By Simone Heng
Something happened to me recently after hosting the final fashion show at Telstra Perth Fashion Festival. I had had a wonderful 3 days of being paid to model for Target Australia‘s Dannii Minogue’s petite section. I had even been asked to close the show and Dannii herself even re-grammed and retweeted images of me. This was also the first time my mother came to one of my fashion events even though I have now been hosting them for a decade. Things were looking up!
After the show, one of the volunteers came up to me and said: “Is this your first modelling job?” I said “Well, I am more of a host and I’ve been doing that for a decade.”
She then asked me if we were allowed to keep our laminated garment photo (this is the card which is tied to all your garments backstage at a show so a model knows where her clothes are. For models it’s usually a laminate of your comp card.)
I replied: “I’m sure that’s fine. I kept mine from yesterday when I finished walking for Target.”
The woman, who was short and voluptuous said: “So are you a model? Is this your first time?” I explained it was my first time on a runway, yes, but I am actually represented by one of the big agencies here in Perth, Chadwick Models, and have been doing this for 10 years as a commercial model in Asia and the Middle East.
She then says: “No offense but models are usually tall and you’re rather short.”
I said: “You do know there is such a thing as petite models, right?” I started to explain but thought better of it. No point telling someone who has no idea about the industry on a larger scale.
But it bothered me. Firstly because I am confident in who I am. For the last 5 years in Dubai I was a household name and my height was never an issue. People didn’t refer to me as the “short girl” or the “Asian girl”, I was just “Simone Heng.” I am pretty sure people don’t go up to Kylie Minogue and Tom Cruise and remind them of how little they are. Not that I am putting myself in the same league as them but it helps to illustrate the point.
At the beginning of 2014 I was flown to Dubai for the launch of my Dove endorsement and at the launch, the MC who was meant to be promoting me as one of the Dove ambassadors, who is a tall Australian girl, referred to how small I was. I told her right there on stage in front of everyone “Go easy on the short comments, thanks!”
She was taken aback, fumbled and then mumbled something like: “Oh…it’s just that I’m tall…” So you’re tall, no one cares! Why did it even have to be said?
And that’s what I am getting at in this blog post. What is the point of reducing someone down to their physical size? I could easily have reminded the MC of her prominent nose or the other model criticizing me at the Perth Fashion Festival show of her voluptuous size, but what good does that do?
When people limit me to my height or my ethnicity it only proves to show how small minded they are and how insecure they feel about themselves. I know what I can create with my mind! Us “short people” are sick and tired of people (often perfectly unattractive people who are marginally taller) pointing out how little we are. Get over it! We sure have.
I don’t carry my portfolio with me everywhere I go, but I know all the massive clients I’ve modeled for in the 10 years I have been working (yes, I am 30), including Dove, Ponds, Sunsilk, Target, Sephora, and the list goes on. I’ve been dressed by Chanel and styled by one of Karl Largerfeld’s direct employees. I’ve shot for the cover of Seventeen Magazine, and posed for FHM, Maxim and Elle. I know my resume. I know what I am capable of.
And yet other people love to box you in and I find myself in the world’s most isolated capital city (Perth) having to broaden their minds. Saying things like: “You know in Asia petite models are widely accepted” or “You know in the Middle East they love brunettes over blondes.”
I thought I’d take a look back at my 10 years in and around the modelling industry to show you what small people can do when they are surrounded by people who aren’t blinded by our height:
One of my earliest modelling jobs (2006) was as the face of a campaign for Sunsilk in the Philippines. The brand flew me in from Singapore as the central model in the commercial, and cast two other taller models around me in the background. This is the first time that I was given an apple box to shoot on for my close up shots:
Then in 2011, Unilever (who owns Sunsilk) came knocking again, this time in the Middle East and for beauty brand Ponds. By this time I had become a “known name” and had cut my hair off because I was essentially “free” to be me.
And then in 2013 Unilever Middle East came knocking again. This is a sign that you’re good at building relationships, when a you can consistently work with a brand.
Bear in mind that I was in now Arabia and I am an Asian Australian girl. There is no limit to your ethnicity, even though in Australia we “ethnic” girls are constantly being told there are. Here is my first big Dove (also owned by Unilever) billboard opposite the world’s only 7-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab.
Earlier this year, at the age of 29(!) I booked a South-East Asia-wide campaign for Sephora:
To sign off I must say I’ve also noticed a lot of other Asian Australians, who seem to want to put me down now that I have returned home. Why are we not banding together and lifting each other up? It reminds me of when Tyra Banks spoke out about Naomi Campbell side lining her in the industry when there were so few black models.
Short people, lift other short people up. Women who are 5 cm taller than me, love to tell me how tall I make them feel. I never say this, even at the Perth Fashion Festival when I met a woman who was gorgeous and was much shorter than even me.
Why use other people to make yourself feel better? You can do that on your own by going out to achieve whatever you want in life. People can try and belittle you, but your achievements are proof of what is real and no one can take them away from you.
*This post originally appeared on Simone Heng’s blog DIYnamic Style and was re-printed with permission here.