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These First Nations Women Are Opening Up About Their Experiences In Australia's Modelling Industry And It's So Insightful

"I love seeing campaigns which truly embody the idea of diversity. Not tokenism, I mean true diversity."

Australia’s modelling industry has long been criticised for its unwillingness to include and cater to people of truly diverse identities. But off the back of the global Black Lives Matter movement and through the sustained demands from Aussies for better representation, it seems that some brands are finally starting to listen.

BuzzFeed Australia spoke with Indigenous models and activists, Lisa Fatnowna and Shaneiva, to discuss their experiences in the industry, as well as how they celebrate their identities and culture in the everyday.

Thanks so much for speaking with us, can you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Shaneiva: Yaama! My name is Shaneiva and I’m a proud Gamilaroi woman with traditional connections to Coonabarabran. I grew up on Biripi land in Port Macquarie and have just recently moved here to Sydney to start a new chapter in my life. Sydney is very different to what I’m used to and it wasn’t easy leaving everything I knew behind, but with all of this has come a lot of growth and evolution.

Lisa: I’m a proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander from both sides of my family. Both my grandfathers are descendants of Kuku Yalanji and both my grandmothers are from the Torres Strait — Moa Island (paternal) and Ugar (maternal). I grew up in a family-orientated sporting environment, going to the football club every weekend to see my dad and uncles play was thrilling. Hockey was introduced to me at the age of seven and it has always been a passion of mine.

I became more involved with hockey, making representative teams since 2010, as well as working for the 'Aspire to Be Deadly' program starting in 2017. Last year I was fortunate enough to travel to Malaysia with the U21s Australian Country Women’s Hockey team and from there, I was scouted by Claire Dickens from IMG. My goal in life is to be able to go home and show the kids I work with that once you put your mind to something, you can achieve your goals.


It’s inspiring to see fashion labels such as Sportsgirl celebrating inclusivity in campaigns like "We Are Generation Sportsgirl" — how have you found the landscape of Australia’s fashion and modelling industry change over the past year?

Shaneiva: It’s an industry that still has a lot more work to do when it comes to inclusivity, but it has certainly changed a lot from where it started. I love seeing campaigns which truly embody the idea of diversity. Not tokenism, I mean true diversity. Where we can see all the beautiful women who exist in our world and witness them being empowered equally. After all, we are women. Truly divine and undeniably powerful.

Working with Sportsgirl for their recent campaign made me feel empowered and liberated. Each girl who participated came from a completely different walk of life and it was so inspiring to see other young women using their voices to change the world. Sportsgirl gave us a really safe space where we could be vulnerable and share our own individual struggles. It felt almost like a sisterhood, everyone was there for each other and there was nothing but love and kindness. I’ve definitely made some lifelong friendships from this campaign.

"I love seeing campaigns which truly embody the idea of diversity. Not tokenism, I mean true diversity."

Lisa: I agree that the industry has changed in the past year. It has recognised people who are different, such as those with diverse gender identities and also First Nations peoples. It’s extremely important that they’re starting to represent them now and including them — not only in nationally-recognised events, but in everyday society. Today, those with diverse gender identities and First Nations peoples will continue to open the doors to opportunities for the next generation. But models who are plus-size or those classified as shorter than the minimum runway height, I feel that they haven’t been given the opportunity to also express themselves. Brands like Sportsgirl continue to be at the forefront of this movement, not only celebrating inclusivity but also demanding change.

Overall, I do like that it’s becoming more inclusive and less stereotypical, but there is still more work that needs to be done...before we can say that the fashion industry is including all types of beauty.


What’s been a particularly rewarding or memorable moment in your careers so far?

Shaneiva: This is such a hard question, because I feel like every moment has been memorable so far. Every moment is an opportunity to embrace my culture and showcase the talents that are within our community. For me, modelling is all about using the platform to share the First Nations stories of strength, survival, and resilience. I feel incredible blessed to be where I am at this point of my career and I hope I can open these doors of opportunity for another mob out there.

"For me, modelling is all about using the platform to share the First Nations stories of strength, survival, and resilience."

I just recently walked in Australian Fashion Week 2021 and got to partake in a historical moment. It was the First Nations Fashion design show, which had the first ever all-Indigenous line up. Including models, production team and designers. This show was a great way of showing the nation that we, as Indigenous people of this country, are still here and that we have so much to share with all of you. Despite the oppression, racial discrimination and attempts at assimilation, we have thrived through it all and we are stronger than ever.

Working with Sportsgirl was a memorable one too. This shoot was so much more than just capturing photos for their new campaign, it embodied what it means to unite as women and show our strength as one. What I valued most in this campaign was the platform we were given to speak our truth. We did not have to have filters or guidelines on what we could say, we just had to speak from our hearts. It was such a joy to work with the Sportsgirl team and connect with so many other incredibly talented sisters.

Lisa: My most memorable moment in my career is being a part of the First Nations Fashion and Design performance in the Australian Fashion Week, 2021. With all the hard work behind the scenes with the FNFD crew, we have now made history and we will continue to leave our footprints wherever we walk. Sportsgirl has given me the opportunity to express myself as a young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to a much wider community. I’m beyond blessed to be a part of the ‘We are Generation Sportsgirl’ campaign with other beautiful, incredible driven women with strong visions.

For NAIDOC Week this year, the theme of “Heal Country” feels very relevant to all Australians, particularly off the back of 2020. Can you tell me what “Country” means to you?

Shaneiva: My idea of country is all about deep connection and the place I thrive spiritually. My mob and I are from Gamilaroi country in Coonabarabran. The feeling of going out to country and connecting with the ancestors is indescribable. I truly believe that in order to heal country we must heal the people first. If we die, the land dies with its Indigenous people.

Lisa: Country to me not only represents my connection to land, but also represents my ancestors. They fought tirelessly for our country, they fought for our right to be classified as human beings and sacrificed their lives for our futures. Along with the land, our ancestors keep us grounded and we will continue to fight the legacy they started for us.

"They fought tirelessly for our country, they fought for our right to be classified as human beings and sacrificed their lives for our futures."

What are your favourite areas of Australia to visit? Is there any one destination that you hold very dear?

Shaneiva: I haven’t done much exploring of Australia, but it's something I would really love to do, once Covid is over and I'm able to save enough. However, the places I hold dear to my heart are the ones that feel like home. Anywhere that feels less concrete is a place that feels special, as I can fully connect with the beauty of what this country is all about.

Since living in Sydney, I have found it hard sometimes to feel grounded, especially with constant sounds of the traffic etc. But there are lots of beautiful little places around Sydney which are the perfect escape from this concrete jungle.

Lisa: I’ve been travelling since I was a kid and visiting the Torres Strait is always a blessing. But nothing beats home for me, Cairns is where my heart lies.

Outside of incredible initiatives like NAIDOC Week, how do you celebrate your own Indigenous history and culture in the everyday?

Shaneiva: As a proud Gamilaroi woman, I live everyday with pride in my heart, mind and spirit. I celebrate my culture by sharing our stories through my art and educating people on our country’s history. We have overcome so much hardship, pain and suffering, yet here we are standing, loud and proud.

I dedicate my art to continuing the legacy of my ancestors and to inspire other Indigenous mob to be proud of who we are and where we come from. Our culture is something we all should be proud of in this country. I always try to remind our younger mob of what our ancestors went through, in hopes of making them realise that they can achieve anything and overcome any challenges thrown their way.

We come from warriors who fought on the frontline of this country and the ancestors are always walking right beside us. I could not be prouder to be an Indigenous woman and I honour the elders who have passed down the knowledge and wisdom that I know today.

Lisa: Every day, I celebrate my culture by staying proud and simply
being present. I know that just by carrying out my normal day, I am
always representing my mob proudly. I also try to be vocal when it
comes to issues that I’m passionate about in the community and I
continue to stay in contact with the Indigenous kids back in Cairns, as
my aim is to show them that there’s more opportunities out there.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share with us today?

Shaneiva: I would just like to remind everyone out there that we all have an important role to play in this world. We all can build a nation of unity and hope. If you have a voice, use it. If you have a passion, fight for it.

Recognise those who have had their voices silenced, to help us build a brighter future and illuminate a better path for all Australians. The future is in our hands.

Lisa: If brands collaborate with First Nations artists or designers, they should be considering First Nations models, make-up artists, hair stylists, stylists, or photographers to represent their first photoshoot. Art and performance tell our stories, our journeys and our culture and we’d mostly appreciate it if we were able to show them through our First Nations people. My ‘We Are Generation Sportsgirl’ campaign mantra is a condensed version of the @aspiretobedeadly slogan: We are living, learning, and leading. This means that we live to learn and we are always learning to lead and being that girl is someone I aim to be.

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