updated 9 Aug 2014, 17:29
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Sat, Apr 12, 2014
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Asia's Next Top Model on being pressured to get plastic surgery to look pan-Asian
by Gwendolyn Ng

Ever since she began shooting commercials at the age of 15, Chinese Malaysian model Sheena Liam has felt the industry's pressures to go under the plastic surgeon's knife, she says.

"The industry in Malaysia tends to prefer the Caucasian or Pan-Asian look. I've been pressured to get plastic surgery done to look, you know, more beautiful.

"A lot of people get things done, bigger eyes, higher nose bridges. It was never my goal to be more beautiful. It's my goal to be more myself."

Sticking to her guns has paid off for the 1.73m-tall lass - she has just won the second season of the reality TV competition, Asia's Next Top Model, and will get a shot at treading the international catwalks and grace magazine covers - with her own natural- born looks, of course.

"If I were to be famous for being a model, I would want people to like me for the way I look," says Liam, 22. She was talking to Life! on the telephone from her hometown of Kajang, a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur, just before the finale aired yesterday.

She beat 15 finalists from 12 countries, including Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines to win a three-month modelling contract with the Storm Model Management in the United Kingdom and Europe and also a new Subaru car, among other prizes.

In the finale that was aired last night on Star World (StarHub TV Channel 501, SingTel mio TV Channel 301), she outshone Filipinas Jodilly Ignacio Pendre, 20, and Katarina Sonja Rodriguez, 21.

Her long-flowing golden locks gave her the winning edge, she says.

"I think as a top model, you need to stand out and the blonde hair really helps me. Some people like it, some people really hate the hair. What matters is that it makes me memorable," adds Liam, who will be flying to London to model and hopes to work with American fashion designer Marc Jacobs.

Dyeing her hair blonde last April was a smart move that earned her a second look from the producers of the TV reality contest, and got her a spot the second time she auditioned.

When she first auditioned for the show in 2011 as a brunette, she did not make the cut.

"You have no idea how upset I was watching the first season of Asia's Next Top Model. The first season turned out to such a huge success and the girls were living my dream. I knew I had to get into the second season of the show.

"I don't think it was just my hair that got me in. There were so many blonde models in the casting room. I had to show the casting producers that I really wanted this."

Liam's blonde tresses were also a way to prove to her doubtful mum that she was serious about the job.

"I think besides the hair making such a huge statement, I always stuck to what I wanted. My mum was pressuring me to get a job. I told her to please believe in me and give me one year," says the middle child. Her 53-year-old mother runs an organic products shop and her father, 59, is an engineer.

While Liam had fulfilled her promise to her parents to finish her studies - she graduated with a degree in media management and communications at Taylor's University in Kuala Lumpur last year - she had dashed her mother's dreams by missing her graduation ceremony due to the modelling contest.

"I gave up going to my graduating ceremony for this competition. My mum was telling me not to miss it as it's her biggest dream to see my graduate. But when she watches the finale she will see something better than that."

This article was published on April 10 in The Straits Times.

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