At three, she decided to participate in a fancy dress competition like most other kids. Donning the prettiest dress and wings, she walked up the stage as a fairy.
Only a few moments as she stood on that stage, a voice ripped through the crowd. It yelled. “Dekho kaali pari! (Look, a black fairy!)” The comment did not hurt as much as the roaring laughter that reverberated through the audience. A three-year-old Renee ran off the stage with tears of hurt and humiliation.
Cut to 2018, netizens are going crazy over iconic R&B pop star Rihanna’s Indian look-alike. She graces magazines, is making headlines and slaying looks on Instagram with 2000+ followers.
In a country with an unfathomable obsession with fairness, the same three-year-old who was mocked for her skin tone has turned into a model who is making heads turn and challenging beauty standards!
Born and brought up in Bagicha, Chhattisgarh, she entered the world of modelling a few years ago.
But her road to fame was not easy.
She faced rejection and was ridiculed at every step. Speaking to the Hindustan Times, the model who bears an uncanny resemblance to Rihanna, says, “They told me all models are into prostitution. I won’t become a model unless I pleased clients. Being dark had already killed my chances.”
And it didn’t stop there.
While photographers would request makeup artists to lighten her skin tone 3-4 times, they would also heavily photoshop all her pictures. An example of one such humiliating incidents was when a makeup artist finished Renee’s makeup and publicly exclaimed, “Sundar ladki ka makeup toh koi bhi kar sakta hai. The real challenge is to make a dark girl look good, and I have done it!”
The humiliation, the ridicule, and mockery continued for the initial phase of her career until one of her friends made her realise that she looked a lot like the Barbadian singer, songwriter, actor, and businesswoman, Robyn Rihanna Fenty. The friend also decided to photograph her without making any alterations to her skin tone or the final image.
“I laughed off the Rihanna part. But soon everyone was saying the same thing,” Renee told HT.
It was only a matter of time until she started gaining popularity as more and more individuals pointed out how she was the Indian look-alike of Rihanna.
“Photographers would tell their clients that I resemble Rihanna. That way, it was easier to convince them. No one could deny that Rihanna wasn’t beautiful. That sort of worked in my favour. Those who had called me kaali and unattractive has to take back their words,” she says.
The most beautiful aspect of Renee’s personality is that she has not only accepted but also feels immensely grateful for having similar features to the pop-star.
Attributing her success to the Barbadian singer, Renee says, “With such deep-rooted prejudice in people’s mind, it would have been very tough to get work. The Rihanna factor turned out to be a blessing. Rihanna has already convinced people that she is sexy and beautiful and the West is crazy about her. If I resemble her, how can I be unattractive? That’s how our mind works. I don’t know where I would have landed without Rihanna,” she says.
But before you think, she is signing contracts because of her newly-acquired fame, she is quick to clarify that she is getting is only a third of the work that her lighter-skinned counterparts do.
“Few are willing to turn around rules. For most of the people, beauty strictly means fair skin. It will take time to rewrite set norms, but I am happy I am part of the change,” she laughs.
Her ultimate dream is to meet Rihanna, surprise and thank her. She told the publication that the model, “has, in a way, turned around destiny for me.”
In a country that continues to define beauty by the shade of one’s skin, models like Renee shine and break stereotypes. They inspire youngsters to feel confident in their skin tone. We wish Renee the very best!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)