In our society, a full head of hair is typically deemed attractive. And as we know with most conventional notions of beauty, it’s not one that necessarily includes everyone. But as people become more aware (or even, fed up) that such restrictive standards don’t represent the vast, diverse amount of beauty in the world, those standards become challenged, and out of that come opportunities for people to use their unique looks to create a more inclusive way to think of beauty. In India, Bombay–based Toshada Uma is one of the young women challenging those notions.
Uma is an 18-year-old model, blogger, and social media maven who has alopecia and just so happens to stand at 4’8″ — not exactly the height that comes to mind when you think of a model. But in spite of it all, Uma is carving out her own space in the industry and on social media, and people are sitting up and taking notice. Just ask any of her 365,000 Instagram followers. But besides breaking barriers in modeling, Uma is also helping to expose her followers, locally and abroad, to an alternative, unconventional type of beauty. Through her custom-made wigs, DIY beauty projects (like making her own eyebrow extensions), beauty tutorials and blogging, Uma is steadily pacing on a journey to help make people think of beauty in a completely different way.
I chatted with the Instagirl about how she arrived at this place, and what her plans are for pushing the conversation forward.
Talk a little bit about your journey in modeling as a petite model.
I did a few shows as a kid for some children’s brands, as well as some more well-known international brands for, I think, two and a half years, and then I think I took a break for about three years. I really did not have it in mind to get back to modeling, but I think sometime around last year when I turned 17, I started getting noticed by a few photographers, which eventually lead brands to me. And then, even though that was not my first option to model, that is sort of where I ended up. As a short person, you don’t really think that you’re going to be a model.
How did you get into fashion and beauty blogging? You’re super active on social media.
I started blogging because a lot of people would ask me where my outfits are from, how I do my makeup, and things like that. Alternative style, in general, is not very easily available in India, so I think that’s what really got people’s attention. That’s how I started my blog. Once I started to reach a more global platform with the work I was doing, that lead to me starting my social media pages, working on them, and eventually getting into the whole digital media management scene. I started working for other companies as well, managing their [social media].
Scrolling through your Instagram, I noticed that you just did your own eyebrow extensions.
I was checking out eyebrow extensions in salons and I thought they were a little expensive. Being an eighteen-year-old, you don’t really have the resources to make that happen all the time, so I thought I might as well give it a try and do it myself. I got some extensions, got them glued down, and I watched some videos and figured out it was actually super easy to do.
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What are the most common questions you get about your hair?
It’s usually people asking me what’s wrong with my head. Every time I shave my head people are straight up like, “what stage of cancer are you on?”
The Internet can be something. Idiots can be something, I’ll tell you that. People who have these weird bald fetishes [approach me] once in a while and they’ll be like ‘Can I touch your head?’, ‘Can I kiss your head?’ It’s sort of exoticized. I feel like [when] you try something new with your hair, that would make you feel comfortable with yourself, it is generally exoticized to a point where everyone sort of makes it taboo after a while.
It’s not something I think most people typically think about!
I don’t know why, but I feel like it’s pretty common here for some reason.
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How does that make you feel when men come up to you and say those things?
I think any sort of unsolicited comments about your appearance are discomforting, they’re never going to feel pleasant, they’re never going to feel like someone’s giving you a compliment. That never happens in that scenario I feel — it’s always odd.
Do you ever try clap back at people who come up to you crazy like that ?
Unless it’s a person who is being aggressive or a person who is doing that to me in real life, unless it doesn’t get to physical stalking or things like that, I don’t pay too much attention to [them]. If a person is going to just comment and say they have an infatuation and they’d like to see more pictures, I think I can let them be with their fetishes unless they are making physical moves on me. When it gets to that is when I do not appreciate it.
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I know you’ve DIYd your own brow extensions — have you ever made your own hair pieces? Or do you just like to shop for those?
I source them from various places. I’m not really trained when it comes to making wigs and I’ve never really looked into it. It’s hard because I cannot devote the sort of time into making the things as I can towards sourcing them and curating the collection. So I never really ventured into trying out making my own wigs. But I am creating my own couture line with my partner, Shashank Shiralkar, and that also explores a lot of alternative dressing and gender neutral silhouettes.
You mentioned how alternative beauty and fashion isn’t really as accessible in India. What are you doing to try and open up people’s eyes to it and where do you see it going?
I’ve seen a rise in the market a lot in the whole alternative scene in the last one and half to two years I think, but before that, it was really difficult. When I was about sixteen, I made a plan that by the time I was a little more grown and financially secure, I was gonna start my own brand. And luckily, that’s happening. In a week, I am starting with my own alternative clothes store so I can sell body harnesses, wigs, all these things that are not easily available in the Indian market otherwise…or are available at very, very hyped up prices. But I generally am very happy about how the whole situation is slowly starting to change. More international brands that were available here and did not have the range of products that were available abroad have started introducing these things to the Indian market. There are more bright eyeshadows, there are more bright lipsticks — there are these things available this year that were not let’s say one and a half two years ago.
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What are some of your favorite beauty products to use?
I think NYX as a brand, in general, is my favorite because they’re cruelty-free, and they have a lot of makeup that is not generally accessible otherwise in India. It provides a lot of things that we need from professional makeup when it comes to high fashion makeup, professional makeup, or alternative makeup. We need brighter shades and higher pigments.
Do you think there will ever be room in the fashion industry for petite models?
Definitely, definitely. I have absolutely no doubt about it. Personally, my experience with modeling has been great, I’ve [worked with] brands like Nike, and everyone’s been so open to the idea of having a petite model. Everyone’s been so welcoming and warm in the industry, I really think that if we work towards more representation, petite modeling can be a thing for sure. But I do feel like agencies at this point are not ready to accept petite models, at least in India, so that is a little bit of a problem and that is a little hurdle that I face as a petite model.
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It does get easier for international exposure when [you’re signed to a local agency,] because I got a lot of agencies approaching me from around the world, but I couldn’t sign with them because I did not have a mother agency in India. That is a massive hurdle when we have to actually go international. So as I say, in India, the petite modeling scene for me is working well because I sort of slipped through the cracks, but I don’t know how well it works for other petite models in general. But I feel like once agencies open themselves up, a market will be created for everyone else who has a dream like mine.
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I hope that happens because we need tiny girls to model things!
I really think so I feel like that is the one body type that is so under represented in the fashion scene. We opened our arms up to plus size models, to tall women, to medium height women, to all sorts of body types, but I feel like tiny women have been sort of excluded from this movement.
More on unconventional models:
- How Model Melanie Gaydos Is Redefining Beauty Within the Fashion Industry
- Caitin Stickels, Model With Rare Genetic Disorder, Stars In Stunning Editorial
- Winnie Harlow Chopped Off Her Long Hair
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