2 February 2013

Nigeria: 'Nigerian Models Deserve Much More'

Zainab Balogun, apart from being a model and TV Presenter, has graced the cover of major magazines. She started out her modelling career in London and having carved a niche for herself in the industry, she delved into acting with a lead role in a comedy flick. In this interview with SAMUEL ABULUDE, the 24-year old speaks about her passion for modelling and acting among other issues.

Zainab Balogun was first introduced to the modelling industry at the age of 16, after a thorough scouting in a local park in London by Premier Models Management. After acquiring that initial modelling experience, she booked campaigns both locally and internationally, which landed her a show at the New York Fashion Week.

Beaming with smiles, she said her journey as a model has been a worthwhile experience even though it has got its ups and downs like any other career. "I could list the challenges involved all day. Challenges in modelling come with every job you get. If the problem is not with the length of your hair, it would be your height, looks, colour or something else. The clients are always looking out for something specific, which you may not possess.

There are many hurdles to jump over before you can feel secure in modelling. Modelling for me was not too easy but overall I loved modelling as a career. I had so many amazing feats including the seemingly impossible ones. I have had high moments, from featuring in national and international magazines such as Pride, ESO, Oh Yes, Spell, Black Beauty and OK magazines as well as working in London and New York Fashion weeks for Jonathan Peters and Tata Naka just to name a few."

Zainab got global attention when she was listed among the top 20 in the face of Benetton contest, an international model contest, which had over 60,000 girls that auditioned online. That singular experience for her is unforgettable.

"My experience with the face of Benetton contest was a beautiful one! I was completely nervous and shy about the whole thing and didn't expect to get the response I got. The higher I climb the more I wonder if it is real.' Hitting the top 20 out of over 60,000 people across the world is something I won't forget in a hurry. It definitely made me more confident."

She hinted that her career role models are most definitely Miss Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell.

Recently, the chocolate-complexion lady veered into acting, taking a lead role in a comedy flick titled Knock Knock. She says, "I have been working on a few exiting projects in TV and film. These include a lead role in a brand new TV and web series airing early 2013. I'm also in a pre-production for a movie. In between all of that, I've been modelling for some of Africa's best such as Lanre Da Silva, Grey Projects and most recently the Lagos Design and Fashion Week.

"As a model, all I did was act. Instead of a director, I simply had a photographer. My agent started sending me out for TV commercials and extra roles alongside trained actors and I was pretty much expected to learn fast and do what is required to secure the job.

Gradually I fell in love with drama and to my amazement, extra roles turned into actual features, supporting and eventually lead roles. I always enjoyed learning lines, telling a story and the set atmosphere generally. Although most people complain about the constant waiting around on set, it's all part of the experience and fun.

On how I combine both careers, juggling things has never been new to me. I modelled and also acted whilst I was working on my law degree, which was tricky most times. I think I enjoyed being under extreme pressure in a strange way (She laughs)."

So how challenging has it been as an upcoming actress? She replied, "Everything has its challenges and I've always accepted that. Personally I have had to deal with the transition of going from the modelling world to acting. Not only did I experience the typical struggles as a new actress but I also had to convince casting directors that I am more than just a face. I am currently focusing on my acting at the moment, although modelling will always be my first love.

"Looking back at 2012, I would say that I was tested a lot more than I expected. When I moved to Nigeria, I had to be extremely patient and readjust and that alone was difficult. Despite all the challenges, the year has been very fulfilling for me, judging by the opportunities that came my way.

On my movie role, I had a lead role in the brand new comedy, Web Series. I acted as Hauwa, a returnee from London with a story that is sure to capture the viewer's attention."

Zainab, who doubles as a freelance TV Presenter, says she has not arrived yet. According to the young model, she has not yet reached the peak of her career as she is still growing, learning and constantly pushing herself, sometimes a little too hard to get results. Zainab definitely has got big dreams.

The Nigerian modelling industry is growing in leaps and bounds but the models are not yet on par with their contemporaries in other climes financially. Zainab says that she hopes for better regulation and knowledge in all aspects, especially in relation to the welfare of the models. "They put in so much effort and deserve more respect, better rewards and equal treatment so as to meet up with international standards."

Living in London is definitely a thrill for most Nigerians and this is no different for Zainab Balogun. The 24-year old, who started her modelling career in the city spoke of her experience. "I absolutely loved living in London. Everything that makes me who I am came from my family and that place. The modelling experience was definitely enjoyable but never easy. I was competing with so many beautiful girls but learnt so much in the process. The industry definitely made me a tougher person.

"On my hair style which is now bald, I went through many hair phases before going really low. I've had everything you can think of from weaves, braids, colours, perms and so on. About four years ago I wanted to grow out my natural hair and thought it would be best to shave it all off. I liked what I saw and haven't looked back since then."

On the qualities she looks out for in her dream man She said, "Hmm...there are many qualities but I'll stick with a God fearing, loving and ambitious young man."

Zainab said that her male fans are some of the best people that thrill her, most of whom she meets online. She said that they make her laugh a lot and have the best chat up lines she has ever heard.

Models sometimes experience the ugly side of their job while catwalking on the runway, which is a wardrobe malfunction. Zainab says though she has not experienced any whatsoever but every model should always prepare for it.

"When you're starting off as a newbie, the incident is probably all you can think and obsess about. The more comfortable you get, you realise that it has probably happened to many girls, who came before you. If they can survive it, you learn to do so as well."

The reputable model in describing herself said, "Zainab is a fun loving, easy-going and focused young lady. I'm not afraid to go against the norm and laugh at myself in the process. I'm a lover of life."

Talking about my hobbies, besides stuffing my face with food, I'm a big movie fanatic. I love travelling, shopping, reading, blogging and mostly hanging out with good company. My family is originally from Abeokuta but I was born and raised in London."

Talking about her style, the model said, "Style is what you make of it. It's more than what you see in magazines or what you're told by fashion experts. It's a reflection of your surroundings and personal influences."

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