In a world that often portrays a limited standard of beauty, one model is breaking barriers and embracing her unique beauty. Meet Sonya Danita Charles, a remarkable individual who has captivated the fashion industry and shattered stereotypes with her striking appearance. Despite having vitiligo, a skin condition that causes depigmentation, Sonya has become a beacon of inspiration, promoting self-acceptance and diversity. In this exclusive interview, we delve into her journey, her experiences as a model with vitiligo, and her empowering message to the world. Sit back and enjoy a 7-minute read about this Girl Power!
Please introduce yourself and tell us how you started as a model?
My name is Sonya Danita Charles, and I started modelling in 2018. How I started is actually a pretty funny story. Long story short, I was working as a Marketing Exec in Pavilion at the time, and one fine day, I was approached by a photographer who came up to me while I was browsing the mall and asked me if I wanted to do a test shoot with him. At the time, I wasn’t too keen on the idea as I had just returned to Malaysia and wasn’t too comfortable with my surroundings yet. However, as a couple months went by, he reached out to me again and told me that he had a concept planned, and all I needed to do was say yes. And I did. I took the opportunity to try something I have always wanted to try and went for it. After the shoot, he started posting the photos on his socials, to which I then started to share them on my socials too (P.S. At this point in time, I had very few pictures of me on my socials, as I was still relatively insecure about my skin and how I looked). However, I took the chance and just started sharing the photos on my socials with captions on my thoughts and my journey in life thus far. I then started receiving emails and inquiries from brands who wanted me to model for them—magazines, ads, etc.
How did you find opportunities to break into the modelling industry?
Honestly, I have been very blessed to meet the right people at the right time. It was always a matter of fate when I was presented with opportunities I never thought would be possible. And each time I was presented with one, I grabbed it and used it to my best ability to further share my story and my journey thus far.
Did having vitiligo ever make you hesitant or unsure about pursuing a career in modelling? How did you overcome any doubts or challenges?
Most definitely! When I was younger, I’d always receive comments that I had the height and body of a model but not the looks of one. Being someone who is so passionate about fashion (so much so that I furthered my studies in Fashion and Business Marketing), I still had my insecurities as I felt like I was very different from everyone else around me due to my skin. However, as time passed, I learnt that I needed to focus on loving myself better and learning to be more comfortable in my skin. I also realised that I was my biggest critic, and to overcome that, I needed to be more sure of myself and kinder to myself. While the modelling industry can be highly competitive, I constantly remind myself that it is alright to be different, and I am doing this not only for me but for all future generations and people like me. I am doing this so that they see that regardless of how we look, we are more than capable of achieving our hopes and dreams—as long as we set our minds to it.
Tell us about Vitiligo Association Malaysia (VAM) and the idea behind it.
How and why I started VAM was honestly because of my experiences growing up here in Malaysia. I realised that in all these years that Malaysia has been around, there has been no representation or knowledge of people with vitiligo. I used to get asked many questions about my skin growing up, and I realised that this is due to the lack of knowledge and awareness surrounding it as well. So, I decided that I needed to create a platform that not only shares information and awareness on vitiligo, but also provides opportunities for others like me in various fields. I also use it to share stories about other individuals who also have vitiligo, their journey living with it, and how they have overcome all their adversities.
What are your future goals and aspirations?
My future goals and aspirations are honestly just to help as many people as I can, and for VAM to be a physical place someday that offers help and support in various ways. It’s funny because every time someone asks me what my 5-year plan is, my answer would always differ from those around me. While some chase fame, career, and fortune, I’d like to believe that there is so much more to life than that. While those are completely acceptable dreams, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone chooses to see life the same way. I would obviously like to make a name for myself in the modelling industry somewhere outside of Malaysia, but I also want to work with people in helping them in any way I can that is within my means and knowledge. I honestly feel like the world would be a better place if everyone was kinder to each other, and I do as much as I can on a daily basis to share kindness, with hopes that it will create a ripple effect which will someday help others out there too. Plus, if my dreams and aspirations allow me to travel the world and help others throughout the world, I’d consider myself extremely lucky.
Can you share with us some of your favourite collaborations or partnerships you’ve done?
Gosh! Where do I even begin! I’d say every single one of them has been special, as they’ve each taught me so much and allowed me to grow my knowledge and skills in various ways. I am also very lucky that each brand I have worked with has been nothing short of amazing and have constantly worked towards promoting a more diverse and inclusive world within the media, creative and modelling industry.
What message or impact do you hope to convey through your work as a model with vitiligo?
My message would be to show others out there that regardless of how you look, you are worthy, you are loved, and you are deserving of all the goodness that this world has to offer. I also want people to know that they are more than capable of achieving anything that they set their hearts and minds to, as long as they are determined and confident enough to go for it! Most importantly, I want people to know that you do not have to be confined to the thoughts and expectations of society (especially in the media and beauty industry) because we are all made differently for a reason, and absolutely no one should dictate otherwise.
Can you share any advice for aspiring models with vitiligo who want to pursue a career in the industry?
My advice would be to go for it! Start by working on your confidence and learning to see yourself more kindly. You will never know what you are capable of unless you try what scares you! Of course, nothing is ever easy, but with the right support system and determination, you will be able to overcome all odds!
Have you participated in any campaigns or initiatives that aim to promote diversity and body positivity? If so, can you tell us more about them?
Yes, absolutely! Actually, all the campaigns I have worked on have been on diversity and body positivity. I have been blessed to work with brands that share the same values and principles, and working with people who have been using their platform to advocate for it has been amazing! Aside from this, I have also worked with universities that have done various social initiatives surrounding this topic, and it has been amazing to see the younger generations learning to be more vocal and involved!
What would you have done differently if you could go back and do it again?
Honestly, I think that every step I have made so far has brought me exactly where I am meant to be. If there is one thing I would have done differently, it would be to learn to be kinder to myself when I was younger. However, in hindsight, when I think about it now, every experience and hardship I have gone through has taught me so much about myself. I have loved, I have lost, and most importantly, I have grown and continue to grow as I evolve into a better version of myself every day.
If your life was a movie, which character would play you and why?
I think the movie that best describes me is the original Disney movie, Mulan. Why I think so is because Mulan taught everyone that despite being a woman, she was more than capable of doing everything that she was told she could not. She fought for what she believed in and never looked back. She did not confine to societal expectations of how a woman should be, but proved to everyone otherwise—that you can be both feminine and strong simultaneously.
What is something about yourself that your followers might not know, but that you would like to share with them?
I’d say that something not many know about me is that I am a highly sensitive and spiritual person. I am very sensitive to my surroundings as I am able to easily pick up on energies. While it might not seem like such since I am always so confident and outgoing, I am very cautious of the people I choose to spend my time with and the energy I invest into others. I always believe that energy is the most powerful thing. You might not see it, but you can certainly feel it. And being someone who’s quite spiritual, I always ensure that I listen to how my body and heart feel around certain people, places, and situations.
What is the best quote that you live by?
“This too shall pass.” I believe that everything happens for a reason, and whatever we are going through at the moment will eventually pass, and there are always better days ahead of us.
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