Photographer Lobke Leijser at The Next Chapter Stylist Ogènda Model Thula Neka at Wilhelmina Models NY
Also speaks to Thula Neka about the fine balance of modelling and mothering.
Tell us how you got into modelling?
Growing up in the townships of South Africa, I was always made fun of for looking different, being thinner than the average girl. People used to call me “model” but they didn’t mean it in a flattering way, like today. They were insinuating that I was underfed and didn’t have womanly features like curves and breasts.
Then when I moved to Denmark a photographer called Henrik Adamsen saw a picture of me on Facebook and he sent me a message asking me to do a test shoot with him. My Danish boyfriend at the time was against the idea but one night while he was asleep I sneaked out and met with Henrik. He took some pictures of me and the next day I was signed with a modelling agency in Copenhagen.
Has becoming a mother changed your attitude to your work and the industry?
Definitely. When I had my daughter 6 years ago, I started to see how being a model, especially as a woman, can really play with your insecurities. You work with your body and your personality and you can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. It can be very harsh. That is why I wouldn’t recommend my daughter to become a model.
However, having my son 8 months ago made me see how this is just a business. It is what I do, not who I am. I am working harder to create a balance of the two. I look at myself now as a performer, as an artist and I start to appreciate my achievements more. I can see that I am one of the lucky ones who continues to work even though I have the children.
How do you relax/find time for yourself?
This is a really tough one. On jobs I work with my body and personality and I have to be very present and entertaining so rest is very important. Sleep is very important. Especially since I have to take my son with me on jobs, country to country, I only get to relax when he is sleeping at night. So I have to plan to rest just like I have to plan everything else. For example, on Thursday I have a day off so I must rest. This means creating tough boundaries for everyone else because I still have my son the whole time and relaxing is on his terms. I am lucky that I co-parent with the father of my daughter, that way I don’t have them both together all the time. It makes it easier.
At Also we want to celebrate creative women leading complex lives – do you identify with this?
Yes I do. I have two kids with different dads and I work as a full time model in foreign countries where the system and values are different from how I was raised. And what makes it harder is that I don’t have my family with me, they are still living in South Africa.
I also have to stand firm to reject the stereotypes and stigma of being a model as most people don’t take it seriously until they see a big billboard of you or a magazine cover but then they think you are rich and famous!! It is a constant battle to prove yourself.