Singapore subject in photographer's work featuring women sparks debate

There is something about Nadia Rahmat's bold sense of style and her unconventional, striking looks that turn heads.

It is probably for those reasons that independent Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc approached the local model and event coordinator two years ago to be one of her subjects for her ongoing photography project, The Atlas Of Beauty.

The project, which captures portraits of women from different parts of the world to illustrate that beauty is not just skin deep, features at least two Singaporeans, including Nadia.

It has been featured widely over the years in notable publications like Forbes and The Guardian but when it resurfaced last year on website Bright Side, it got local netizens buzzing.

For a small group of critics on Facebook, Nadia, 25, was a far cry from their ideal beauty.

This, despite the fact that she previously made headlines for being the only Singaporean featured in last year's Marc by Marc Jacobs Spring ad campaign, chosen from 50,000 hopefuls in a global social media casting.

Netizen Alex Sim slammed her for being "so ugly" and likened her to a "ghost". Other Facebook users like Lim Jian Ping thought that there were many other women to choose from, while Joey Chua questioned "May I know why Singapore is like that?"


Such views are at odds with what Noroc, 30, aims to do with her brainchild: Celebrate the diversity in beauty across the globe.

Following the sudden online backlash, a majority of netizens rushed to Nadia's defence and said she was an applaudable choice.

When contacted, Nadia, who is represented by Upfront Models Singapore and London's Nevs Model Agency, told The New Paper in an e-mail: "All I hope is for people to see beyond their preconceived notions and that there's more to being human than the mere colour of your skin or how you look like on the outside.

"Beauty manifests from within, so to me a person is beautiful when they channel positivity within themselves and to the people around them."

Noroc kickstarted The Atlas Of Beauty in 2013, travelling to some 37 countries to photograph everyday women in their native environments.

Her goal was simple: To show that "beauty is everywhere and is not about race, money or trends but more about being yourself, natural and authentic".

This was the description on the Indiegogo page she set up last year to crowdfund her project. She raised US$44,838 (S$61,000) to continue her journey and publish a hardcover book of her photographs next year.

She is currently in South Africa.

According to Nadia, Noroc had contacted her via e-mail two years ago after chancing upon her personal website.

The day-long shoot took place in bustling Little India, a venue chosen by Noroc.

Nadia, who donned a vibrant beaded and sequined bralet top paired with a maroon velvet skirt for the shoot, recalled: "Mihaela had scouted some spots in Singapore.

"She loved how the alleys and streets of Little India provided a colourful backdrop to complement the vibe she was going for with her photographs.

"My outfit was then chosen to fit that vibe. I like how the photos projected my character."

This article was first published on March 29, 2016.
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