SHENALEE and the modelling industry


Shenalee Mary Fernando is 21 years old and the youngest of four girls. Having received her secondary education at Ladies’ College, she is currently in the midst of completing her foundation course in international business at Universal College Lanka (UCL). She left secondary school after completing her Ordinary Levels (O/Ls) in order to explore the possibility of pursuing a serious career in modelling.

Shenalee has always worn many hats – stylist, event manager, student, and aspirational entrepreneur. She is on an ongoing journey of finding out which one fits perfectly, or given her multitasking finesse, she may even decide to wear more than one permanently, which is a statement in itself. That being said, let us now outline what Shenalee LOVES: Fashion, babies (human and animal alike), and family.

Being a model for the past three and a half years while simultaneously working in retail and going to school has given Shenalee a firm and very realistic perspective on the commitment and tenacity required to find an effective balance in order to succeed. In the future, Shenalee hopes to launch her own clothing line, sharing her unique sense of style with the world. As an avid animal lover, she confides that “my pets are my babies”, having three dogs and eight cats of her own, most of which were adopted or rescued from rough backgrounds.

She is currently hosting a somewhat halfway house for animals in dire need of some extra loving. Shenalee also has her mind set on carving out a segue on the child welfare front and plans to devote a significant amount of her time to find ways to improve the quality of children’s lives in Sri Lanka. In addition, she is also interested in creating awareness on the reasons as to why child social and emotional development is hindered along with the obstacles that need to be overcome.

Now, it is time to give in a bit. People always want to know the story behind the glamour and glitz of being a top model. I fired many questions at Shenalee to get the inside scoop on her prowess in the modelling industry. Here’s what she shared with The Sunday Morning Happinez:

ÄÄ When and why did you decide to join the modelling industry?

My elder sister Natalee was a model at the time, and still is, so it has been something I was exposed to from a young age. It intrigued me. I was initially very awkward about approaching it, but like how I approach most things, I decided to dive in headfirst and give it a solid try. Anyway, the worst that could happen was that I didn’t enjoy it. I did my first shoot when I was 16, but I had to pause it until I left school. When I left school, I officially began my modelling career with The Agency Sri Lanka when I was 18. After that, it was like someone pressed fast forward; it actually feels like a lifetime has gone by. I have learnt and grown so much. That awkward 18-year-old is long gone.

ÄÄ What are your hobbies and why do you enjoy doing them?

Style fascinates me. I love to see how it evolves with context. Style illustrates an individual’s story. I love learning how this narration is best expressed and progresses. Style is so much larger than just fashion – it is about history, politics, and emotion. It all weaves together, creating a final look and tangible feel.

In my spare time, I have recently begun to channel my creativity into conceptualising events. I love children so that became my target demographic. I have to say I prefer that my clients are children. The look on their faces when I present a concept or product is the best thing ever! Smiles all around. I am also slowly realising what a lucrative market this is, given the amount of emphasis parents place on celebrating their children. It seems to be a win-win formula.

ÄÄ Why do you love modelling?

For me, what I like the most about modelling is the opportunity it gives me to keep reinventing myself. I get to take on different personas and re-enact stories. In each assignment, I get to be someone else and do something new. It is like getting to choose an alter ego for the day. It is enthralling. Being a ramp model is an entirely different experience altogether. When you are on a ramp, the adrenaline rush is unreal. You get a platform to show the world (your audience) your take on the look you are showcasing. Modelling today teaches you to really accept yourself the way you are. You learn how to become comfortable in your own skin and champion your flaws. To overcome your insecurities and strut forward. That is what I do every day. Modelling offers me another outlet for expression.

ÄÄ When did your first interest in modelling come about?

When I was young, I used to watch a lot of fashion content on television. Inspired, I remember being ambitious and mock modelling on the road, wearing my elder sister’s and mother’s high heels. I am sure my audience at the time probably never thought that one day this could translate into a career. I only took a serious stance on the prospect of modelling after my first shoot, though.

ÄÄ What’s the toughest part about modelling in Sri Lanka?

Honestly, dealing with the stigma and stereotypes around modelling is the most trying. Unfortunately, the general opinion in Sri Lanka is that modelling is not a legitimate career option and for women, it should be taboo. The mindset has to change and it is our generation that must continue to do our part to communicate to the public that we take modelling seriously and that it is indeed an admirable professional choice. Our culture is not very accepting of Sri Lankan female models; we are looked down on, underestimated, and trivialised. As a model, I can tell you first-hand how much work and sacrifice is required to do this job. I refuse to give into this mentality and will continue to work to set it straight. Another pertinent issue in our modelling industry, which I want to raise here, is colourism. This discrimination has to end. The colour of your skin is not a choice – it is beautiful and unique. It is yours. It is an accolade that should always be celebrated and cherished.

ÄÄ What’s the best part about modelling in Sri Lanka?

I think one of the advantages of our industry is that it is relatively small. This is usually considered to be a disadvantage, but because it is small, we have a tight-knit community and we support each other. We appreciate the hardships of the industry and we face them together. Another plus point of the industry being small is that it is a lot easier to get noticed and make a mark. Secondly, LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! We have the most beautiful locations as our backdrops in Sri Lanka. We get to work with these on a daily basis and by creating content, we help share this beauty with the world. Of course, Sri Lankan talent speaks for itself. We have extremely talented designers, photographers, and hair and makeup artists who we have the pleasure of working and collaborating with.

ÄÄ Where do you see yourself in five years?

By nature, I don’t usually like to plan that far ahead; I am more of a “live in the moment” type of a person. However, aspiration-wise, I do hope to have completed my degree in international business at UCL by then and have started my own business – the clothing line. I generally like to take things one step at a time because my interests continue to evolve as I progress in life.