From growing up in the small town of Kajang to now vying for the title of Asia’s Next Top Model (AsNTM), Rubini Sambanthan has certainly come a long way in life. Her journey is one fuelled by grit, determination and a will to succeed.
The 26-year-old Malaysian exudes confidence, and she seems ever ready to speak her mind. Yet, according to her, she was a really shy girl growing up and had a big problem with confidence – or rather, the lack of it.
“As a kid, I would hide behind the door all the time when someone comes over. Or that’s what my mum always says,” Rubini relates, adding, “Today, I tend to adopt this ‘it’s me against the world’ can-do attitude.”
“My aunt was a model. So she kind of inspired me. Not to be a model though. She made me want to be more confident. I just loved the way she carries herself and yearned to be like her in that way.”
But it was not easy for Rubini at the start of her journey. For one, she felt the pressure to be perfect, and two, she began to realise that it was difficult to shake off the “standards” that exist in fashion.
“I’ve received all sorts of criticisms. I’ve been called big and fat. Early on, I felt very depressed. It took a lot out of me – that feeling of needing to fit into this one mould,” she says.
“I was going on crazy diets and they caused me to feel really sick. I had an extremely severe gastric problem and that was when I decided enough is enough. This happened about two years ago.”
The profile of Rubini’s Instagram account (@rubinirubi) states that she is “curvy”. Her reasoning is simple – in the eyes of the modelling world, she is considered as having a larger than average body size for someone standing at 1.76m tall.
“I always wanted to venture into high fashion modelling. But it’s hard because I’m not exactly the tallest girl around. Also, I’m not the skinniest. So you see, this is what you are constantly being held to as a model,” she states.
Just Being Herself
When asked about her personal fashion sense, Rubini says that it changes all the time. On some days, she prefers to be a grunge girl. On other occasions, she just wants to be a girly girl.
One thing for sure though, Rubini is able to rock a suit. In this shoot and interview with Star2 (with makeup provided by MAC, the sponsor of AsNTM), she dons a few of her favourite pairs. She explains that they make her feel empowered.
“I’m trying to get into the suit business with my mum. My mum’s a tailor. Just recently, I posted up on Instagram this blue checked suit I wore during Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW). A lot of people were asking me where I got it. My mum made it!”
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Some of Rubini’s favourite fashion models include the likes of Liya Kebede, Aishwarya Rai and Agyness Deyn. She is also a fan of Kate Moss, simply because the supermodel made it big despite being labelled “short” like her.
“Locally, I look up to Tengku Azura. I remember at one of my first fashion shows, she approached me and said, ‘I like your walk.’ That was such a big surprise and it really made me so happy.”
While Rubini has prior experience before joining AsNTM, she thinks that it does not really give her much of an advantage. She thinks all the girls in the competition stand the same chance.
“They’re two different worlds. In the show, you need to sell yourself. While working as a fashion model, it’s you selling the garments. Not so much about you. You’re only the canvas,” she points out.
“Joining the competition was more about me getting a chance to tell my story. A story of this girl who’s not your typical fashion model, but she’s really going all out to try, show and prove that she can do it.”
Her Big Break
Rubini reveals that she was supposed to join Cycle 3 of the competition. But at that time, she was just crowned Miss International Malaysia 2014 and had to be in Tokyo, Japan, for the pageant finals.
Rubini almost did not take up the offer for Cycle 6, too. Her brother passed away last year and she says it was a difficult time in her life at that moment. However, she has managed to push through the emotional challenge.
“I would say pageantry did help me become a model. I was noticed because of it. But I got my first fashion break through Instagram. I was spotted through the postings of my account,” she recalls.
“I was also noticed at KLFW a few years back attending one of the shows. A model who was going to walk for the runway saw me and took my number. That’s how I was introduced into the runway world.”
As it is, Rubini is proud about being the only contestant of Indian descent on this cycle of AsNTM. She says that she wants to inspire young girls to be proud of who they are – or as she puts it, “Brown skin represent!”
And what about her message to fans and viewers of the show? Well, she just wants everyone to shower all 14 of the models with love and to do away with any hateful remarks, no matter what happens.
“Also, support all the Malaysian contestants. Past, present and the future. It’s the Merdeka month,” she says. “So far, I’ve gotten messages of support from all Malaysians regardless of race – and that is just beautiful.”