We spoke to the model, artist and activist about her Malaysian heritage, nostalgic smells and the future of beauty
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Soraya Jansen was 16 years old when she cut off all her hair - a protest against gendered beauty standards. In fact she’s been protesting against the world’s bullshit ever since. Informed by her own mixed white and Malaysian heritage, Soraya’s art addresses the overwhelming whiteness of our education system, which incidentally resulted in her refusing to take part in her final year graduate show at Glasgow School of Art. Instead, Soraya posted a video of her performance piece the world of the white in which she – shackled at the ankles and flanked in traditional Malaysian attire – paints across two blank canvases before gradually stripping away her clothes, ripping the cloth and binding them around her fists.
A model in her spare time, since graduating in 2017, she’s opened a Vivienne Westwood show and walked for Ashish and Astrid Andersen amongst others. We speak to Soraya about her Malaysian heritage, nostalgic smells and the future of beauty.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up?
I’m based in London but I grew up in Malaysia, so that’s definitely influenced my work and sculpted me as a person but also allowed me to have a more global understanding towards things, which I’m grateful for.
What beauty product would you take with you to the moon?
Coconut oil. It’s definitely my most used product.
Tomorrow you wake up with another face of your choice. Whose is it and why?
My best friend Carras. If it was a Freaky Friday situation then we’d get to swap faces for a minute.
If you had to choose one surgical enhancement, what would it be and why?
When I was younger I wanted to get my breasts done and wore push up bras because all my friends had massive boobs and I felt like less of a ‘woman’ being flat chested and it really got to me. I think everyone should have the freedom to get surgery without criticism, we live in pretty mean and superficial times, and if surgery makes someone feel better about themselves, which will then probably allow them to achieve greater things, then they should go for it, it’s a free world.
It’s the year 2100. You’re the owner of the largest beauty tech company in the world, what five products or treatments will you dedicate your resources trying to invent?
Definitely all natural, chemical free products inspired by our ancestors' relationship to nature - before this mass consumer lifestyle we once also had a deep understanding of how herbs and plants healed us and I think it’s important to relearn that. There are so many plants that naturally heal the body like hemp, willow bark, burdock root etc. so probably 5 basic beauty products filled with a cute potion of different healing herbs to fit each purpose.
You’ve had an accident which causes you to lose your sense of smell. The doctors can’t return it fully but can give you the ability to smell one scent. What do you pick?
No joke that would probably be my worst nightmare!! I love to cook and smells play such a big part in the nostalgic feeling that comes with preparing a dish... so I’d say maybe lavender? It’s so calming and since I wouldn’t be able to smell food anymore I’d need something to de-stress!!
It's 30 years from now. You stumble home at 3am and catch your reflection in the fridge door. What do you look like?
First off, if I’m coming home at 3am when I’m 54 then I’m glad future me is living her life to the fullest, not being defined by a number. So I guess I’d be a pretty stylish lady and probably also look young af thanks to Asian genes.
You have the ability to live in a video game. Which would it be?
We’re already living in a video game.
If you could have a new sense on top of your existing ones, what would it be?
I think it would be pretty sick to get on the level of animals. We think we're so developed but animals can sense so much more than us - like being able to use the earth's magnetic field as a compass, that’s kind of powerful.
What is the future of beauty?
The future of beauty is hopefully being able to have the complete freedom to be your truest self.