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Height doesn’t maketh a model

Toshada Uma is not your average model. In an industry notorious for following, and dare we say, setting impossible beauty standards, it won’t be wrong to say that her most distinguishing feature is all of who she is. At 144cm (4 ft 6 inch), 23-year-old Uma commands her space amid towering models and showstoppers. This writer first saw her at the FDCI x LFW in Mumbai in 2021. There was something about her that commanded attention, and no, it was not her frame. The gait, practised nuances and measured steps aside, Uma exuded self-assuredness.

Her career in modelling began in 2016, when, as a 17-year old, she started doing e-commerce shoots. Within a year, her first runway gig formalised and she made her Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) debut in 2017 with stylist Kshitij Kankaria’s show that had various designers collaborating with models of different body sizes. Although as a child she knew her calling was in performing arts, she never really worked towards making an entry into the industry and instead, chose to major in psychology. “Modelling was something that happened along the way. I was picked up by the industry and didn’t have to face any struggle,” says the Mumbai-based model who has walked for designers like Gaurav Gupta, Tarun Tahiliani, Satya Paul by Rajesh Pratap Singh and designer duos Abraham & Thakore and Pankaj & Nidhi. Her struggle, however, had more to do with an instance of harassment during her earlier phase when models get test shoots and portfolios done. She was 16 at the time. Unfazed, she moved on from the memory until only recently when she posted it on her social media. “It came up again in a conversation with a friend who said she faced a similar experience with the same guy. It is important to talk about these things. After I wrote about it on my Instagram, many people commented sharing that the guy had done similar things with them,” she says adding that as a society it is imperative that we create safe spaces for victims to share without fear, guilt or shame.

Toshada Uma (C) with models Anjali Lama (L) and Aishwarya (R) (Photo: Instagram/toshadaa)

Bringing Up Toshada

In her words, people can be cruel. Delving deeper into her growing up years, especially the time when puberty hit, Uma says she was subject to cruelty and bullying because of her appearance. “School is hard on everyone; people are not aware of what should be said in public. I have always been androgynous; I am not voluptuous or tall nor do I possess very womanly features so the boys would say ‘aage se sapaat, peeche se sapaat’ (she is flat from front and back). My height was made fun of. I have alopecia and had curly hair so that was constantly compared to a bird’s nest or noodles. It was a dehumanising experience,” she says. Her family played a big role in helping her cope with the bullying. They did take her to doctors to help her with her physical growth, but stopped once she felt it was too much to bear. “After 8-10 years of treatment, I said no.” Uma’s strength lies in owning herself. She is not a victim, nor does she carry any airs of hero complex. She is the girl next door with a maximal style. Her love for colours is evident from her ever-evolving hair — dusty blonde, jet black and muted lavender on a base of closely shaved head.

A profile shot of Toshada Uma (Photo: Harsh Jani)
A profile shot of Toshada Uma (Photo: Harsh Jani)

This authority over self also lends itself to her work. She makes it a point to have fair conversations with designers about inclusivity. For an industry that makes us question our wardrobe every three months and creates aspirations of a certain standard, inclusivity and diversity seem like big words. To their credit, some designers and fashion houses do work towards making fashion inclusive, like the recent spring 2022 couture show by Italian luxury fashion house Valentino that had models across ages, body sizes and skin colour, but it still feels like tokenism to her. Uma is a size double zero and currently weighs 37 kg. Even when she walks for designers and brands, there are no ready sizes for her. “I often ask them ‘why are you even hiring me if you don’t have my size?’ They often have to alter clothes for me. Inclusion has always been spoken of in a manner to get plus-sized people on board. It hasn’t been much about people who are minus size. Why is size 2-6 the ideal size? I am not a product of the modeling industry. I don’t diet to be this size; this is something I am born with. I am now consciously trying to gain a bit of weight because it makes work easier.” She shares that during shows, many models have remarked on her size. “I am often told ‘oh you are so tiny’, ‘which section do you shop from?’. One person even said ‘you are proportionate’. That was odd because why would they think I was disproportionate. Even if somebody does have dwarfism, it’s not ok to have that comment as the first thing to say to that person,” she says.

A Model Life

One often thinks of a model’s job as easy, sometimes superfluous. All that glitter and no gold, people scoff. Uma has a word for them. “We have strenuous hours. We sometimes start at 7am and rehearse till 10 in the night. The next day is the same. And when it’s showtime, we have four to five shows back-to-back. We are in a constant loop of rehearsing-changing-makeup. It is taxing, especially if you look at the pay,” says Uma adding that it is an unreliable industry. And this realisation is the reason the fleeting euphoria of limelight does not affect her. She is unaffected by the highs or the lows. She aims to be a practising psychologist in the next ten years.

Toshada revamped a coord set into a dress (Photo: Instagram/toshadaa)
Toshada revamped a coord set into a dress (Photo: Instagram/toshadaa)

Meanwhile, she runs an online store for pre-loved and thrift clothes and also runs a channel that sells wigs. “I put a lot of time into revamping my clothes. I thrift a lot from consignment shops and other markets. I fix those and sell them at affordable prices. I think what is missing from the sustainability dialogue is the affordability of sustainable garments. These clothes need to be made accessible,” she says.

Follow @htcity for more

Author tweets at @TheBalinian

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