2019 Jan 24
Model Jeenu Mahadevan made his international debut in 2017 and is now flying around the world for Men’s Fashion Week!
Norwegian with Sri Lankan heritage, Jeenu was discovered whilst traveling on a bus home in Oslo, in March 2016. Modeling had never crossed his mind as a career; Jeenu was leaning towards computer science or astrophysics!
He has now modeled for brands such as Versace, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, and Burberry. Jeenu is one of the few models of South Asian origin to break into the global fashion industry, including Neelam Gill and Lakshmi Menon. In his few years in the modeling industry, Jeenu has faced much and he now opens up about it.
“I felt so out of place the first few times, because there’s a bunch of white people, there’s a few black people, and you have me. And I just felt like I stood out everywhere I go, and not necessarily in a good way,” he told a British publication.
Jeenu described how much of the isolation and backlash he faced came from his own South Asian community, including from the Sri Lankan public.
South Asia’s obsession with fair and light skin has always been a pressing issue in our society, and this is reflected in our fairness cream advertisements, and the fact that most Indian and Sri Lankan models and actors are considered more attractive and given greater status if they are more light-skinned. Although not addressed as frequently as it should be, the issue is more prevalent than ever in society, hidden in subtle comments, actions, and thoughts.
The rippled effect of this phenomenon reached all the way to Jeenu, who was making a splash in the international modeling industry. He faced criticism and colourism, including extreme negative feedback from Indians and Sri Lankans who believed that a dark-skinned guy shouldn’t necessarily be a model.
“My parents were a bit hesitant at first because they thought no one would consider me model material. But now obviously they’re fine with that.”
In fact, Jeenu received more support from European brands and the community from the start. His opinion states that colourism is more present than ever in South Asia, which is combating the issue at an incredibly slow pace in comparison with other countries.
Nevertheless, over time comes some improvement. Jeenu admits that now he has received many personal messages from those he has inspired – particularly young, dark-skinned Asians who now realize that they too could be like Jeenu.
Breaking the boundaries with inspirational people such as Jeenu, it may finally be time for South Asia to shine more on international platforms in the modeling world.