From the dusty town of Gonda, to the mean streets of Delhi, Akanksha Pathak, 23, has big dreams for her village, so an NGO is in the offing to help marginalised women along with straddling the glamorous pressures of modelling
By Asmita Aggarwal
Where were you born and raised and how did you get into modelling?
I was born in a small village Dohari in Gonda district, which is almost a three-hour journey away from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. Coming from a defence background, we moved from one city to another, which includes schooling from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. I got into modelling when I shifted to Delhi to pursue my graduation in Philosophy honours from Daulat Ram College, Delhi University. I joined the college fashion society just out of curiosity. After continuing for a year, I realised my potential as a model and started focusing on every aspect that could help me become one. I became a model when I got into Ninja Models Management in February’19. And since then I have been working on myself even more since I aspire to get better and become an example for the coming generations.
What do you think needs to change in modelling and what does it take to be a good model?
I feel the modelling industry should encourage every body type and not stick to the extremes for example: too curvy or skinny, light or dark. The concept of beauty needs to change because modelling is one field the world looks up to when it comes to aesthetics and personality. So we have the power to change the mindset of people to understand the meaning of beauty.
A good model is not about a pretty face, but also confidence, grace, poise and inner happiness that reflects in your body language. A model should have that quality of pulling off whatever outfit or design is given and that can happen only when one is confident about what one possess.
As a young girl what are the challenges you have faced in life and how did you overcome them?
Since my childhood, I had the problem of undermining myself and questioning every decision I took. This would only make me feel inferior in front of others again and again. Many a times it so happened that even if something wrong was happening and I knew about it, I would just play along or ignore. A life changing decision that I made all by myself was leaving economics honours after two years when only one was left to complete my graduation. It took two years to finally take a decision because I always doubted my gut. When finally I learnt what is more important: saving one more year and destroy my whole life, or spoiling two years and living your rest of the life, it was then that I started believing in myself gradually.
What kind of support did your family offer?
My mom is a homemaker, and dad a defence officer. Both of them at first did not support my career choice since they felt that it is again one of my rash decisions. I sometimes would tell them that I will be a pilot and the next day I would change my mind and say I will be an air hostess. I come from a humble family which does not allow such unconventional careers to women. But gradually after seeing my dedication and hard work, they have accepted it as something I want to do, no matter what. Hopefully in time, they will be proud too.
Who have been people you look up to?
Since my childhood, I simply wanted to become a better version of myself, irrespective of shifting career choices. My inspirations were Sushmita Sen and Priyanka Chopra, even my father in some ways. I aspired to become a person, who is loved by everybody and I wanted to do something out-of-the-box. While growing up, in between this competition and chaos, I looked forward to becoming someone people can lean on while constantly building my future, my own path. Just like how Sushmita Sen is today known for her powerful personality, I too wanted to become like her, in my own way. My father was an inspiration for hard work because he was the one, who kept on reminding me of the adage—“be the change you want to be.” And that’s what is pushing me even today.
What are your other interests besides modelling? And how do you pursue them.
Other than modelling, I love dancing. To start with, I first joined salsa classes when I decided to contribute a bit to remove this stereotype in India that salsa is only a couple dance form. So I continued till I suffered a severe back injury. I also have interest in adventure sports and I have done white water rafting. Since this requires fitness, I keep doing yoga for building immunity and swimming which increases endurance.
Can you tell us how people view models and the fashion industry?
In a developing country like India where majority of the population falls under middle class, they do not realize that fashion impacts every person and social group in ways that go unnoticed. They are quite apprehensive when their kids look forward to make a career in the fashion industry. Models are criticised for wearing short clothes. But I do believe that times are changing and more people are accepting the importance of fashion in our lives. With celebrities like Billy Porter and Michelle Obama making political statements through fashion, people get to think beyond their prejudices towards the fashion industry.
What are your future plans? Will you ever consider acting in films or TV?
Since I have just started with my modelling career, I first look forward to building a strong name as a model, in India as well as globally. For now I have planned to become from a model to a supermodel and start an NGO for women empowerment, especially for the state I come from. Acting is something I won’t mind trying, but it is not my priority right now.
What more can be done to get wider acceptance of different body shapes?
I believe that fashion plays a major role in the life of every human being, whether they realize it or not. Something that has such huge impact should not be exclusive to a particular body type, race or social class. So, inclusivity and diversity in modelling is extremely important became every culture and social group needs a fair representation.
To get wider acceptance of different body shapes, we need to reiterate the idea that being different is good and differences should be celebrated. When models of different body shapes walk the ramp, it gives women the confidence to accept and love their bodies. I believe the fashion industry makes an impact every time it chooses a body type different than the stereotypical standards to represent their brand. When stereotypes are destroyed, they create a space for acceptance.
Who have been the mentors in your life and what lessons did you learn from them?
I am a person, who keeps learning and imbibing what I feel will make me a better person. So I keep taking in small things from almost every person, who enters my life. But of the main mentors is my own sister. She is the one who has guided me through since my childhood in every way possible. How education and learning can be fun, I have learnt from her, maybe that’s the reason I could finish my schooling. One of the important lessons that I’ve learnt from her is, you should always be calm when it comes to achieving your dreams, if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.
My next mentor is my father, who has actually inspired me to become what I want to be no matter what my background is. A lot can change even in a minute and nothing can change in a year. It is us who has to decide what we believe in. The importance of hard work is also one of his lessons to me. From a very poor family, how he became an officer is an inspiration for me.
How important is staying fit for you.
Staying fit is important for me not only career wise but also for my mental peace. It enhances my energy and helps me to stay calm and positive throughout.