We speak to the Muslim model about how her recently shaved head has given her a new lease of life
Growing up in Jakarta, Hayati Azis never fit in. A tomboyish child who wanted to play with the boys and didn’t look like the other girls, she was frequently bullied no matter how hard she tried to make friends. “I never felt beautiful growing up, neither from my personality nor my physique,” she says. “I grew up in a culture that makes it hard for me to love myself.”
It wasn’t until she was scouted in 2016 and started working as a model that Hayati started to embrace herself and when she shaved her head at the suggestion of her agent, she truly began to feel beautiful. “I discovered that without my hair I could project myself better, not only as a model but as a human being,” she says. However, while she found the freedom to be herself through shaving her head, those around Hayati have not been as quick to embrace the change. From her family to those in her hometown in Sumatra, Hayati has faced judgement from many who don’t understand or approve of the way that she looks – so different as it is to the culture’s beauty standards.
That hasn’t held Hayati back though and with a career going from strength to strength – from being shot by Harley Weir for POP Magazine last year to winning the “Model of the Year 2018” award at BeautyFest Asia – we caught up with her to learn more.
Did you spend much time in Sumatra as a child and if so how did it shape you?
Hayati Azis: When I was a little, I used to go back to my hometown specifically in Padang, West Sumatra to celebrate Ramadhan every year, reuniting with my whole families. We used to explore different areas on the island just to spend time with them. That was a beautiful time that I really missed. But since I’m a bald girl now, it’s just difficult to go back there without not only my family but the whole neighbourhood judging my appearance. So I need to move on and start accepting myself when it feels like nobody is anymore, even my family.
Who did you think was beautiful when you were growing up?
Hayati Azis: I guess I would say nobody or maybe I have forgotten who I looked up to since it’s been such a long time. I grew up in a culture that makes it hard for me to love myself. I think finding new cultures in modelling was the moment I start seeing beauty in diversity. So nobody, in particular, maybe just models that inspired me from different backgrounds.
Have you always felt beautiful?
Hayati Azis: Funny thing is, I never felt beautiful growing up, neither from my personality nor my physique. I grew up as this energetic tomboy kid who played what the boys were playing and had different looks compared to most girls my age. I still tried so hard to make friends with them although it was hard being accepted. That’s why I was bullied mentally and physically by both girls and boys since kindergarten, which caused me to became insecure. But seeing the bigger picture, I now realise how my childhood shaped how I came to define beauty. I learned that beauty is how I feel about myself; not about fitting in.
Have you had to overcome any hurdles in order to do your job?
Hayati Azis: All of the above as well as my family and our culture. Their religious views mean they tend to see what I do as a bad thing and judge me as a bad example to the family. You have no idea how closed minded they can be.
When did you decide to shave your head and why?
Hayati Azis: When I started modelling in 2016. My scout suggested I do it. At first, I didn’t understand how it would suit my personality but I discovered that without my hair I could project myself better, not only as a model but as a human being. Also, with this bald head, I feel beautiful and free to be myself. There is no more to hide. It did take a while to get my parents’ permission.
How do you think you challenge local beauty standards? Do you want to challenge beauty standards?
Hayati Azis: By being myself and being comfortable in my own skin. That freedom to express myself boosts my confidence. It changes how people see beauty in themselves. I want everyone to feel good about themselves and embrace their flaws, regardless of their colours and backgrounds. I want them to realise that they are more beautiful than all those industry-set beauty standards.
What are the beauty ideals like in Jakarta and where do they come from?
Hayati Azis: A lot of girls emulate what is on TV and in commercials. Super white skin. Long dark hair – if they have curly hair, they straighten it. They use lots of make-up, not to express themselves but to cover up their flaws. No hair on their legs and underarms, nose contours, stuff like that. These ideals come from how girls are taught to look by their parents and the social conditioning we all face as children.
What does beauty mean to you?
Hayati Azis: Beauty is everywhere, beauty is art. It has so many different meanings for everyone. For me, the word is such a complex and sensitive word, because when you say it, it speaks of flaws and imperfections. What we naturally have should be celebrated. For me, beauty comes together with love and it has to please the soul. It is not a rule that everyone needs to follow.
Concept and styling: Erika Kurihara
Photography: Karina Twiss
Make-up: Zoe Koritsas
Model: Hayati Azis at Persona Management, Jakarta
Photographic assistance: Leonardo Coky Sitorius
Special thanks to Xerxes Cook and Andhika Dharmapermana.
Bikini bottoms Prism London.