Malaysia’s Rubini Sambanthan Talks About Joining AsNTM, Hair Transformation, And Dealing With Body Shaming

A familiar face in the Malaysian fashion scene, Rubini Sambanthan is flying Malaysia’s flag high as the only representative in season six of Asia’s Next Top Model. At 26 years old Rubini is the oldest contestant in the modelling reality TV series but she’s not letting that factor be an obstacle to make herself and the country proud. Rubini’s on a mission to inspire other girls like her to dream big and never give up – ignore the haters!

Looking very much like a supermodel with her modelesque stature in her really cool fashion getup with a belted blazer and skirt (which BTW she thrifted; love!), we caught up with the Malaysian beauty to talk about the show, dealing with body image and the importance of representation in the modelling industry.

Hi Rubini, it’s nice to see you again! I believe this is your second attempt to be on AsNTM, what prompted you to give it another shot?

Rubini: Yes, I first tried out for cycle 3 and I was shortlisted then but unfortunately it clashed with Miss International 2014 and I was already in Tokyo at that time. Then, for cycle 4 and 5 I put the thought of joining AsNTM away cos I was doing my degree. For cycle 6 I was actually scouted via Instagram and they told me that they loved my work. It wasn’t an easy decision to make as I had just lost my brother and I was afraid that I wasn’t mentally prepared to be in the competition. After talking to family, I decided to put myself out there again and here I am today!

Was being in the competition different from working? Were there any challenges?

R: Honestly, I got quite  a bit of a culture shock seeing how modelling in this competition varies far beyond what I was used to when modelling for work. In my day-to-day job as a model, I was accustomed to just standing still and thinking about how the clothes looked on me – it was all about selling the products but in AsNTM, “you’re selling you”. It took sometime for me to adapt to that.

What was it like working with Yu Tsai and Cindy Bishop?

R: Meeting Yu Tsai was amazing! He has worked with big names in the industry and it was super exciting cos he was going to be photographing me. At the same time, it was intimidating to work with him cos he knows what he’s doing and he expects you to give your all at every step of the challenges. But I admire his professionalism. He does take the time to advise you and I consider those as magical moments with Yu Tsai.

Cindy is one of my role models. Besides modelling, her social work is amazing and I like how she presents her country and culture. I love how she carries herself and how great she is at advising us young models. She definitely inspires me to become like her.

One of the most exciting things about AsNTM as an audience is the makeover episode. I know you can’t give out too much but what went through your head prior to shooting that particular episode?

R: I went into the competition with a bob hairstyle. I didn’t know what they were going to do with  it. In my mind I thought it could only go three ways – bald, pixie or colour it. I came in with those three expectations but if still had my long hair, I would probably be even more nervous about the makeover.

Photography: @rubinirubi

What was it like filming in Bangkok, Thailand for AsNTM?

R: Oh it was hot! I know Malaysia is hot too but somehow it felt way hotter there. Of course shooting for 20 hours outdoors also factors in. Overall, Thailand has been wonderful! Great hospitality, food and people. I feel like its my second home now and I can’t wait to go back there!

What kind of role did you play amongst the AsNTM models?

R: I can’t reveal too much on this *haha* but I can say that my goal here is to not only win the competition but to also inspire people, so in that sense, I had to act in a certain way. I was like the big sister in the group – matured and collected.

Speaking of inspiring others, how does it feel like to represent the Indian community in the modelling industry?

R: As a coloured model, I am very honoured that they’ve scouted me to be part of this International competition. The experience is amazing! I’m starting this for girls who are like me and for girls who are curvy too. Being a size 36 with big thighs, I’m considered curvy in the modelling industry and I’ve been called “too big” at castings.

Apart from that, I come from a middle-class family and financially, it was always an issue. I started working from the age of 15 selling ice-cream and over the years I’ve worked all kinds of jobs. And I want to show that a girl with that kind of background, with this skin and body type can go far too. I don’t think there’s any other platform that I can share this kind of story other than AsNTM cos I think it can spread wide.

What do you think about the modelling industry in Malaysia and body image?

R: I’ve dealt with a lot of body shaming as a model. It happens to a lot of us but more so to curvy models as they say we don’t fit the typical skinny and tall body type. “You’re too big.”, “You’re fat.” – I’ve heard it so many times and it sucks. My insecurity was my body shape. I say it in the past tense now because I’ve learned to love myself for who I am and not care what anyone else thinks.

When I first joined the industry, I took those insults too seriously. I wanted to make it in the industry, I wanted to fit in and earn money to take care of my family. At that time I was juggling studies, work, family and myself so I had a low point where I would starve myself but it was still not good enough and it made me feel sick.

The more I pleased others, the more I was going further away from who I really am and what I believe in. At that point I decided to take better charge of my life and say “You know what? I need to stop pleasing other people. I’m sure there’s going to be other kinds of doors opening for me.” These days I’m focusing more on myself to set an example to many girls out there with body insecurities and let them know that they can do it too! Just keep in mind to work hard, be positive and ignore the negativity.

Modelling world is tough despite what others say. How do you cope with all the stress?

R: I’ve decided to go minimum with everything and plan my days. Besides that, feeding stray dogs is one of my source of joy, it’s my version of yoga. I do it even more now since my brother’s passing cos the only place that I feel truly happy is when I feed the strays. And that moment when they start cozying up to you, that’s the best feeling!

What advice would you give to girls who are thinking about joining the modelling industry?

R: Never shut yourself out. I know we all have our doubts about ourselves but if you really want it, just go for it! It’s okay if you get rejected for bookings, just know that there’s always another way. Channel your struggles into your strength. Don’t forget to stay true to yourself cos I think it worked out for me. I never thought I’d be here today if weren’t for that.

Tune in to Asia’s Next Top Model Cycle 6 every Wednesday at 9 pm on FOX Life, Astro CH711 and 722 HD.

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