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Supermodel Shanina Shaik on Her Saudi Roots, Battling Racism, and Becoming a Mother

Dress, Atelier Zuhara; earrings, ring, Ana Khouri. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales

Supermodel Shanina Shaik is a force to be reckoned with. The 31-year-old model, who is of Saudi Arabian, Australian, Lithuanian, and Pakistani descent, just announced her pregnancy to her 2.8 million followers on Instagram and she couldn’t be happier. There’s a lot she’s looking forward to — a new baby and a personal product line expected on shelves next year. One look at her Instagram profile, and one imagines how idyllic herlife is — poolside weekends, sandy beaches, and lots of travel. But the reality is that her journey is not without its hurdles.

Shaik for Victoria’s Secret. Photo: Getty

Raised in Australia, Shaik describes her youth as somewhat tumultuous. “I had a difficult time in school dealing with bullying, but overall, I loved my childhood. I loved the weather, playing sports outside, the food, and much more.” She credits her mother with being her biggest cheerleader during tough times and admits her journey would have been different without her support. Although Shaik’s been modeling since she was eight years old, it wasn’t until she finished as a runner-up in the Australian reality show Make Me a Supermodel in 2008 that doors started opening for her. At 17, she moved to New York, where she felt she would be more accepted as a model.

Shanina Shaik, sat on her grandfather’s lap, with her family in Singapore

Due to what would have been considered unconventional looks at the time — wide, high cheekbones that create an almost feline appearance, olive skin, and a hard-to-pinpoint heritage outside the usual white, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed models — breaking into a world that is often criticized for its lack of representation was no easy feat. “I have a diverse ethnic background — it wasn’t accepted or recognized in the modeling industry, which still had to make a lot of changes and celebrate diversity. I was part of a slow movement that has come a long way today.” But Shaik didn’t let racism break her spirit — if anything, it made her more resilient. “Luckily, I received a modeling contract with a New York agency after being scouted on the model search reality show — that’s when my career kick-started, and I felt accepted. No one should ever deal with racism in their work environment.” Since then, there’s been no stopping her. In 2011, she was cast in the Victoria’s Secret show, where she walked with other supermodels like Joan Smalls and Chanel Iman, and later walked the runway for some of the biggest names including Jason Wu, Tom Ford, and Chanel. “Walking in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show has been the highlight of my career as has working with top renowned fashion designers and photographers. As a little girl, it would have been surreal if you told me this would be my future.”

Shanina Shaik’s Pakistani grandfather and Saudi Arabian grandmother on their wedding day

Despite her multicultural upbringing, Shaik resonates most with her Middle Eastern culture and Saudi roots. “My grandmother was from Saudi Arabia. I’ve seen pictures of her, and I resemble her in so many ways,” she says. The model visited the Kingdom last year to mark the opening of the Red Sea International Film Festival. “It was an extremely special trip to travel to Saudi Arabia. I wanted to see my family’s culture and understand my heritage. Additionally, it was an important historical event to be a part of and witness the international film festival.” She was seen on the red carpet in a dazzling sequined gown by Lebanese-American designer Eli Mizrahi of Monôt, one of her favorite Middle Eastern labels.

Top, dress, shorts, boots, Simone Rocha; pearl earrings, Ana Khouri. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales

For her personal style, Shaik gravitates to high-low fashion. “I like to find cute vintage pieces and incorporate them into my daily dressing.” Her aesthetic features cool, oversized looks — a silhouette she gravitates towards with vintage tees being her favorite find now. “My everyday look consists of t-shirts, baggy jeans, or suited pants, with a blazer and boots. I also like Eterne, vintage Chrome Hearts, and IRO for daily dressing.” For the red carpet, she prefers figure-hugging looks and works with her stylist to pick the perfect outfit. During her pregnancy though, comfort is key. “My bump has been growing rapidly,” she exclaims. “I want to have fun moments showing my bump during the summer season, and I’m not afraid to wear heels either.”

Dress, Prada. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales

Physical and mental wellbeing is important to her, and Shaik switched up her self-care routine to suit the pregnancy. She’s steering clear of any retinols, fragrances, and benzoyl peroxide and wearing sunscreen to avoid pigmentation — “I can’t live without my Liberty Belle SPF 50+ Superstar sunscreen. It’s a staple product in my skincare bag.” Some of her favorite skincare brands include Biologique Recherche, KORA, 111 Skin, and Rodial. For body care, she applies Belly Oil by Hatch, Trilastin’s Maternity Stretch Mark Prevention Cream, and Vitamin E oil. When it comes to exercise, Pilates has been her go-to as she loves the results. “Currently, I only do prenatal Pilates classes. I work with my favorite trained Pilates coaches to guide me in a safe workout.”

Dress, coat, Maison Margiela; gloves, Handsome Stockholm; earrings, Ana Khouri. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales

As Shaik’s body changes during her pregnancy, she’s in no hurry to bounce back into shape right after birth. “It’s a shame that society and pop culture have placed pressure on women to ‘bounce back.’ It causes stress and unnecessary worry that could lead to mental health issues. More importantly, your body needs to heal.” Instead, she’s amazed to see how her body is changing to bring life into this world. “Your body is doing what it needs to do to create a healthy space for your baby. It’s important to listen to it during this time.” In the age of diet culture, it’s refreshing to see her spread a positive message, especially for the next generation.

Dress, Sportmax; earrings, rings, Anabela Chan; shoes, Christian Louboutin. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales

When asked if she has considered a specific parenting style she wants to follow, the model answers, “I don’t believe there is a ‘textbook’ way to be a parent. I haven’t met my child yet, I don’t know its personality. I know I will give my baby unconditional love, safety, support, and guidance.” An animal lover at heart, Shaik will pass on some valuable life lessons to her child, especially when it comes to standing up for what’s right. “I feel like it’s our rightful duty to care and be a voice for animals,” she adds. “Humans make inconsiderate choices that cause irreversible changes to ecosystems and living creatures. Our future and our children’s futures look scary.”

Dress, gloves, necklace, Saint Laurent. Vogue Arabia, June 2022. Photo: Greg Swales

While taking on the role of a mother is one she’s most looking forward to, she also has a few words of wisdom for the next generation of upcoming models — especially those of color. “Always believe in yourself and make sure your voice is being heard. Protect your mental health and surround yourself with a team who love, support, and want the best for you.”

Originally published in the June 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

Style: Danyul Brown
Fashion director: Amine Jreissati
Hair: Miles Jeffries
Makeup: Michael Anthony
Digital tech: Meredith Munn
Lighting: Maya Sacks, Sandy Rivas
Set designer: Lucy Holt
Set assistants: Scott Morris, Aryn Morris
Style assistants: Molly Mundy, Adam Chia
Producer: Alexey Galetskiy

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