. Know that everything comes full circle, so don’t worry about others, just mind your business and get on with it! Laugh, laugh a lot. Be financially literate. Also stop wearing so much concealer!
What would you like the world to know about your work and the realm that you're working in?
Modelling: The modelling industry is becoming more and more accessible to be a part of, regardless of gender, background, age, ability, aesthetic appearance etc. The industry is fast becoming more inclusive and starting to reflect more accurately the unique experiences of our multicultural world - which also means opening up doors to people who wouldn’t fit the ‘typical’ model archetype.
Writing: Writing doesn’t have to be poetic, deep and lyrical to be memorable. For me, personal experience and humour is what helps me to connect - as a reader and as writer - it breaks down barriers and humanises us all. Also, we spend so much time being serious that it feels wonderful to stop and giggle at ourselves when we can!
What advice would you give to someone who's struggling to follow their passions due to various external pressures and/or personal pressures?
Whilst it would be wonderful if everyone in our circle of influence supported us as much as we need it when following our passion, we can’t blame them for being unsure or uncertain - it’s a defence mechanism, they’re just trying to protect us - so keep space for that understanding. But I would say, sometimes you have to block out the noise and just go for it - generate proof that your passion is working for you. Though, having said that, also know when to stop, it’s idealistic and unrealistic to keep going even when you know your passion is not working out; listen to your gut and be honest with yourself.
Practically, have enough of a financial backing to sustain your lifestyle while you get started, especially if it requires quitting your job - make sure you have enough savings for at least a year. Also, many creatives have jobs and careers outside of their creative work, and that is normal, don’t let le ‘Gram fool you!
Regarding personal pressures - always know that you bring something to the table, your work adds worth. Affirm the sh*t out of yourself - “I am successful in my industry. I am thriving. I am powerful. I am living my best life.” - your body and subconscious brain is absorbing every micro-thought you have, make them good ones - it’ll transform you as a person. Also do the work to unpack why you feel the way you do, it’ll probably have leaked into other areas of your life too, so fix it! Also, network and reach out to people in your industry, with social media this makes it even more easier, and most of the time these people will more than willing to help!