Kate Moss’s life changed in 1988, when Sarah Doukas, founder of the Storm agency, discovered her while waiting at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, at the age of 14. Gisele Bündchen did it at the age of 13, when agent Dilson Stein observed her in a place as unglamorous as the McDonald’s in São Paulo, while the then teenager ate a Big Mac. Maleesha Kharwa’s life changed the day in who met the American Robert Hoffman, actor, dancer and choreographer known for his participation in films such as She’s the Boy (2006) or Step Up 2: The Streets (2008). It was 2020 in the Indian city of Bombay, and Kharwa was just a 12-year-old girl. Friendly and talkative, Hoffman found her facing the sea, next to her home, a fragile shanty in which she lived with her family, surrounded by waste.
Hoffman recorded that encounter, where the little girl said that she lost her mother at a young age, leaving her father to juggle his daily job while raising her and her brother. Aware of the power of the internet, Hoffman had an idea and uploaded the video to his own social networks. He also helped Kharwa create her own Instagram profile to make herself known and launch a campaign on GoFundMe, a fundraising platform, to help the little girl finance her dream. Maleesha was clear which one she was. At one point in the video, the little girl states: “I want to be a model.”
Three years later, his dream has come true. At just 15 years old, Maleesha Kharwa is the image of the Indian luxury cosmetics firm Forest Essentials, with a campaign that promotes products aimed at teenagers and that celebrates the diversity of beauty that exists in the country, which in the past only glorified lighter skin and more Western-looking faces as beauty ideals. Kharwa represents a change and a declaration of intentions, especially for the new generations, and her face and smile are rising in the fashion and beauty industry. Maleesha has stated that her campaign with Forest Essentials is her “biggest work to date,” although she remains down-to-earth: “I want to be a model,” she said during the campaign launch, “but education will always be a priority.” for me”.
Kharwa has appeared, since 2020, on the cover of publications such as Peacock Magazine, Cosmopolitan or Face Magazine. She has participated in numerous fashion editorials, including one in the prestigious Vogue magazine. Baptized as “the princess of the neighborhood,” her story has been compared to that of the protagonist of the Oscar-winning film for best film Slumdog Millionaire, where a young man from a neighborhood very similar to that of Kharwa manages to become a millionaire by winning a television contest. As Maleesha recounted on her GoFundMe page: “People often ask me if living in a poor neighborhood makes me sad and this question always confuses me, because I love my home,” she wrote in 2020, “the only thing I don’t like is What I like is that, many times, my brother and I don’t have anything to eat and we have a hard time getting water. Also, in a month the monsoons will arrive. It is difficult for us to sleep when it rains because we have no roof. “We use a plastic tarp, but the winds can be very strong in the monsoon season.” With the money obtained, Maleesha and her family have rented a small one-bedroom apartment with its own bathroom and running water, a short distance from the place where they lived before, where their friends and family continue to reside.
On his Instagram account, where he currently has more than 370,000 followers, images of his old neighborhood can still be seen. It also shows some of the personal and professional milestones that the teenager has experienced in the last three years: from celebrating her first 1,000 followers to purchasing her first mobile phone, as well as her first poses in front of the camera. “Now many people recognize me and ask for photos. “I feel very proud of myself right now,” she says in a conversation with Reuters, although she adds that some days she feels too exposed, because people take too many pictures of her.
“I see beauty in everything,” said the young model in a statement after the launch of the campaign with Forest Essentials. “Many people think that only light skin is beautiful. I think that’s nonsense. That’s not how I see the world. A pretty face is important, but inner beauty is much more important. I love my skin and I’m glad I can share the message that there is no one rule that girls and women should follow. “They can do whatever they want and I want to inspire other girls and tell them that they are special.” Among her projects, Kharwa has also created The Maleesha People foundation, which seeks to help other young people in disadvantaged situations pursue their dreams.
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