As reflected through the growing diversity of representations on screens and runways, over the past decade the modelling industry has taken a turn from its unrealistic demands of tiny silhouettes and set features to an industry where differences in size, skin colour, and shapes are accepted, celebrated even. In the face of this gradual dissolution of margins that have long bound the industry to generate ‘similar-looking’ models, agencies are now in competition to seek for ‘real’ looking models—redefining standards of beauty beyond skin-deep.
For Andhika Dharmapermana, founder of Persona Management, this new narrative is aligned to his vision for the modelling agency. “In the past, models have had to abide by a fixed definition of beauty. The way they dress, look and conduct themselves was dictated by agencies, there was simply no room for self-expression, and this is the antithesis of what Persona aims for,” he noted.
Faced with the prolonged effects of the pandemic, Persona Management, one of the city’s burgeoning modelling agencies, seized the opportunity to establish a foothold online. Wrapping up its second season, their web series Persona Online Model Search documents their model search and the rigorous process of casting in this hybrid online-offline era.
The new face of diversity
Aired bi-weekly on Persona’s YouTube channel, the show spreads over seventeen episodes and aims to unravel unseen angles of the modelling world to viewers by shedding light on the process of training and preparation that models go through on their journey to become the industry’s professionals. Taking shape of a documentary-slash-reality-series, the episodes give viewers a glimpse into the casting and training programs for the agency’s fresh faces.
Hailing from different parts of Indonesia and differing from a range of cultural and economical backgrounds, 300 aspiring models from all across the archipelago fight to earn a spot in the series’ lineup. From interviews, photo challenges, to offline boot camp training, the show covers the entirety of the casting process and highlights the importance of individuality in order to stand their ground within the fast-paced circulation of the industry.
Closing in on 13 finalists, the show reveals how contestants found common ground and bonded over the idea that they are misfits in their respective societies. Reflecting on this, finalist Nurrin Rahma shared that she joined POMS to prove that she is capable of being “more than just her hijab.” Nurrin expressed that partaking in the model search has helped her push past the conservative perception of her upbringing that hijabi women are inescapably bound by gender norms.
Isabel Willy also recalls her struggles in navigating issues of self-confidence due to her physical appearance that is deemed unconventional in the industry. “Since I have a muscular body type with broad shoulders, I was told a lot of times that I look too masculine and that I wasn’t skinny enough to be a model,” she remarked. Proving that her body type shouldn’t be a disadvantage to her modelling career, her perseverance and progress rewarded her a spot as one of the show’s finalists.
More than meets the eye
Combining both technical and personal nurture within its training, the show delves in on a series of exercises: Pose Development, Runway Walk, Olah Tubuh (a contemporary dance exercise where models mirror each other’s movements), and the highly anticipated Olah Rasa; an acting exercise that has succeeded in aiding Persona Online Model Search with huge audience engagement since its first season’s air date. For this, Andhika enlisted the assistance of six mentors that consisted of Persona’s senior talents: Ranti Kusuma, Sari Majid, Fadel, Rizal Rama, Pika Kumara, and Taskya Namya to train in their respective specialties.
According to most of the finalists, Olah Rasa is notably one of the most challenging parts and a turning point of their training. Branded as Persona’s signature, the segment gives each individual the opportunity to pour their emotions and negative feelings stemming from past frustrations through acting exercises—in a sense, providing an output for the freedom of self-expression.
On the whole, every assigned challenge comes with the intention of both mastering the models’ technical skills and further guiding finalists in their exploration of personal identities, which Andhika believes is a crucial step for them to succeed as a professional model. At a deeper level, Persona Online Model Search unravels the misconceptions of the industry by disillusioning its viewers from the idea of modelling as more than the mere act of posing in front of a camera, but rather a personal journey of channeling self-expression.