21:31 / 01 Mar 2021 / interviews / text: Valeriia Raskolnikova
A conversation with Deba Hekmat
Sooner or later, many people who take an interest in fashion become somehow disillusioned about the fashion industry's real state. The more observational we get, the more discouraged we become about fashion's diversity, mental health impact, labor exploitation, and many other vices poisoning the beloved "faity-tale" industry.
When it comes to modelling, there is no secret that for decades it assosiated itself with Eurocentric beauty standards, where non-Western ethnicities often lost to white beauty norms. How many young girls and boys were made to despise their own bodies because of not fitting into those frames?
Strong "passion for fashion" steadily replaces itself with a nessecity to act upon injustices that unfortunately unfold more often than they should. That is exactly what happened to Deba and stirred up her enthusiasm to break down the status quo, claiming that fashion industry should not be reserved only to white sexist cisgender executives.
I caught up with Deba Hekmat, 19 years old model who uses her platform to bring around such mattering notions as beauty standards, systematic racism, self-acceptance, mental health, immigration, and admiration of one's roots. Shyly, indeed, Deba denies being an advocate for social justice. Despite that humbleness, her contribution to a long-term positive transformation should not be underestimated.
Courtesy of Azeema Magazine. Picture from Deba's Instagram
How did you become a model? How your journey with Anti-Agency started?
Deba: My story is not the wildest one, but maybe it can teach something young kids struggling with self-doubt. I started modeling at the age of 16. At that time, I studied Fashion Design at a college and thought I loved fashion to the bones. But my passion for it started fading away as a result of having a horrible sexist white male lecturer. He was making my studying experience an unbearable distress.
Despite all of it, I had the confidence back then and decided to apply to Anti after one of my friends got signed. A week later, they had contacted me, and that was how it all kicked off. The whole moral of my case would be that if you have an idea in your mind and a strong belief in something, chances are you going to succeed. Many young kinds apply to Anti because they are tired of the norms: they know how to stand for themselves and their beauty.
"If you have an idea in your mind and a strong belief in something, chances are you going to succeed"
I believe today's modeling is more about being a role model, having something meaningful to say, and stand for something greater than just natural beauty. What is even "beautiful" at the end of the day?
Deba: Right! As a model, I had to go to loads of casting and I frequently found myself in situations where I was either the shortest one or lacking the most beautiful generic features. Obviously, it did take a toll on me and my mental health. My role model behavior started when I finally admitted to myself that the fashion industry is so fucked-up. We are made to hate ourselves because of the way we look. I wanted to change this pattern. How can I sit there all cute and stuff whilst having such a negative outlook on my own body? If I was doing it to myself, thousands of other girls did just the same.
I realized that people who follow me deserved some transparency: I do not feel amazing all the time, my mental health is not the most perfect, and I am not the best type of person. I am a human being just like everyone else.
Courtesy of Deba Hekmat. Picture by @jakobfrumusaki
Do you feel like individual people from the fashion industry helped to raise awareness about its doom and gloom?
Deba: Definitely! As general consumers, we frequently get caught up in the glitz and glamour side of fashion. We see all those runways, designers, and expensive clothes, but the amount of manipulation, sexual, physical and mental abuse that goes in hand just slips our consiousness. The crazy amount of microagressions are definitely noticed by individuals working for that money machine.
I always say that if we don't push for the change, who will? At the end of the day, conglomerates like LVMH are owned by rich white cigender males who don't care about our experiences. It slips under the radar when a model gets sexually abused by a designer or is underrepresented because of her ethnicity.
"Disengaging from Instagram for at least 3 hours per day would do wonders"
What advice can you give to a younger generation still looking for its own voice? How not to be manipulated by the glamorous facade?
Deba: It may sound very cliché but I owe a lot to my friends. They stayed with me during my hardest moments and told me everything I needed to hear. Detaching yourself from social media would be a perfect mechanism to develop a unique perspective on things. The only reason we are seeing all those pefrect bodies is because we are choosing to look at them: checking Instagram as the first thing in the morning and during any other spare time during the day.
People consume so much of purposeless data. Let's just put our phone away for a couple of weeks? I was literally so amazed after disactivating my Instagram for 2 weeks. I stopped comparing myself to random people. It was funny, though, when my agent told me to get it back and post some work lol. I would say that disengaging from Instagram for at least 3 hours per day would do wonders.
Deba in Ukraine. Picture from Deba's Instagram
What were your best and worst experiences while modeling?
Deba: The positive side would be a chance to meet wonderful, hilarious people at the job. I even found myself starstruck a couple of times. Recently, I have worked with Aweng Chuol, and it was very surreal to be on the same set with such a prominent person.
On the negative side, I would outline microaggressive hairstylists and creepy photographers. Sometimes I do my hair because a hairstylist genuinely doesn't know how to properly manipulate it. But my experience is nothing if compared to what Black girls go through daily. I feel like they are not taken seriously. Everytime a hairstylist just pokes their hair with literally zero professional knowledge or whatsoever. It is super uncomfortable to watch.
Creepy male photographers who try to sexually abuse or send off the predator intentions are another big issue that makes many girls feel vulnerable.
"I want to raise awareness and create a charity organization that fights female genital mutilation practices in Middle East, Africa and Asia"
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Deba: I really want to do television or documentary presenting! To travel the world, visit villages, talk to people. In Middle East and Africa we have this inhuman procedure called "female genital mutilation". Parts of female reproductive ograns are removed for non-medical reasons. This makes a women feel nothing down, so sex becomes just for making babies and for male pleasure. It happened to everyone in my family. My mom and auties to this day live with trauma. I want to raise awareness and create a charity organization that fights female genital mutilation practices in Middle East, Africa and Asia.
(Title picture of the article is the courtesy of Deba Hekmat and Anti-Agency)