updated 10 Jun 2013, 13:20
Login password
Mon, Jun 10, 2013
The New Paper
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
Cover girl bias
by Elysa Chen

BACK in the ’80s until the late ’90s, names like Celia Teh, Ethel Fong, Hanis Hussey and Nora Ariffin were regular faces on the covers of women’s magazines here.

They were Singapore’s supermodels.

But scan the magazine racks today, and you’re likely to see just one local face of that calibre – current “it” girl Sheila Sim.

A quick survey of the models featured on seven fashion magazines in Singapore revealed that from July to November, out of 30 covers, only two featured a Singaporean model – and it was Sheila both times.

Attempts by The New Paper on Sunday to contact her were unsuccessful.

But another local model, Manju Tan, who is in her 20s, said such a finding was not surprising.

“Unless you’re Zoe Tay, Caucasian or at least look pan-Asian, you’ll never be on the cover of a magazine,” she said.

Ms Tan, who gets three to four jobs a week, has been modelling for 10 years. But she has never been on a magazine cover.

She said: “Once people hear that you’re Singaporean, lots of doors close in your face.”

It is because many agencies here prefer a Caucasian face for a more “international” feel, she said.


General manager of Looque Models Chris Swee noted that the trend of using foreign models began some years ago.

He said: “In the ’90s, we saw many local faces on the magazines. We had big names like Celia Teh and Nadya Hutagalung.

“But I don’t know what happened and now, we don’t see any locals besides Sheila Sim.”

But industry insiders say the trend has nothing to do with racial discrimination.

Ms Rowena Foo, the managing director of Diva Models, said there is a problem finding enough local talent.

Editor-in-chief of Style: Magazine Lionel Seah agreed: “There’s a dearth of good local faces. It’s as simple as that.

“If there’s a young Ethel Fong, Hanis Hussey or Nora Ariffin or Colin Wee out there, sure, I’ll feature them in an instant.”

He added that most fashion magazines choose models according to the look of the season rather than race or nationality.

He said: “I won’t feature an Asian or a local model just because she’s Asian or local as that would promote mediocrity, rather than merit.”

Ms Sharon Lim, editor-in-chief of Elle Singapore, added that there is a greater supply of foreign models than local ones.

She said: “Some up-and-coming models from Europe or the US, who score big ad campaigns or have won major contests, come here to work to build their portfolios.

“For example, America’s Next Top Model finalists Jade Cole and Nicole Linkletter were in Singapore, and it would be a shame not to use them.”

She said that foreign models project an international image that most magazines strive to have.

But at least one magazine here has chosen to buck the trend by featuring Asian faces for the past few months.

Fashion director of Harper’s Bazaar Singapore and Malaysia Kenneth Goh said the magazine has been running pictures of Asian celebrities and models on its cover since August this year, and will continue to do so at least until February next year.

Adding that the move has drawn a positive response from readers and advertisers, he said: “As an international magazine with strong local flavour, we’ve been trying to take a stand and feature more Asian faces.”

But there has been only one Singaporean model featured so far – Sheila.

Again, the reason cited for this by Mr Goh was the lack of talent here.

He said it’s hard to attract new blood because modelling is seen as a “lightweight career”.

While Singaporean models are just starting their careers at 17, their foreign counterparts already have about four years’ experience under their belt, he said.

Mr Goh said: “Foreign models, unlike local models, go through modelling courses and are taught how to behave on set, how to catwalk and how to present themselves at castings.

“They are often more professional, graceful, take instructions well, and don’t complain.”

Ukrainian Katya Malysheva, 26, who has been working in Singapore as a model for five years, has also noticed a slight turning of the tide.

She said: “At first, people were always looking only for Caucasian girls. Now, the Oriental style is coming up, and advertisers are starting to feel that the 100 per cent Caucasian look maybe too aggressive.”

Former model and actress Jazreel Low, 43, believes it’s only a matter of time before Singaporean models get back into the spotlight.

She said: “With the growing Chinese market, and with more Asian faces fronting international magazines, hopefully the tide will reverse soon, and more local models will grace to covers of magazines, especially with models like Sheila Sim, who have such interesting faces with so much potential.”

This article was first published in The New Paper.

readers' comments
One of my male buddies once saw her photo on the cover and he said "They're doing an article on Singapore's ugliest women?"
But lately she's not been in magazines.
Posted by goddess101 on Sun, 7 Feb 2010 at 01:21 AM

True...but this is a case where supply creates the demand. Unless you boycott the magazine? So you just got to live with it.
Posted by lEtS_G0!!! on Tue, 19 Jan 2010 at 12:41 PM
Also, she's had an eye job to make her eyes look bigger. Still ugly though. 2 words to her--why bother?

I think a nose job might improve her though. Just trying to make helpful suggestions because the lady needs help.
Posted by goddess101 on Tue, 19 Jan 2010 at 07:25 AM
Of all the local models to put in a magazine, why Sheila Sim? Among the models I know, they agree that she's almost the ugliest local model.
More Belinda Tan please, she's so much prettier than Sheila--broad face, wide jaw, wide nose. Belinda Tan--HOT and very pretty. Sheila Sim--UGLY. Notice in magazine pics how she always needs special flattering lighting and expert hairstyling to look passable.
All the models I know say she wouldn't get any jobs if her aunt hadn't been a top model and had the right connections
Posted by goddess101 on Tue, 19 Jan 2010 at 07:25 AM

Agree, but Singaporeans keep buying local mag with foreign cover girls and local products with ads featuring Caucasian actors, so who's to blame?
Posted by red_velvia on Thu, 5 Nov 2009 at 02:12 AM
singaporeans are pathetic. the only thing they know how to do is run down other singaporeans. everything from overseas is considered foreign talent and everyone else is just not good enough. shame on you
Posted by achilles on Wed, 4 Nov 2009 at 06:28 AM

Copyright © 2013 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.