Beauty’s New Face: BALI KAUR BASSI
Sikh-Canadian Speaks Out On Her Modelling Career
Although I was always interested in modelling, I only recently started doing it professionally. I felt like it was a career I could only dream about, but after seeing a greater representation of Sikh and Punjabi models, this dream seemed attainable.
I was inspired to convince my parents about modelling and reach out to agencies. With just a few months experience in the industry, I have modelled for Joe Fresh, Sears, Toronto Tourism and now Glow magazine – I have big dreams for the future!
Growing up, I hardly saw anyone in the mainstream media who resembled me. I remember that whenever my siblings and I did, we would get very excited and all run to the TV. It only makes sense to have Sikhs represented in every walk of life in Canada. It is home to the largest immigrant Sikh population and the second largest Sikh population in proportion to the country’s population after the subcontinent.
It makes me so proud to see more Sikhs represented in our Parliament and in the media now. I recently watched a speech given by Riz Ahmed to the UK Parliament about representation. In the speech, he refers to actors and politicians helping build a new national story, one which embraces and empowers all of us, instead of excluding and alienating large sections of the population.
Models also have a role to play in that national story. As models, we’re the frontline of most marketing campaigns and are supposed to represent the population. That representation promotes inclusivity and in turn, adds to this ‘new national story’.
It means so much to me to be a part of the “Beauty’s New Face” issue of Glow. The issue shares the stories of women from different backgrounds; these include the perspectives of women of colour, exploring the concept of androgyny and the ‘taboo’ of tattoos.
There shouldn’t be one set standard of beauty because it comes in many different forms. In India, for example, there’s an obsession with Eurocentric features, and growing up I was told to stay out of the sun because I’ll get darker. Lighter skin and smaller features are the beauty ideal amongst those who come under the influence of Indocentric biases, and for a long time, I was insecure about my darker skin.
These racist beauty ‘ideals’ stem from colonial times and have been internalised and passed down through generations. We’re made to feel that our unique features are inadequate and that we should strive towards something else, which is not natural to who we are.
Representation in the public sphere, such as in modelling, can help stop that internalised racism by celebrating all forms of beauty. It promotes diversity by inspiring people to embrace their individuality. I hope to encourage a whole new generation of girls to follow their dreams and to feel beautiful in their own skin.
Last year I travelled to a refugee camp in Greece to help provide emergency supplies and support. Even though they had lost everything in the war and had no certainty about their future, the refugees were some of the most generous and compassionate people I have met.
After hearing their heroic stories of escaping war-torn Syria, I was inspired to continue helping them when I got back to Canada. With the current political climate and the rise of islamophobia, I’ve been even more vocal about the refugee crisis. I’m currently in the process of organising a fundraiser with the proceeds going to refugees, and have also been vocal about religious freedom and diversity in Canada.
I’m really glad the fashion industry is responding to the current political climate as well. It’s so amazing to see people and companies in positions of influence stand up for humanity.
The recent launch of Nike’s athletic hijab and Halima Aden becoming this fashion season’s breakout star is fantastic progress. With the rise of xenophobia, it’s important that we unite and spread messages of peace and tolerance. I hope this isn’t just a trend and that soon it will be normal to see women of colour and diversity in the fashion industry.
It’s incredible to see so many people embracing this cover and all that it stands for. I can only hope that there will be more examples like this, as well as a broader acceptance of diverse faces and backgrounds in the fashion industry overall.
The author is a Canadian model who is on the cover of the latest issue of the Glow Magazine, a major Canadian publication. She uses her voice to improve representation in the fashion industry and highlight political issues like the Syrian Refugee Crisis.
[Courtesy: Gal-Dem. Edited for sikhchic.com]
March 30, 2017
Conversation about this article
1: Sukhtinder Singh Bamra (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 31, 2017, 1:56 AM.
Excellent article by Bali Kaur. I wish her the best in her endeavours, I know she will become a trailblazer in the modelling industry and in her other aspirations. I commend her for her humanitarian work as well. A small criticism with regard to it. I see her and other Sikhs so ambitiously wanting to help Syrians and support the cause of fighting Islamophobia, but why don't these same Sikhs go out of their way to help other Sikhs who so desperately need our help? For example, Punjab has a massive drug addicted population which requires massive assistance from the Sikh expat community. Additionally, there are thousands of Sikh widows (from the 1984 genocide) and their families suffering in the slums of New Delhi. These brave women endured traumas that surpass the worst tortures in human history (rape, murder, torture, loss of property and dignity). Instead of flying to Greece to help Muslim refugees, why not fly to Punjab to help the Sikh youth there who are addicted to drugs? Why not fight female foeticide which is rampant in Punjab? Why not help the widows of the 1984 massacres? I rarely see any enthusiasm from our Sikh youth in the West to help our own Sikhs, but they seem to want to jump to help Muslims, who would likely be keen to convert us and conquer us if they had the chance to do so if the situation was reversed (sorry for the over-generalization, which is likely quite true just based on history). Muslims are a billion strong in the world with vast resources, they can help themselves, they don't need us in the West. Our Sikh brothers and sisters in Punjab and other parts of India do need us, let's all make an effort to assist them first. Syrians have the world to help them, we Sikhs have no one but ourselves to doing so.
2: Arjan Singh (USA), March 31, 2017, 10:05 PM.
#1 Sukhtinder ji: I could not have said this better; your comment is so apt and timely. I agree in our Sikh youth we see a tendency to fly many miles away to help people of other communities (it is a commendable act, no doubt). However, there are serious issues faced by many Sikh men and women in Punjab itself and in the diaspora. So we must help our extended family in dire straits first. As far as the Muslim community is concerned, let me assure you that attempts are indeed being made by some Muslim men to lure and convert gullible young Sikh women into Islam.
3: Jaspal Singh (United Kingdom), April 01, 2017, 11:15 AM.
In the article you mentioned the word 'islamophobia'. It's a word used to silence any critic of Islam and a word which should not be used at all. It's utter nonsense that should you speak about ideals linked with repression, aggression and a generally backward thinking frame of mind you then get labelled as having a phobia. It's just nonsense. I do agree with Sukhtinder ji in that more should be done to highlight and address the genocide of our own people.
4: Tarlochan Singh (Harrow, North West, London), April 04, 2017, 1:52 AM.
I fully agree with the above comments. Our youth in Punjab needs help, the 1984 widows (and their children) need help. What are we doing? We go for the 'prestige' projects but forget our own. If we in the Sikh Diaspora join hands, we can clean up Punjab.
5: Kulvinder Jit Kaur (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), April 04, 2017, 2:11 PM.
Very proud of young and lovely Bali Kaur Bassi and her accomplishments as a fashion model. However I too agree with the comments of all the others before me regarding helping refugees and other groups in distress. Humanitarian relief work should be without boundaries but charity begins at home. If the Sikhs united the world over to help out the victims of 1984 and thereafter, we could improve the lives of thousands of families. We have the resources but lack the will to organize such a drive. We don't even need to educate and convince the international agencies. The affluent Sikhs in India and abroad have the means to take care of it on their own. We have succeeded on many fronts but have failed to help our own.
6: Manbir Singh Banwait (Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada), April 09, 2017, 3:20 AM.
Every single comment is complaining how the individual from the article isn't doing anything to help Sikh humanitarian causes. My question is, what are YOU doing instead of just complaining online? Jump on a plane and go help, sponsor a child, donate time if money is an issue, start a charity group ... whatever you want. But complaining how someone else is doing charity work, is simply ridiculous.
7: TJ Singh (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), April 11, 2017, 4:06 PM.
I couldn't agree more with Manbir Singh. Seva is seva and seva has no nationality. How about Sukhtinder Singh and his friends focus their efforts on influencing the corrupt politicians in Punjab to focus on helping these drug addicted youth in Punjab? These youth are the product of the Sikh parents living in Punjab who represent aome of the most corrupt and self-absorbed people in the world. Those that are financially successful today neither did nor said anything when over 250,000 Sikh youth were slaughtered by the Punjab Police. Instead, these people stood by and aided the Punjab Police and courted corrupt politicians while they lined their pockets. What Punjab is today is what today's Punjabis deserve it to be, a drug infested corrupt society obsessed with material possessions. There is no Sikhi left in Punjab; we shouldn't be looking for the Sikh youth of today to fix those problems. Punjab today is getting exactly what it deserves. Wake up, Sikh Disapora - I am a Sikh born in Canada and have given up on caring about what happens in Punjab. If you still do, then spend your efforts advocating for change instead of criticizing Sikh youth born in Canada who are trailblazers in their respective careers and who are not only thinking and speaking of seva but actually doing seva! Keep it up, Bali Kaur ji - we are proud of your efforts and your achievements.
8: Rup Singh (Canada), April 12, 2017, 10:37 AM.
Those complaining about someone else's seva, please remember, no one is an enemy and no one is a stranger. Langar is, by definition, without discrimination. Remember Bhai Kanhayyia whose seva extended equally to all, friend and foe ... centuries before the Red Cross was even dreamed of. "The One God pervades in all. Gazing upon Him, beholding Him, Nanak blossoms forth in happiness."