HALL OF FAME: ANEESA SHARIF
Aneesa Sharif: British Asian Supermodel
Strong, dedicated and beautiful, Aneesa has gone where very few Asian women have gone before: entering the world of modelling on her own terms, and succeeding to become an internally renowned catwalk queen.
Here she reveals her inspiring journey to the runway.
When did you decide to try modelling?
I have my family and friends to thank for it! They have always said I have model features and I should give it a go, but I just took it as a compliment. Then three years ago after their constant encouragement, I started modelling doing beauty campaigns. A year passed and I realised that actually I really love it, this isn’t just a hobby but is a potential career and I want to take it seriously, so I decided to pursue it professionally.
What adjustments did you have to make in order to become a professional model?
I have always struggled with my weight. I’ve never been overweight but initially when I started I felt chubbier than other models. When you are working as a model you can’t afford to take chances as the camera never lies. So for me, it was about transforming my lifestyle and approach to healthy eating and fitness. I reduced by carbs, stopped eating at 8pm and started drinking green tea after every meal and most importantly made the gym my best friend by working out three-four times a week.I like to mix my training by doing classes and pure cardio sessions. I could see the results immediately.
How hard was it to make these changes?
Once you change your mindset and realise a healthy lifestyle is the only way to reach your goals it becomes easy, even if you’re a foodie like me. I don’t deny myself meals or eating things I fancy. Everything is fine in moderation but whenever I eat something rich or unhealthier I just put the hours in at the gym to work it off, that’s my philosophy, enjoy life but also go to the gym! The other aspect I started paying more attention to was my skin. I trained as a beauty therapist so I understand how to look after skin and that knowledge has been invaluable.
You model on your own terms, what does that mean?
Most people assume you need to be with a modelling agency. I tried that for a month but it didn’t work for me so I decided to manage myself. So now I take full control of every booking I do. It works in my favour as I am very vocal about what I will and won’t do. This is so important. I am a Pakistani, Muslim woman and will never do a job that doesn’t conform with my beliefs. I turn down jobs that involve showing too much skin or getting intimate with a male model. This doesn’t make me any less professional than other models, it just means I am staying true to myself and doing things my way.
What do you love about modelling?
The glamour is the fun part but most of all, the one thing that is priceless is the people I have met, who I never would have met in any other job. We have so much fun, especially when you work on a fashion show. You may be spending three days in a hotel with a fellow model so you’re always making friends. My amazing friends such as Rahi Chadda and MUA Jawaad Ashraf are who push me to keep striving for what I want. And of course meeting and working with my role model Mehreen Syed. She’s the Queen of the ramp in Pakistan and has incredible posture, I’ve learnt so much from her.
Tell us about some of your career high points.
Becoming a recognised name: you know you have achieved something when people know who you are and recognise the hard work you have put in. I was awarded with 'Model of the year 2016' for my achievement by the Music and Media awards; it was the most amazing feeling ever. Another one of my highlights is working on the catwalk shows I do in Pakistan, it is important for me to me to represent British Asian models over there and showcase the London talent. I do catwalk modelling there three times a year and I’ve modelled in the major cities, Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and that’s how I made a name for myself. After modelling abroad people began to recognise me and I’ve gained respect that I’m not just an ordinary model I am a brand of my own which is a great feeling. I’ve also worked with some amazing brands and I’ve loved being the face of East Shopping Centre, modelling for the major stores inside Europe’s only Asian shopping mall.
Have there been any low points?
Not any more there but in the beginning it wasn’t easy. I’m my own biggest critic and when I would go to castings and not get jobs I’d come away feeling self-critical. But the first lesson I learnt is that you can never be every one’s cup of tea, it’s essential you know that. You can’t blame yourself for not getting a job when the brand or Casting Director has a particular look in mind. Initially it wasn’t easy on a community level either. Family friends would comment on the freedom I had like travelling to other countries alone and dealing with these issues was hard, but at the same time I was proud to do something no one else in my community had achieved, so that gave me strength, and my parents supported my journey 100%. My only rule is 'do it, but do it with respect'. Always maintain a high level of dignity, ensure you keep your head held high, and remember modelling is a profession just like any other.
What lessons has modelling taught you about yourself?
Patience and self-belief, both of which are invaluable in this career. Patience allowed me to lose weight, get to where I want to be, make a name for myself and to keep going.
What lies ahead?
I’ve already experienced an incredible couple of years establishing myself by working on big campaigns, international campaigns and appearing in TV adverts but next I want to work in more countries. My look is one that works across Asia and the Middle East, which is the region I’d most like to conquer so I’m planning to spend some time in Dubai. I have already modelled for Dubai Fashion Week London but next time, hopefully in Dubai itself! I’ve been asked to do films and acting is on my agenda, so movies and more modelling is where you’ll see me next.