I am invested in promotingBody Neutrality and I will continue being an advocate as there are not many of us around. Body Neutrality is the next layer to unpeel after Body Positivity — as Body Positivity encourages you to ‘love your body’ whereas Body Neutrality says: ‘My existence is not about how desirable you find me’. It’s absolving yourself of the responsibility to cater to the superficial gaze.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Datt.
Julia is an Actor, Writer, Activist and last but not least… This Model Eats A Lot!
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s been a winding path for sure — starting in Melbourne, Australia, ambling through Mumbai, India and finally traversing through London, Europe, Canada and beyond.
After following my family’s wishes of obtaining an International Business degree and holding a series of successful corporate jobs (including a stint as a procurement manager for a multi million dollar brand at 22) I finally started listening to my intuition to give acting professionally a crack — I had done 10 years of theater from the age of seven and originally wanted to go straight into acting school post graduation.
In 2010 I booked a one-way ticket to India with no job, home, friends, or knowledge of the language and started from there. As an Australian girl of Indian origin who had never been to India as an adult, I acknowledge that it was a drastic move; but in order to shake yourself awake and stretch yourself to the very edges of your potential, discarding everything that is comfortable and easy is mandatory. Along the way, alternative life experiences have formed me into a person who is strongly individualistic, rebellious, stubborn and passionate. Critical thinking, speaking my truth and encouraging others to do the same is my life purpose.
The early years in entertainment were formative. I was modelling full-time in Mumbai trying to be thin and battling body dysmorphia in a universally toxic industry, while learning Hindi and Urdu from scratch for acting projects. India is a beautiful, complex country that is all at once spiritual and traditional while straddling the horizon towards being a modern superpower. One of the double-edged swords is that it is culturally accepted to tease and bring down anyone who is trying to learn the language, so you have to be stoic in your focus.
While modelling, it was unsettling that everything was image-focused and the weight of responsibility of being attractive for society was oppressive; at the time, I didn’t have a solid spiritual practice by which to ground myself, in the same way I do now.
In 2014 I created my body neutrality / food blog brand, This Model Eats A Lot® as a rebellion for every barb I had experienced as a model which inherently opposed my values — that we should be able to eat as we please without repercussion, that we should place more value on the other parts of ourselves that women in particular are not encouraged to cultivate — humour, wit, determination, sass. Once I leaned into that and started operating from a more authentic space, everything started flowing in terms of personal success.
Mentally I was finding it a challenge to simply be a mannequin. It became integral to me to record my experiences which turned to activism: Describing in detail, via written word on a public platform, the casual daily injustices faced by underprivileged folk that I would witness: Colourism, casteism, misogyny, homophobia. I did not know of anyone else telling their stories, so it was important to me to attempt to be a voice.
It felt crucial to do this, as being a foreign model in India, I was part of a crowd who filtered their lens only to that which is beauty, money and power. It was vital to try to make some kind of difference in laying bare the way things were really done, even if it meant being socially ostracised. My conscience would not allow me to stand back and remain wordless.
My activism ruffled a lot of feathers as I was ‘just a model’ and the expectation is that your existence is solely to be silent and beautiful. I fully acknowledge my privilege in being able to do so, as I always had the option to go back to Australia. Many people would tell me that being so authentic would cost me my career and I suppose it did limit me from certain opportunities. However, I am a human being before I am an actor or a model.
Interestingly enough, the right people appreciated my honesty and did not see activism as a character flaw. I’m grateful I was able to work on some satisfying projects as an actor — with Bollywood stalwarts Rakesh Roshan, Anurag Basu, and more.
After leaving India in 2015, I spent some time back in Australia before moving to London in 2016 and working on developing the YouTube series for This Model Eats A Lot. For the first time I was able to travel alone extendedly and became self-taught in shooting, editing, producing and digital marketing. I traveled to some of the world’s best restaurants and interviewed Michelin Star chefs on their process and rationale of creating exquisite dishes.
In 2017, I created THIS MODEL EATS A LOT® branded merchandise to build solidarity amongst fellow models who felt the pressure to physically fit within unrealistic constraints and who have perhaps suffered from poor body image or eating disorders. The shirt is a form of activism in itself, as it challenges the toxic belief that food is to be feared in the fashion industry.
After my UK visa ended, I moved to Vancouver in 2019 and since then have been balancing This Model Eats A Lot with acting. I didn’t think I would delve back into the latter — you could say it was a stroke of serendipity. But since finally arriving at a point I have always dreamed of — helping others and producing my own content as well as auditioning for others — it feels like all the itches are being scratched… for today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
In Mumbai, I was so intent at becoming fluent in Hindi that I would speak it as much as possible, much to the chagrin of the upper class socialites I’d encounter on a regular basis, as speaking Hindi is not considered socially acceptable when viewed from a socioeconomic perspective.
However on some mildly perverse level, I quite enjoyed unsettling people with my insistent eccentricity of speaking the national language and if I hadn’t been so irritatingly stubborn, I would not have had the acting opportunities I had, if I was more worried about fitting in.
Another interesting moment is the way I would deal with the snobbishness of the circles I was in. Going to a party, the first question people ask is what you do, in order to discern whether you are worth speaking to, or not. I started telling people I was a rickshaw driver, and would judge their reaction as a measure of their character, as very clearly I was not one. Some people were confused. Many were angry and insulted. A select few would understand instantly what I was trying to do and laugh — those were people I knew I could be friends with.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There are so many! I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but definitely a funny moment, when a casting director assumed I couldn’t speak English because he had only heard me speaking Hindi till that point. I stifled an explosive giggle and chose not to reveal my secret.
Another social experiment I undertook was speaking in the American accent for nine months straight, in order to perfect it to a T for the North American acting industry, when I moved to Canada. Casting directors, my teachers and some acquaintances had no idea I had a thick Australian accent underneath, so uncorking it from time to time and seeing their reaction was pure gold.
The lesson I’ve learned from those experiences is: Occasionally, you need to conform to get the job done!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
In the past two weeks, the acting industry has just now cautiously started up again due to COVID-19. I have just booked my first national Canadian brand campaign as the face. In addition to this, I am pleased to be auditioning relentlessly for Netflix shows and films. It’s an exciting time to be a woman of colour and one I am relieved to finally be witnessing firsthand.
The THIS MODEL EATS A LOT® shirt relaunched at the start of September 2020 after yet another model uprising which protested the unhealthy diet and exercise practices enforced upon models in order to fit within painfully thin measurements of 32–24–34. Since 2017, the shirt has now become both a sign of rebellion and a symbol of hope. In an unexpected win, I saw the Instagram story of the relaunch caught the eye of food fanatic supermodel Bella Hadid. I would love to see her and other food-obsessed models in the shirt!
In other This Model Eats A Lot news, I am currently negotiating a major brand deal with some of my YouTube content — watch this space!
Finally, once everything opens up again, I have upcoming food filming trips to LA, London and Melbourne at some interesting fine dining restaurants, which as of yet have not received much YouTube coverage.
The silver lining is that I can discover culinary locations and film in areas of British Columbia, where I am currently based.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I had the chance to meet Malala Yousafzai fleetingly while in Melbourne. It was surreal as can be. I am easily moved and when I speak about something I am passionate about, tears always come to my eyes, which can be unsettling for people. However my tears are very much a part of me and not something I can control, so I usually just let them come and go without much fanfare. Of course they made an appearance when meeting Malala!
I was introduced to a lady who was also waiting to meet her and we spoke for a long time about our experiences in different countries and my activism in India. She turned out to be the head of UN Women Australia and the next day invited me to a UN stakeholders breakfast discussing measures currently being employed in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh. It was a surreal 24 hours to say the least and reignited the activism spark.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Take time for yourself each day whether through exercise, meditation, journalling. Be patient with yourself and understand we all have days where we aren’t as productive as we would like to be. As overwhelming as things seem, sometimes the most nonsensical tactic — walking away for 30 minutes when everything was due yesterday and coming back to the problem — reinvigorates your purpose better than sitting there dazed and only putting half your brain into something.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
You will fail. Over and over again. And with that, you will adjust, rejig your strategy and learn. If you are afraid of failure in any form, life can be difficult and mentally draining. It starts with your relationship with yourself — accept yourself for your flaws. Be serious about your causes, but live lightly. And laugh as loudly as you like — your joy belongs to you.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
The number one remedy to keep my mind and body balanced and thriving is yoga and salsa dancing. Both of them calm and destress me in different ways. I use an acupressure mat every morning, which assists with stress management. Regular foot reflexology has been beneficial as well.
Add to this once weekly psychotherapy, which has been a godsend in assisting me with recognizing patterns and having breakthroughs with whatever I am facing that week, cultivating emotional resilience and self-awareness. Over the last eight years, I’ve also kept a very honest journal in order to privately express my unabashed self.
Finally, being in nature is an incredible way to unplug — there’s nothing quite like splaying out, starfish-esque, on the beach with wet sand squelching your toes, or lolling about on the grass staring at the sky. Bonus points if you’re in a dog park!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Do not dull your shine to make others comfortable
I’m quirky and vivacious by nature, however growing up I was led to believe effervescence in any form was an undesirable trait for a woman to possess. I would try to be a little more demure, but the ‘real me’ always dribbled out after a couple of minutes, much to my distress. I really was suppressing who I was. Finally being able to lean into my true self has been emancipating; I do not exist to make others comfortable, however I do not want to stop being empathetic, no matter what the world hurls at you. The trick is to implement boundaries along with empathy, to avoid imploding.
2. You will lose friends in the search for your true self
I read a wonderful book called ‘The Courage To Be Disliked’ which cemented my inkling that perhaps not everyone was supportive of me growing, learning, exploring and discovering. In the past, I found my career success was limited because I was devoting so much emotional energy to people for external validation, rather than trying to seek it within. I would unconsciously stunt my own spiritual and emotional growth to remain in the same alignment with those I thought were close to me. As soon as I narrowed my circle, my happiness increased exponentially.
3. Everything you are working towards, no matter how random, will eventually pay off
Over the years, I have worn so many different career hats — experimenting with eBay selling as a university student, working in retail and hospitality, dressing models at fashion shows for a stint, before finally becoming one myself. I can say with utmost certainty that every single seemingly ‘random’ job has been an irreplaceable experience to jobs I have today working both in the digital space and the entertainment industry. I’m a jack of so many trades and am fervently working to be a master at the words listed in my bio. I never want to stop being curious about the world. (Cue aforementioned tears).
4. Keep speaking your truth — not everyone will get it, but the right people will
“Either say how you feel and mess it up, or say nothing and let it mess you up instead.” Over time I have learned boundaries and how to negotiate in a tactful but firm way. If people are offended by your refusal to be taken advantage of or disrespected, that is not your responsibility — neither is the version of you they have created in their head. Those who are on your wavelength will respect, understand and appreciate you — and it could be the most unlikely person!
5. You will be left with nothing, and will be okay.
At rare times in life, it is possible to lose everything at once. These excruciating experiences teach you that the only constant is yourself and your relationship to you. This is why having a practice to connect with yourself is more important than ever during times of hardship.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only way to deal with an unfree world, is to become so absolutely free, that your very existence is an act of rebellion.” — Albert Camus.
This quote sums up my life purpose in a nutshell, as navigating the world as a young Australian woman of Indian origin has been interesting to say the least. I have unlearned so many societal and cultural notions of what it means to be accepted. The secret is that none of it matters — the goal is to be able to accept yourself by being true to yourself, as you will never be able to make everyone happy — and no one person is able to make YOU happy.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Absolutely. I am pleased to say they have all been women. The first was many years ago at the start of my career, when a former workmate helped me realise my talent as a writer and played a significant role in mentoring me towards breaking into the competitive world of beauty editing.
The next was when I was working as a somewhat jaded model, navigating the politics of the Indian fashion landscape while being an activist. An international designer (whose campaign I was the face of) not only continued to use me exclusively every season, but promoted me to her circle of designer friends who ended up taking me on as well — resulting in some prestigious brands I was thrilled to be a part of.
The above two women have reached the pinnacle of success in their careers and I’m grateful for their continued mentorship.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am already invested in promotingBody Neutrality and I will continue being an advocate as there are not many of us around. Body Neutrality is the next layer to unpeel after Body Positivity — as Body Positivity encourages you to ‘love your body’ whereas Body Neutrality says: ‘My existence is not about how desirable you find me’. It’s absolving yourself of the responsibility to cater to the superficial gaze.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Arianna Huffington for sure! I would also love to do lunch with Filip Boyen, CEO at Small Luxury Hotels, I would love to hear his dining experiences and life lessons.
Hollywood agent Sharon Jackson would be a wealth of insider acting industry knowledge, as I’m largely a comedy actor. Relationship expert Esther Perel, philosopher Alain de Botton, authors Maggie Alderson and Brene Brown. It would be quite the party!
How can our readers follow you online?
On http://thismodeleatsalot.com , or This Model Eats A Lot on all social media platforms. I look forward to seeing you. Thank you, this has been a pleasure!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!