It’s 11.30AM when we get a call telling us an impromptu photo shoot is about to go down. Our co-founder looked at us in bewilderment, thinking how did such a big responsibility pop up when it was supposed to be our “break” day (we had major interviews and meetings the previous days). Okay, so no break day. That’s okay. “But I have two other meetings. Can you guys pick her up at Plaza Indonesia and bring her here? Just interview her while she gets her makeup done.” So no break day, and no boss to help us through this interview. Great/ Who am I kidding? I can barely hold a conversation in real life, let alone do an interview with a super model. But I thought, “Okay, it’s alright. It’s Melissa; she’s super friendly and smart so interviewing her is going to be a walk in the park”.
So with a little convincing, and a boost of confidence in the form of our sales marketer (Regina, the person you usually see on our Instagram posts), I headed out to Plaza Indonesia to get started on our sudden interview-cum-photo shoot. About half an hour later upon arrival, I got a cute text from an unknown number saying, “Sorry I’m like lost in PI”. I wouldn’t have minded waiting for people on any given day, but since we were having an outdoor shoot, I got a little anxious that we weren’t going to make it in time for sunset. But okay I thought, it’s Melissa, she’s a professional, we’re going to be okay.
Eventually, at 30 minutes after our supposedly meeting time, I sat down with rising supermodel and former contestant of Asia’s Next Top Model, Melissa Tan. It wasn’t our first time meeting this incredibly down-to-earth model; we’ve met her once before and she left such an impression on us that she became the only model we wanted to interview. She wasn’t a model that only knew how to take pictures, nor was she a model who waited for the director’s call. No, this model is smart, professional, and her natural flow in front of cameras made our job as rookies so much easier. She picked props herself and told us, “You don’t have to count. As long as I can hear the camera click, it’s alright”.
Melissa started her modeling journey a long time ago. At a height of 173cm, people naturally said she could become a model.
“I think as humans, we all want to create something. Some can sing, some dance, etc. I can’t do any of that well, so I didn’t really have a creative outlet. When I took up [modeling], something just clicked. ‘Oh wow, I can actually do this’. So it became my creative outlet. I strive to interpret the ideas and vision of others and bring it out into a picture. And when I do, a part of Melissa gets left behind in the image. I finally found something that I was good in.”
Being a model didn’t come easy either; the human body and face changes every year and models have to continuously get better because “there’s always something that you’re missing out”. Being a model means knowing every muscle in the body to make a range of poses, and every muscle in the face to make a different expression. The job requires so much attention to detail and it’s difficult to always have everything down to the T.
On the issue of body size and image, it’s the era of empowerment where everybody is fighting against body shaming. Melissa believes that everybody has an optimal body version of himself or herself, so it’s unfair to impose a standard image on such different versions.
“You can’t expect someone who’s naturally more curvaceous to be as small as a stick thin model. As long as she takes care of herself, eats well and exercises to keep healthy; then that’s beautiful already. It’s about being the optimal version of yourself”
However, if you’re insecure about yourselves, Melissa suggests that you find “that thing that drives you, the thing that makes you feel good.” Many people use creative outlets to make themselves feel good, like drawing, dancing, and so forth. We’ve seen it before. Back in 2014, Whitney Thore uploaded a video on YouTube titled “A Fat Girl Dancing” in an effort to promote body acceptance and positive body image. The video generated millions of viewers and raised awareness against body shaming. For Thore, her creative outlet was dancing and it kept her insecurities at bay.
Although Melissa had a great modeling career going on for her, it wasn’t until Asia’s Next Top Model that she blew up and became a regular name in the circuit. It was a surreal experience for her; being on a variety show and having cameras record her every move, getting asked about the most minute things going on in the show, and of course, meeting people who would eventually become her mentor. When asked, she immediately named Joey Mead King on her favorite person to work with. Joey was her model mentor on the show and Melissa attributes Joey’s great spirit of sisterhood and sharing on why she loved working with her the most.
Before this rising model came into the spotlight, she worked a comfortable life as a risk consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. It’s a head-scratching move for some as she’s leaving her comfort zone to plunge into a world of uncertainty. We realized this while talking to her as she clarified that she is not some supermodel and that she’s still struggling at the bottom. She was reluctant in giving advice to dream chasers because she didn’t want people to take things the wrong way and leave their jobs because, “Melissa said I could do it”. The Malaysian model believes in seeing a person’s current situation and deciding what they can do about it. It’s important to set guardrails and having a Plan B in case everything hits rock bottom.
“It’s about following your dreams and still having mitigations. Be realistic”.
As for this model’s Plan B, Melissa is confident in her resume and will go back to consulting if her modeling career reaches an end.
After all, the modeling industry is clogged with so many new faces and there’s very little room for an individual to shine. There are a lot more failures than successes, but for aspiring models, they are blind to these failures and dive straight head in without any backup plans. For Melissa, Asia’s Next Top Model has given her a step-ahead from the competition in getting her name out there. What’s left is to carve a career from the publicity generated by the variety show.
However, the former contestant has a message to aspiring models out there. Having a background in risk management, Melissa believes in endings and cutting losses. “If doors don’t open, then you’ve got to make a decision to stop and you have to open doors yourself. You have to know when to cut losses and leave”. She tells us of a friend who is no longer in her primes and is still doing car shows.
“I don’t want to do that! I don’t want to grow old and still have to scrape around and do car shows!” she exclaims.
While we were at the topic, I was genuinely curious about nudity in the modeling industry. Sex sells, that fact is undisputable and I was curious how insiders reacted to the topic. I mean I’m new to the industry and I’m already seeing models bare all in front of me. Was it some silent rule models agreed to when they started modeling?
“I think it depends on the market you’re in. For example, in Indonesia, nudity is discouraged. In a way I think models over here don’t feel the pressure of having to be nude. But in other markets, I think it’s still a personal choice, and people do have that choice. If you feel it’s a safe environment, then go ahead. But if you feel like it’s wrong, then don’t do it. The model just has to trust her gut instincts and have some self-preservation in her, then it’s fine”.
There is beauty in nudity,
Melissa believes. It can be smut or beautiful, it depends on how viewers see it. She demonstrates how European magazines have female breasts everywhere but it’s beautiful and artistic. And then there are magazines that are targeted to the male market (we see you Playboy) and you see breasts and viewers can tell it’s not art. “It depends on which side you are”.
After spending a good few hours with this model, we can understand who she is and the darker, unglamorous side of modeling. This woman has worked so hard to be where she is now, travelling to unknown territory and placing her fate in someone else’s hands. She shows us that it’s not all beautiful and happy where she is and to remain levelheaded in this world where there are far more failures than successes. This woman is realistic and doesn’t sugarcoat things just to make herself sound inspirational. No, she lays it down as it is and shows you just how difficult this world is, and most importantly, how you should deal with reality.
In 5 years, this upcoming model hopes to be in full capacity doing everything from hosting, acting, and of course, modeling; anything so long it’s related to fashion. However, she still keeps her feet on the ground and tells us she might go back to consulting if all else fails.
It’s been a difficult journey to reach where she is now, and we’re sure she’ll traverse to better lands in the years ahead. In this cutthroat industry, a cool, intellectual, and bold spirit like hers will do just fine. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for Melissa in the future!
On lighter questions:
Cats or Dogs: Dogs
Pizza or Burger: Both
If I were president for a day: Harsh animal and environment conservation clauses
Twitter / Instagram: Instagram. You have to be really witty on Twitter or no one’s going to read it.
iPhone or Android: soon to be iPhone convert
It’s 3AM, what are you snacking on: Kinder Buenos, chips, and magnum
If you could eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be: Vegetable soup
Style icon: Joey Mead King. Very simple but looks amazing.
If you could go on a date with anybody, dead or alive, who would it be: There’s so many! But I would go with Joseph Gordon Levitt. James Franco got a little too old.