Anisha Sandhu’s plans to model might have had a shaky start—despite being scouted by Elite Toronto, Sandhu’s parents weren’t up for their daughter to get into a career and she had to decline. Almost a year later, Sandhu was still not ready to give up on that dream and went back to her mother agency to make up for the lost opportunity. Eventually her books were sent overseas and now Anisha Sandhu is represented by Elite worldwide and The Society which reps big names like Adut Akech, Bhumika Arora, Kendall Jenner and more. Vogue spoke to the rising talent about the therapeutic powers of cooking, lending her voice to important causes and safeguarding mental health in a highly competitive industry.Growing up, did you see yourself becoming a model? How did you arrive at this career path?
I definitely didn’t see myself as a model growing up as I was pretty shy and insecure. With age and experience, those feelings of insecurity have changed of course but they’re not completely gone. When I look back, my modelling career so far has just kind of happened with not much intention in the beginning. I always kind of thought, okay at some point this is going to fade away, but it hasn’t yet. At the time when I first started, I was in university studying art history with the goal of becoming a museum curator. I had some amateur modelling experience from school, but I never thought that it was possible to make a career out of it. After I signed to my mother agency and worked in Canada for a bit, I graduated from university. When I signed with The Society in New York and Elite Worldwide in Europe, that’s when I realised that this had been something that I had been devoting all of my time, effort, and energy into. When I moved to New York full time, it validated all the hard work that I put into my career over the last few years that I didn’t realise while I was going through it. I’m forever grateful for how my career has turned out so far, for the projects I’ve been able to work on, and for the people I’ve met, and I can’t wait to keep going.What have been your biggest challenges as a model?
In all honesty, my biggest challenge as a model has been keeping my mental health afloat. With the diets, workout plans, strict measurements, and constantly comparing yourself to other models, it’s been a huge learning curve for me to not get swept up in it all. At times I have been carried away by it, which I’m still healing from today. What has helped me the most is reminding myself that my body is not my worth and I’m more than just being a model. It can be really hard to remember those things when your job depends on it. I’ve learned, however, it’s just not sustainable to maintain such a strict lifestyle and to let your life be dictated by what others say and think about you. I definitely have moments where I struggle from time to time but I’ve never been in a better place than I have been now. If I hadn’t gone through some difficult times in the past, I wouldn’t have learned what I know now and what works for me.What has been your biggest learning under this lockdown?
My biggest learning under this lockdown is how quarantining is an extreme privilege that not everyone has, so I feel very grateful that I’m able to do that. Many essential workers can’t afford to stay home and not go to work even if they wanted to, and most of them are women, immigrants, and people of colour. Essential workers are extremely valued and respected, but it’s unfortunate that there wasn’t the same attitude before the pandemic. I realise that while I’m privileged to have this time as a period of self reflection and healing, it’s a completely different reality for those still going to work while trying to pay rent and feed their families.Have you been upskilling yourself this time?
I’ve been taking this time to destress and not worry about being too productive. Instead, I’ve taken the pressure off of myself to have a strict routine, and in the process I fell into a natural rhythm of doing all the things I love. Doing yoga, working out, going on hikes, listening to podcasts, reading, cooking and baking, and spending time with my family watching movies have really helped me maintain somewhat of a structure in my day to day life. In such an unprecedented, sad, and scary time, there have been moments where it has been difficult to get out of bed in the morning, so structure is something that I really need right now.Tell us a little about your love for cooking.
I started cooking a lot more when I moved to New York. I was a bit stressed out with keeping such a healthy and regimented diet, so I knew I had to find a way to eat healthy while still being able to eat my favourite foods and not have to sacrifice taste. I started cooking my favourite meals like pancakes breakfasts or stir frys but just found healthier alternatives, and actually found it to be very therapeutic in the process.What forms of workout have you tried, which ones do you like the best?
I’ve tried so many workouts, from reformer pilates, to HIIT, to dance cardio, and intense strength training. I found when I did cardio intense exercises that I would get too much anxiety and it would prevent me from doing a workout at all. My favourite workout by far is barre because it works all those really tiny muscles that normally don’t get much attention, and you really do feel a burn even though you’re not jumping around too much. Before quarantine I would do barre classes almost every day, but now I do a lot of barre videos online and I find them just as effective. I feel so much stronger and genuinely look forward to working out now. I think it’s so important for you to find a workout that you actually enjoy because that is what is going to help you stay consistent.What is your skincare routine like?
I keep my skincare routine as simple as possible. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the newest or most expensive skincare product that is supposed to magically give you radiant skin. I wash my face in the morning with only water and apply moisturiser, and then at night I wash my face with a gentle, fragrance free cleanser, and apply moisturiser and a serum. Over washing your face can cause breakouts and at night is the best time to add a serum since your skin will be able to absorb it properly while you sleep. Limiting sugary foods also helps me maintain clear skin but I do break out from time to time!Tell us about your career highlights?
Walking my first show in New York for Alexander Wang last summer was a big moment for me since that was the first brand I loved as a kid. I remember doing callbacks for the casting and not thinking I had a chance. He told me to walk a few more times and asked me some questions about myself, then I tried some looks on. It was one of the first moments that made me feel like I belonged in the industry. It was amazing to think that I could be a source of inspiration to him along with all the other models in the show.
Another career highlight was shooting an editorial for iD where Alastair [McKimm] was styling and his wife, Amy Troost, was shooting. Amy is from Toronto, and at the time, the Toronto Raptors were playing in the NBA Finals. iD has been my favourite magazine for a while, so meeting both Amy and Alastair was surreal and that was another moment where I felt validated and like I belonged in a world that I sometimes don’t see myself in.What does it mean to be a model in 2020?
Being a model in 2020 means to simply be yourself and to not compromise your identity for anyone or anything. We all have different things that we bring to the table, and it’s important to accept every aspect of yourself the way you are. Being a model right now also means using your platform for a greater good. It means to speak about causes and issues that are important to you from your own unique perspective. This is something that I’m constantly working on myself. What gives me a hope is that I could be a catalyst for change, in an industry that I think has made progress, but it isn’t enough and we need to keep moving forward.It’s becoming increasingly important for us to take a stand against human atrocities, do you feel strongly about this?
Of course. I think we all have the power to induce change, albeit rather slowly sometimes, but it’s a responsibility that we all owe to each other. Over the last few months, I have realised just how privileged I am, and how I need to do better for my black friends and the black community. In wake of The Black Lives Matter movement, it’s not just important, but necessary, for everyone to read and learn about black history and systemic racism. The responsibility falls on us, not our black friends, to educate our friends, family, and the communities that surround us. For me personally, I acknowledge that the South Asian community has a lot of work to do in terms of the inherent racism that is prevalent in our culture. Bridging that gap is something that I want to keep working towards, since we all play a role in systemic racism. The micro aggressions that we have all witnessed and have been a part of, whether we realise it or not, need to be addressed and our ideologies need to change. Being silent about racial injustice is inherently racist, and this must be a collective effort.
It’s important to think about the brands and publications who are speaking out about BLM and who actually treat their black employees right, instead of those participating in performative allyship. It goes without saying that being black is not a trend; black models should not only be featured during Black History Month, and they shouldn’t be casted as the one black model in a group of white models. That is not inclusivity or diversity, but tokenism. Addressing these issues and confronting them is uncomfortable, but it is not about how we feel as much as it is about how black people feel after experiencing racial injustice for over 400 years.
Photographs by: Nik Arthur. Set design and photo assistant: Emily Allan. Fashion editor: Ria Kamat. Bookings editor: Prachiti ParakhAlso read:
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