Work in Progress: Redefining beauty with 5 Malaysian personalities

From the world of entertainment to art and design, these Malaysian personalities are reclaiming the narrative, embracing their true, unfiltered individuality.
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Redefining so-called "beauty standards" is no walk in the park, which is why this April we put the spotlight to these five amazing Malaysian personalities who are unapologetically stunning in both their visual, talent and style.

Featured in our April 2019 issue, the five get candid about the ups and downs in their journeys, thus far and here is a snippet of their interview with us.

Sherry Alhadad

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Just as effervescent in real life as she is on telly, Sherry Alhadad (@sherry_alhadad) ambled into the studio with a wide grin on her face. Every sentence she uttered was an amusing anecdote, every hardhitting question was returned with lighthearted undertones— she has the gift of the gab.

This gift, however, took years of finessing. It wasn’t until high school that she took it upon herself to turn things around with her acidic wit, ultimately putting her bullies in their place.


What prompted this volte-face?
I had just grown tired of it. I needed to reinvent myself, so I stopped caring about what people say and think of me. But it was still hard for me to make friends because the kids were all choosy and cliquey. I had to find something to be part of the group, and luckily, I have my sense of humour.


Do you think it has become a new predicament because
It feels like the industry has been typecasting plus-size actresses as the “funny girls”? We are nurtured by the stories that are being told to us. Whatever that’s on TV, that’s what’s “normal”. There’s a lack of representation in the industry because the roles are limited.

I didn’t even feel like there was a place for me there. I’ve always dreamed about playing a complex character like Annie Wilkes from Misery. But who would want to invest in such a project?

Mazda Beh

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Taiping-born Mazda Beh (@mazdabeh666) first discovered tattoos when he was turning 18 years old. He wanted to get something that would mark the new chapter in his life, so he went to his friend Priscilla for some ink.

Little did he know he would get sucked into the subculture, spellbound by the arty illustrations and the intricate workmanship that go into creating an artwork. After nearly four years, Mazda has amassed some 46 tattoos on his skin and counting.


There’s a stigma when it comes to tattoos, do you personally feel it?
Honestly, I do. Everytime I’m out in public—even when I’m wearing a simple white tee and shorts—I’d still get looks. But it doesn’t really bother me. And not all is bad, some cute things happen too. Sometimes kids would come up to me and touch the tattoos, which is nice. It makes my day.


How did your family react to you constantly getting inked and becoming a tattoo artist?
My family wasn’t that surprised by it because they knew I’ve always liked drawing—the arts and culture. But every now and then they do tell me not to go crazy with it. The problem is, it’s never enough for me! (laughs) There’s not one tattoo on my body that I regret having. Even when I run out of places to draw on, I’d just have the new tattoos done over the existing ones.

Sonya Danita Charles

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There’s plenty to be said for last year’s instalment of Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) but the sighting of Sonya Danita Charles (@sonyadanita) on the runway was arguably the most exciting. Sonya, who donned a sleek beige frock and large straw hat, stunned fashion spectators not only with her stride but also her skin.

Diagnosed with vitiligo at the tender age of eight, Sonya turned her lifelong battle with insecurity into something empowering, and ultimately beautiful the moment she walked onto the stage.


How did you muster the courage to actually go out there?
I’ve always wanted to try modelling but I never had the confidence to pursue it because I don’t look like a “model”. But after a while I realised that I was getting older and that if I didn’t give it a go then, I was never going to do it. It was my opportunity to start being myself.


Do you see this as a sign that the industry is shifting or is this just a trend that will eventually subside?
I think the fashion industry is definitely opening up to different kinds of women—plus-size models, differently abled models, models with different skin tones. I feel like we’re starting to adapt to the new culture though it’s still very much a slow progress.

There’s still a bit of discrimination because you can tell that not everyone is for it.

Aliff Shaharom

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Unlike the others, Aliff Shaharom’s (better known as Airliftz, @notairliftz) circumstance stemmed from a human error—his physician’s. The doctor had cut off his nasal bone by accident, causing irreparable damage to his face.

The rapper slash producer has had countless surgeries since to prevent it from worsening, and he’s now looking at another round on the operating table to fix the tearing of his right eye, which risks him going blind in the next few years.


How was life as a teenage boy for you?
It wasn’t easy for me to go out and live that normal teenage life, going out to parties and all because I know the society wouldn’t want me there. But I am grateful for the five best friends that I’ve made along the way. I’m still riding with them to this day.


How has music helped you to come to terms with yourself?
Music has always been there for me. I needed a platform to voice the things that I have to go through every day and people didn’t want me talking, so I rap. There’s something about rap that’s so real, it allows me to truly express myself.

And I grew up listening to the likes of Tupac and Too Phat, rapping to their music since I was four years old—all thanks to my brother.

Tess Pang

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The blurring of gender lines has arguably been discussed ad nauseam—in fashion, at least—but for Tess Pang (@tesspang) and many out there, it’s as natural as it gets. Not caring less about being politically correct or relevant, Tess explicitly expressed her disinterest in starting a movement or becoming a beacon of some sort; she’s just being herself.

The multidisciplinary artist shaved her head a little over a year ago and as much as she wished that it was a bigger deal than that, it just wasn’t.


How do you define femininity?
I just don’t. It’s actually something that I struggle with. In recent years I just sort of release myself of the need to be more feminine. I started identifying as a non-binary and that allows me to kind of move to a world where I don’t have to think about expressing masculinity or femininity—I just am.


Did you feel the pressure of being boxed into a specific category when you were growing up?
Totally. I was close to my older brother and we’d do everything together. But at a certain point I started getting instructions from my mom—cross your legs, smile like a girl—and my brother wasn’t. It created anxiety and feelings of inadequacy in myself because I’ve never really been comfortable being a girl, but I don’t necessarily want to be a boy either.

Photography: Chintoo

Styling: Jeffrey Yan

Read the full interview on L'Officiel Malaysia April 2019 Issue.



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