By Natalia Zurowski & Jasmine Chorley Foster
You know Shivani Persad as one of the faces of the #AerieReal campaign. In practice if not in principle, most models would balk at the idea of no photoshop, and Shivani did too. "Initially the idea of no retouching was very foreign to me and made me feel very insecure," she explains on Aerie's blog. "But my second thought was: finally! Finally somebody is saying that we shouldn’t be changing women’s bodies with Photoshop."
This Trinidadian Canadian based out of New York has been modelling for five years in Canada, and the United States. In that time she's worked for clients such as Kohls, Lorac Cosmetics, Bare Minerals, Paul Mitchell, Urban Planet, Debenhams, Le Chateau, Urban Outfitters, and so on. So, not only is she killing the commercial scene, she's also paying it forward by supporting body positivity and fiercely loving her skin on social media.
We caught up with Shivani in late April to talk about social media, how she feels about "fast fashion", and her favourite client.
Was modelling something you always considered or did you happen to fall into it?
It was something that was always mentioned to me, but I never took it seriously. Until someone in the industry told me I should do it, then I thought “okay maybe I should actually give this a try”, and I did!
You recently shot the cover of Clin D'Oeil (congratulations!) What did it mean to you to be the first West Indian woman on the cover of a Québécois magazine?
It meant a lot, especially because so much of what I’m about is supporting women of colour! It’s all about representation, and if I can be a small part of making that happen then it’s all worth it.
Do you feel that publications have become more embracing of diversity in recent years?
Yes, but only subtly. I think they have a long way to go – but I do see them slowly getting there.
What changes, if any, would you like to see made in the industry?
So many. But let’s start with the main three: women of colour, women of different body types and sweatshop labour. The first two are issues of representation, and they’re slowly on their way but this idea of “fast fashion” has to end. People are being paid unfairly, put to work in horrible working conditions, being treated like slaves to the industry – and for what? So you only have to pay $5 for that shirt? I don’t think so, this system isn’t working and we need to come up with a new one.
Growing up, did you ever have difficulty finding women who looked like you in the media?
Constantly. The only places I saw women like me were in Bollywood films, and even then their skin was so much lighter than mine. I seriously adored my Indian Barbie and of course Pocahontas and Jasmine because they were the only Disney princesses who remotely looked like me.
How important is it for young girls to see positive role models who look like them in the media?
It’s probably one of the most important things growing up. It’s so hard to be inspired and motivated when you have no one to look up to. Of course there were white women I looked up to, but I didn’t realize what unfair standards women of colour were held to until I got older. I didn’t realize that for me to get to the same place as her, would take a hell of a lot of luck and hard work to even get noticed. And that’s why it’s important to see that growing up, so you realize that those things are attainable and you’re not put at a disadvantage for being coloured.
Who are your personal role models?
I have a lot of them, definitely my mum and grandmothers. I really look up to Kim Katrin Crosby (a phenomenal social activist) my good friend Iskra Lawrence (who is a body image champ) and my friend Adrianne Ho (who has two amazing clothing lines and is a healthy lifestyle blogger). These women inspire me to be better, be myself and always hustle not only for yourself but for the betterment of others as well.
You are fairly active on social media and recently started a blog called, Live Shiv Now. What made you decide to start?
I always knew I had something more to say. Modelling is an incredible career that requires tremendous work ethic and patience, but I always knew there was more to me than my job. So I really wanted to start a blog to show all of those other sides of me, and everything else that I had to say.
Do you feel that social media has been beneficial to your career as a model?
100%! It allows you to show yourself in many different lights - literally and figuratively LOL. So it give people a chance to see you outside of a studio, which helps to create a more curated audience of people who really know you. This can help build popularity but also help clients see how dynamic you are and the other types of work that you’re doing! I think it’s so integral for models to share on social media so people can get a more realistic idea of our jobs as well.
What goals do you aspire to outside of modelling?
I have many personal and professional goals. I think my main goal is to make a difference in the world for women of colour. Whether that’s through more representation in media by becoming a personality or through social activism by creating an organization, or both. I know there’s so much more we could be doing. I also really love politics and that’s what I studied in university, so sometimes I dream about going back to Canada and working for the government there.
Who is your favourite client to work for and why?
I have so many wonderful clients. Honestly, I know that sounds cliché but it’s true. I have to say Aerie was one of my favourite clients. They were so sweet, so organized and had a great message. It meant a lot that they chose me for their campaign and I loved working with them.