Only 24 years old, Sheena Liam has achieved much more than most girls her age, all thanks to a driving passion for her craft and the inability to stagnate at any one stage of her life and career. This 5’9” leggy beauty is quickly becoming a household name not only in Asia but around the world. Gracing magazine covers, walking the runway of London Fashion Week in 2014 for designers like Simone Rocha and Mariana Jungmann, as well as being signed to Storm Model Management, Sheena is just at the beginning of what is looking to be a long and illustrious modelling career.
How’s life been after Asia’s Next Top Model?
Life has been great! It’s been life-changing, really. Just the number of opportunities that have opened up for me alone is amazing. Being able to travel all over the world, working with names I’d never dreamed of … I feel extremely lucky.
You got so much hate when you won. What are some of the worst things you’ve read or heard?
It’s funny how people harp on the hate. Sure, I got 30,000 hate messages, but no one chooses to see the 100,000 fan mails and messages of support I got as well. It’s how the media runs, I guess. No one reports that 7000,000,000 people continue to live or are born, but it’s all over the news when there’s a tragedy.
How do you deal with that? Is it scary for you to read these things being said by people who don’t even know you?
It wasn’t completely unexpected. You can’t please everyone. People are allowed to have opinions and rage about them as much as I am entitled to ignore them and focus on myself.
Has that died down or are there still people hating on you on social media?
It’s mostly quiet on the hate front now. The fans however, are going strong. My #Sheenators mean everything to me.
What made you decide to go blonde?
It’s just something I always wanted to try. After I graduated from university, I was in between jobs so I decided to just try it out. Three years later, and I am still blonde.
Does it take a lot to maintain your hair colour?
I just bleach it once every month. I don’t really do much to my hair – the less you care the better, honestly. I work in situations where I don’t get a say on what happens to my hair. It gets fried, back combed, torn out and pulled around. It’s an occupational hazard but it’s okay, because it’s just hair. It’s pretty resilient though; people always expect it to be in bad condition.
The blonde makes you stand out – it gives you an edge. What do you think would happen if you went back to your natural colour? Are you planning to?
Life would go on, really. I would love a switch in hair colour but that’s up to my mother agency. I think I’ve built up a really strong portfolio with the blonde hair. I’ve been branded and marketed with blonde hair, but I can still choose. I’m empowered to make my own decisions.
Most models choose to move to places like New York, London or Milan. What made you choose Singapore?
I was in London for a while, but it was getting way too cold and I would fall sick every few weeks. Singapore is near enough to home and it has a strong fashion scene. I’ll definitely go back to Europe when it’s a bit warmer, though.
How does working in Singapore differ from working in Malaysia? Is there a huge difference?
Storm sent me to a really good agency in Singapore. I like working with them; they have high profile clients, and the bookers push me hard so I work a lot. Malaysia is different because my job is to attend events and stuff like that. Those are fun, but I want real work. I like how going to a different city gives me a whole new chance to prove myself.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Asian models?
It’s more of a preference than a misconception. They either want a Caucasian girl with Oriental colouring or an Eastern Asian. Girls with darker skin, girls from other regions of Asia, South East Asians, Indians and the likes are very under-represented or under-appreciated as beautiful. But, you know, it’s fashion. It’s always based on trends or preference; it’s not here to please everyone.
Do you think you have to work that much harder to be noticed just because you’re Asian?
I think I get noticed solely because I am often the only Asian. Even in Singapore during the quiet season, there are very few Asians in castings. It’s okay to be different. Clients either want me or they don’t. You don’t take it too seriously and you move on to the next casting.
Do you think your success in AsNTM has made an impact on the local modelling industry?
I guess in a way I see a lot more girls being experimental with their personal styles. I wouldn’t attribute it to just me but, in general, girls find it okay not to conform to traditional beauty standards, and more importantly, designers find it okay to hire unconventional models.
What would you like to change about modelling in Malaysia and how do you think you can help change it?
I’d like to see designers use more local models. The job pool is already tiny as it is, and our talents aren’t being appreciated enough. I don’t know how I can help change it though … I’ll have to think this one through.
How would you know you’ve hit it big time? What is your measure of success?
My measure of success is always changing. When I was young I wanted to be in a magazine, then I wanted to be in a print ad, then I wanted to be on a cover; and then I wanted to win Asia’s Next Top Model, to walk London Fashion Week, and to have a big worldwide campaign. I dare to dream bigger each time and I always strive to achieve the next step. I hope there will never be a moment when I dare think of myself as a “supermodel” who’s done it all.
What is your dream?
Ice cream! I’m kidding … I don’t know, it changes lot. In my mind, I always have a next city that I want to live in, and a new ambition or a new goal. Right now I’m working on getting magazine covers. [Laughs]
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done so far?
The TV show was pretty exciting, I guess. I ate bugs, walked on water, and catwalked on the edge of KL Tower. Just being removed from the real world in general for the shooting period was oddly exciting. Modelling is nothing like that; it’s pretty repetitive and mundane.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
I’m inspired by a lot of things, really – movies, a line from a song, an image, but rarely ever a person. There are just too many façades to a person to solely pick one to draw inspiration from.
What is the most important quality to have as a model?
To not take the whole thing so seriously! Trends change, people have their own tastes. Some days you will work so much you wish you could just run away, and some days you will starve. Clients will love you and clients will find you repulsive to look at. How you look is not important; how people want you to look is. If you understand that and love what you do, you’ll accept it all.
Who’s your favourite male model?
Aaron Chan Chow Hee.
What’s the first thing you do when you’re done with a shoot?
I remove the make-up! Just soak everything off. I don’t particularly enjoy make-up. I always can’t wait to get in the bath and unwind and relax, and wash off the day.
How do you spend your day off?
I’ve been taking drum classes. I like embroidery, too. I love staying in bed till 4pm watching movies.
What advice would you give girls who want to follow in your footsteps?
Wear comfortable shoes. [Laughs]
Apart from modelling, what do you see yourself doing in five years?
Five years? I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow! Ask me again in five years.
What’s left for you to do in Malaysia?
It’ll always be my home, and if you look hard enough, there’s always something to do in Malaysia. There are so many new branches of work and careers opening up in the country so the possibilities are endless. It all depends on what I end up wanting to do at the end of the day.