British supermodel Neelam Gill describes herself as a “tomboy” who grew up not caring about what she looked like. What a twist of fate that this natural stunner is redefining standards of beauty as a mainstream model of South Asian descent.
But Gill is more than just the token pretty brown woman in a magazine. She is fearless when it comes to vocalizing the racism she faces in the fashion industry, the social media trolls that try to bring her down, feminism, her personal struggles with depression, and her difficult childhood. The young influencer is the strong, independent and raw role model desi girls today desperately need in this divisive world.
hi, my name is Neelam, I’m from Coventry & I’m in a L’Oréal commercial!! aahhhhh!!! such an honour to be a part of this campaign with @lorealhair and @rankinarchive, especially because my hair has always been a big part of who I am 🌟 my job as a model means that my hair is styled every single day on set; so I use @lorealhair’s nutri gloss range (THE PINK ONE) to give my hair that extra shine 💁🏽♀️ #ElvivexRankin #ThePinkOne #Loreal
This powerful diva has just started her journey a few years ago and already she’s breaking barriers and ripping to shreds the blonde-haired-blue-eyed-pale image of beauty by becoming the first British Indian to take on many monumental milestones within the fashion industry. Gill is the first British Indian model to become the muse of Burberry, the face of Abercrombie & Fitch, the face of L’Oreal, and to appear in British Vogue. She’s actually appeared on numerous Vogue editions around the world including Vogue Arabia and Vogue India. She’s walked the ramp for Burberry, Kanye, and Dior as well.
She was featured in campaigns for British Airways, Yeezy, Balmain, and Adidas. Recently she was even on the cover of Elle Magazine and met Prince Charles at the Prince’s Trust event. Gill has traveled the world for projects from India and Japan to America.
Gill’s first step towards a modeling career was when she was scouted by an agency at 14 but it wasn’t until she was 18 with all A’s on her A-levels did her mother allow her to give modeling a chance. Initially, she never told anyone about her aspirations for fear of the criticism.
“I didn’t even tell people in high school that I was interested in modeling, or that I’d been scouted,” Gill told Elle Magazine, “because when people found out, they were like, ‘What? Her?!’ There was a joke about me in school: ‘Oh, Neelam’s a model—she’s a foot model! Maybe she can be a hand model!’ because nobody could believe anyone would want to [cast] me. And now those same people message me on Facebook. They’re like, “Wow, let’s meet up!”
After signing with Models 1, an agency whose repertoire includes legends like Twiggy, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell, Gill was sent to Burberry as one of her first auditions. The young and naive Gill had no clue the enormity of the opportunity she was presented.
In an interview with The Guardian, Gill says she didn’t have enough money for the train ride from Coventry to London so she couldn’t go. She was studying psychology at university and working at Hollister at the time. Models 1 was furious at her for missing the audition but lucky for Gill, Burberry called again to set up a meeting with her the following week so she scraped up the cash for the train ride to London.
“It was like something out of Ugly Betty,” she told The Guardian about her first audition experience with Burberry. She was in awe of the skilled professionals at the audition. “I just sat there with my long hair past my ass, hot pink nails, this diamanté top with huge platform boots and hot pants… I’d never walked before, I’d never done any editorials or photoshoots, so when Christopher [Bailey] looked in my book, there were no pictures, just Polaroids. I was, like, ‘Yeah, don’t worry I’ve got a few shoots coming up.’ I had no idea of the magnitude of what was happening.”
With her sharp features and big brown eyes, Gill impressed Christopher Bailey, the chief creative and chief executive officer of Burberry, and she got her first modeling job in the Burberry campaign, English Rose, that was shot by Mario Testino. She put her degree on hold to pursue her modeling career that year. From polaroids as her first headshot to a highly sought-after model, this desi beauty is conquering the fashion world rapidly
While her career took off rapidly, Gill noticed a lot of discrimination in the fashion industry. Gill has been vocal about her frustrations about being the only South Asian or Asian girl in the room at an audition. She explains that by breaking these barriers or at least causing a dent in the lack of diversity within the fashion industry she can give hope to minority girls everywhere. She didn’t grow up with personalities in media who looked like her and she is glad her younger sisters won’t face that.
“I go to castings now and there might be one other Asian girl–agencies started scouting them after I started getting booked,” Gill told The Guardian. “That’s amazing. It’s an ongoing process, and it won’t change overnight, but sometimes… just what the fuck?!”
Besides facing discrimination in the industry, Gill has also faced attacks from social media trolls who can be truly cruel. She’s been attacked for her ethnicity, her appearance, her opinions, and even for being romantically linked to Zayn Malik right after he broke his engagement with singer Perrie Edward. Even before gaining popularity she has faced racism growing up in Coventry for not just her looks but her family’s financial struggles as well.
“People say the worst things about me, but I don’t hate them for it,” Gill said in a video she posted on YouTube. “I don’t hate anyone in this world. I just feel sorry because they’re so deeply insecure. If you’re a secure person you never feel the need to write anything negative online.”
Gill has become a media favorite because she is so raw and open with her opinions and her story. Her struggles within the industry and her difficult childhood make her relatable. The obstacles in her life have taught her to be a humble person, which is clear to followers.
Gill has spoken of her family’s financial issues growing up and her parents’ unhappy marriage. Her parents divorced when she was a mere 7-years-old, understandably this took a deep emotional toll on her. Her father later remarried a woman Gill never met and they had a child together. The young model was heartbroken and is estranged from her biological father.
“I thought I would never get over that pain,” Gill told The Guardian in an interview. “I remember just being heartbroken, I was numb for years and years. I always thought if I could get through that, then I could deal with anything.”
Gill’s mother remarried when she was 13 and Gill eventually took her stepfather’s surname. The spiritual model, let go of any animosity towards her father and his family but she works hard to keep her loving mother happy.
“I was really hard on my mum at a time when she really needed me,” Gill explains in the same interview. “ I wasn’t there for her. I do what I can to be better to her now.”
Through her action, she shows her fans that she has risen from her pain, letting go is the best way to move on. She’s spoken about mental health issues and her personal struggles with depression and anxiety that began in 2015. She was constantly on the move due to her budding modelling career so she lost many friends and became distant from her family, she felt everyone was unhappy with her but she kept working because she wasn’t sure how long the stream of modelling gigs would keep flowing. Gill explains how she can’t get out of bed some days, she would vomit or wake up in cold sweats, paralyzed in the middle of the night. It wasn’t until she was vomiting at a photo shoot and was sent home did she begin to focus on her physical and mental health.
“Depression is still something I suffer from,” she said in a video she released on her YouTube channel, “but it’s something you learn how to cope with and you get help.”
Though she’s not very active on YouTube, she released this video in 2015 speaking her views on topics like society’s standards of beauty, depression, the fashion industry’s inner workings, feminism, and more. Though her 5-minute update turned into a 20-minute rant, the insightful model makes some inspiring points about the Eurocentric view of beauty we have in the world, society’s narrow-minded view on things and she even opens up about her struggles with depression that she is still battling.
With so much under her belt already, what else does this 22-year-old want for the future?
To continue making waves to change the views of beauty so minority girls have a powerful role model in the mainstream media, and to just stay “normal.”
“I won’t be doing this forever,” Gill explained in an interview with The Guardian. “I don’t ever want to be one of those girls having dead conversations…. I want to have depth. I want to stay normal, I love fashion, but it is a bubble. The industry magnifies things out of proportion and you need to remember what matters.”