It takes a lot to rise from the ashes, achieve your goals and give back to the world like Natalia Vodianova has. She is a strong, independent woman who has made good for herself by simply believing in herself. She has a story that cannot be restricted to a page, so I won’t even try. But here is a little something for you to get inspired by as Natalia divulged into conversation with Smriti Raizada and gave us new perspectives of how she views the world.
Ex: Hey Natalia! How and when did the name ‘supernova’ surface in your life?
NV: I am so glad to be here! It’s so funny how that caught on because ‘Supernova’ is actually a name Mario Testino gave me after I gave birth to my oldest, Lucas. I was about nineteen at the time and Mario was so impressed that I got back on the runway just two weeks after he was born. Eventually, the whole industry picked it as my official nickname so it came naturally to name my Instagram account @natasupernova.
Ex: Young age, as we’ve heard, was a difficult time for you. Is there a specific moment from back then that led you to turn things around for good?
NV: Growing up in a poor district in Russia meant my childhood came with its fair share of challenges. I don’t think there was one specific moment or an incident I can recall, but times were certainly tough. I was very fortunate to have been discovered by a local modelling agency when I was fifteen, while I was helping my mother out at the fruit stand she ran in my hometown.
I had my first big modelling job when I was seventeen and after that everything changed very quickly. I’m very grateful to the fashion industry because it completely changed my life. It took me away from a life of hardship and alienation.
Ex: What’s been your driving force behind getting actively involved in social causes?
NV: I think one of the biggest reasons I feel so strongly about social causes such as raising the standards of women’s health is because I saw the reality of these issues in my own childhood. Giving back has always been important in my mind because both my family and I had to face these problems. We struggled through so much discrimination and insults, not just because of our socio-economic status, but because of my sister’s disability.
It affected me a lot as a child, but I realised even back then the importance of family and making sure you stood by those you love. It is because I’ve lived through these experiences that I understand their crippling effect both socially and psychologically. It acts as my driving force when it comes to philanthropy and is one of the main reasons I started The Naked Heart Foundation so that the deficiencies in the child welfare domain could be addressed.
Ex: Beauty is often constricted by societal norms which in turn affects the views of girls who don’t ‘fit’ into that definition. How important do you think it is to break stereotypes in today’s world? NV: When I entered the fashion industry, I was a teenager and I saw other models and how they were judged for things like not having the smallest waist or the right height, or for being from a different racial background. I’ve learnt over the years that confidence is the real beauty, and by continuing to allow the existence of these stereotypes, the world was essentially draining the self-esteem of aspiring models.
I want to say that this has improved in recent times, as the industry becomes more inclusive and celebratory of different body types and individual styles. To a large extent, it is because this is the dominant discourse on social media these days. The diversity in the women that girls growing up now see will allow them to accept themselves more easily, to realize their own potential and be confident in the way that they look. But whilst I feel there have been improvements there is still work to be done.
Ex: Do you think social media can play a role in providing benefits to the underprivileged in society?
NV: Absolutely. Social media is paramount to empowering the underprivileged and relaying positive messages. It can be incredibly powerful and effective, but at the same time, it can also be very frustrating to see such great engagement in causes that are perhaps meaningless. Five billion likes are clicked every day on Facebook alone, but on top of expressing our appreciation for things we like, what exactly do all those likes mean eventually? That exact feeling of frustration inspired my idea of Elbi: a platform 100% focused on good initiatives, giving people a voice and a purposeful way to make a ‘like’ really count for other people.
I wondered how I could capture the energy of a ‘like’ or a ‘Retweet’ and harness it for good. I strongly wanted those likes to become meaningful, to have an impact in people’s lives. So, it came to me – what if alongside the ‘like’ button, there was a “Love Button” and when you press it, you’re saying “I want to help these people; I want everybody to help these people.” Then you do just that by putting a little donation on it. That’s how I added purpose to those clicks, empowering everyone to take action.
Ex: What was the inspiration behind starting the Naked Heart Foundation? Did you face any challenges?
NV: The Naked Heart Foundation is something that’s so important to me because it is aimed at building a more inclusive and accepting society in which people with disabilities and special needs feel integrated and have access to the care they require. For us growing up, it was always a huge disadvantage that we didn’t have the money to get Oksana, my half-sister, the care she needed. I went through the pain of being unable to help a loved one and I hope that no one must experience this – hence why I set up The Naked Heart Foundation for affected families. It gives them a way to get the support needed.
Ex: You’re absolutely adored in India. Would you like to give out a message in regard to how we can uplift the situation of kids in need?
NV: India is home to the world’s youngest population, and the youth are taking an avid interest in social causes that surround them. Children are the future of this planet and there is a large number of children in India who require extra care for their special needs. Besides investing in their education and health of children, people need to work together to make this beautiful country an even better place.
Ex: It’s been a rad year for you and we’re rounding up the best of 2019 in this issue. Tell us your favourite moment of 2019 so far?
NV: It’s hard to spotlight one single moment, but what I will say is 2019 has been incredible for the ‘Let’s Talk!’ series which has been to different corners of the world. The series aims to tackle the most prevalent issues surrounding women’s health-destroying stigmas and taboos in the process. From The Nairobi Summit in Kenya to New Delhi at the SDGs Impact Summit, we have had some amazing discussions and the global response has been truly breathtaking.
Ex: What’s the one thing you want to accomplish before the year ends?
NV: I have always associated myself with causes I feel personally connected to. There is a sense of empathy which propels my passion for philanthropy. I try to make efforts across all levels to ensure that my philanthropic endeavours meet their objectives. For example, breaking down the stigma and taboo that surrounds periods is something I feel passionately about. For this purpose, Elbi has joined forces with Flo (the largest female health app’s) users, P&G and Dharma life to take that effect to the grassroots. The mission is to help up to one million girls in rural India to get access to education of menstrual health and vital period products. We hope that this collaboration secures the support of our subscribers who contribute towards our efforts of eradicating period poverty in India.
Ex: What would be Natalia Vodianova’s calling in a parallel universe?
NV: I think I would’ve liked to be a teacher. If I’d had a higher education I feel like that’s what I would’ve done. I love children and I love helping people, so it seems like the perfect fit. But honestly, I love my life the way it is right now. I have an amazing family, who I get to spend time with. I get to meet new and interesting people from different walks of life and I do something that I love without the worries I had as a child.
NATALIA VODIANOVA – UP AND PERSONAL
- A favourite designer you’ve worked with?
Too many. But Karl Lagerfeld has a special place in my heart.
- 3 travel tech essentials?
Ziip, which is this amazing device that uses electrical currents to regenerate my skin, something absolutely essential with a long flight.
- An unusual app on your phone? Wannakicks?
Very cool AR app that allows you to try on trainers and shoes virtually.
- A Quote you live by?
Good is the new cool.
- What’s your favourite holiday spot?
Our home in the countryside, in France.
- A book you’re currently reading?
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
- How would you describe yourself in a hashtag?