Photo: Instagram / Bella Hadid

Trust an Instagrammer with 21.8 million followers to perk up a sleepy Monday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur.

When American supermodel Bella Hadid let out word that she was in the Malaysian capital for a meet-and-greet session last month, hundreds of fans made a beeline for the TAG Heuer boutique in The Gardens Mall in Mid Valley City.

An ambassador for the luxury Swiss watchmaker, she arrived to a screaming throng of young women and men, hyperventilating at the sight of the leggy 22-year-old who, earlier this week made Forbes list of best-paid models this year.


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The 1.75m-tall beauty reportedly raked in US$8.5 million, in the 12 months after June 1 last year, thanks to deals with luxury jeweller Bulgari and cosmetics giant Dior Beauty.

Looks, fame, fortune, a jet setting lifestyle and a rocker boyfriend (Canadian singer and musician The Weeknd): life must be so grand, you tell her.

Earnestly, she acknowledges she is a lucky girl.

But she would also have you know modelling is a lonely job.

“People see me jet setting but most of the time, I travel alone. I sleep on the plane, wake up in a new place all by myself, and I go to work with a new set of people whom I do not know every day. It’s great to meet new people but sometimes our energies are very different,” says Hadid, whose Palestinian father is a property developer and Dutch mother, a former model. Her elder sister Gigi, 23, is also a supermodel.


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Her job, she said, often takes her away from her family to whom she is close.

“I’m very lucky to have this job but it’s not even necessarily about going to a studio and taking pictures. It’s about being a persona and being able to do things outside of a box. It’s also being a role model.”

And that is not an easy thing, she says.

“I try to be a good role model but it’s not easy. It takes a lot. For me, I’ve had to grow up very quickly in the past few years,” says Hadid, who started modelling when she was 16.

She dropped out of New York’s Parsons School of Design after being signed up by IMG Models in 2014.

“I didn’t go to college and went straight into being a responsible adult,” says the former teen equestrian whose dream of competing in the Olympics was nixed when she was diagnosed with chronic Lyme Disease, a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks, in 2013.



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“I had to learn quickly that everybody’s watching and I couldn’t go out as often as my friends who are in college. I have to go to bed at 10pm so that I could wake up at 6am for work. They can go to bed late because their classes start at noon. So I can’t screw up that much,” she says ruefully.

Still she is grateful that she has a platform to inspire young people.

“If I can be a voice of reason and a power of love, I’m completely happy to be that person. With growth, I hope to be able to use my platform for bigger things including charities and other things I’m passionate about. Hopefully people will embrace that.”

She is not shy about speaking up for causes she believes in.

Early last year, she attended the “No Ban, No Wall” march in New York. Her diverse family history and background, she said in an interview, was what prompted her to do so.

“I’ve had incredible experiences all over the world… and I’ve learned that we’re all just people, and we all deserve respect and kindness. We shouldn’t treat people as if they don’t deserve kindness just because of their ethnicities. It’s just not right.”

And earlier this month, she openly supported American singer Halsey who called out the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for its “lack of inclusivity” especially towards the LGBTQ+ community.


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Hadid walked the runway in this year’s show, her third outing for the annual extravaganza by the American manufacturer of women’s lingerie and women’s wear.

A global ambassador for TAG since February last year, she has a limited-edition Link watch designed for her.

The conversation turned to pressure since one of the Swiss watchmaker’s most famous taglines is Don’t Crack Under Pressure.


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She is no stranger to stressful situations, she says.

One was particularly painful and bloody.

“They were about to push me on the runway and my dress broke, and they had to zip it up and they were ripping my skin while doing it,” she recalls.

Before she knew it, the side of her dress was covered in blood. But she walked stoically down the runway, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.

Is there good pressure she enjoys?

“Good pressure is pressure that keeps me motivated, like my contracts. I am very focused when it comes to work, I like to be available constantly for my different clients and being there to make them happy.”

And bad pressure?

“People pressuring you into doing something you don’t want to do. I don’t want to do something just because of the money. Before, I wasn’t good at saying ‘no’. But I’m getting better, I want to work with brands I love and can talk about.”

Right now, she is focused on mapping out her future.

“I’m 22, I want to make sure I do things well and make my money now so that I can support myself well and be independent for the rest of my life.”


This article first appeared in The Straits Times.