Interview and Photography by Joana Meurkens
Makeup by Taylor Mew
Daleela is the real deal. When I think of supermodel the obvious pop up: Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss and the looming presence of the Hadid sisters, but to me Daleela holds all of the same energy of these greats. As a 20 year old in the industry signed to Bounty Models LA and Arizona Model Management, Daleela has already worked with brands such as Benefit Cosmetics, Apple, Badgley Mischka, Fila. In a world where social media can make anyone a model, we often forget about the talent and hard work that goes into being a real fashion model. From discipling yourself with a strict workout routine or traveling across the country for a go-see, being a model is no simple task. Daleela not only knows how to take a damn picture, but she is one of the most hard working people I have ever met. I’ve admired her determination and work ethic since we first met as two confused girls in high school. Daleela is a breath of fresh air; she is someone who will make you laugh but also someone who will challenge the notions that you believe in and ask you to question your complacency in the world. She’ll make you a better person for it.
The first time I shot Daleela was an eye opening experience for me as a photographer. It was a cold November day in 2018 and we were running around Central Park in proper city kid fashion. She transformed behind the camera, elevating my role as photographer to places that I hadn’t been before. Models are the canvas and the paint. A great model understands every inch of their body and the story that each crevice tells. Fashion holds the duality between art and discipline by celebrating centuries of design while those behind the scenes pour their sweat and tears into hours of training, strict diets, and doing their best to stay as mentally acute as possible.
Daleela is a “new face” in the industry, but she has spent years shaping her routines to reflect the demands of the industry. To her, “Discipline is everything. It is the biggest part of the job because modeling isn’t easy in any way shape or form. In every other performance/entertainment industry, you’re going to have hundreds of no’s before a yes and modeling is the same way. You have to give yourself the best chance possible every time and the only way you can do that is by being disciplined about everything. Working out, sleeping well, being mindful of what you put into your body, and being a good person for yourself, those are all pillars of success in this industry. The people who do the best in this industry are the people who really stick to their routines and take care of themselves. So much of this job has to do with your figure, so nobody is as hyper aware of what they are putting into their bodies as models are.”
“Discipline is everything. It is the biggest part of the job because modeling isn’t easy in any way shape or form.”
Modeling has been an industry that attracts people from all corners of the world. It’s been a way to bridge international faces with pop culture, and the importance of representation can never be overlooked. The fashion industry has a habit of refusing to change the status quo, but over the last decade we have seen progress with diversity within the industry, especially body diversity. In a time where Victoria Secret dominated the industry with their 6’4 120 lb angels from South Africa to Brazil, people were demanding to be represented as they actually were. Although Victoria Secret lacked body diversity, they had international women gracing our televisions. The influence of these women does not fall short. At age thirteen, Daleela would follow the annual fashion show closely, and admire the work ethic that went into what it meant to be an “angel”. Candice Swanepoel, the South-African supermodel, made quite an impression on the aspiring-model.
“She’s just amazing. She’s so classy, professional, and charming. She’s so beautiful and she could be 50% less conventionally attractive and be just as good of a model just because of how she conducts herself. I think her work is super strong, and now she’s a beautiful mom with a swim line. She’s just iconic. She is the reason that I really wanted to model when I was 13 years old watching the Victoria Secret Fashion show, and then seeing her wear the fantasy bra was huge for me. I was just like, “I have to do that.”
An industry that is doused in glamour is due to have a certain lack of inclusion. Modeling is one of the few industries where men are famously underpaid, which supports the exploitation of male models. Although fashion houses have begun to diversify their boards, there is still a lack of representation of Arab women. Fashion has a variety of international hubs; Paris, New York, London, and Milan to name a few. And although the opportunity of inclusion seems apparent, models must play to international standards of beauty while also facing the biases of an international audience.
Daleela is a proud Muslim American woman of Moroccan descent. Growing up in New York Daleela was faced with a lot of discrimination whether it was from classmates or strangers on the street. She described growing up as a Muslim American as a rollercoaster. In our interview Daleela recalled being harrased by a woman on the street and being called a “muslim whore”. Classmates would throw their backpacks across the classroom and offensively and incorrectly say “God is good” in Arabic. On her experience Daleela says, “it’s been difficult, but I’m glad my mom has been so strong. She always made sure that I knew my roots. Had I not had her in my life in the way that she’s been, I would not have been as proud as I am. I’m really glad that’s not the case because I speak very proudly of my beliefs and where I’m from. It’s very easy for me to shut down anyone who tries to tell me what my truth is because they have no idea. It sucks having to grow up around this energy, but I know that as long as I am as calm and as respectful as I can be, I will be able to get through it.”
In regards to her experience as a Muslim woman in the modeling industry, she says it has been fairly good to her. “Sometimes people overstep boundaries about my beliefs or where I’m from, like I am here to work, I will be professional no matter what. I think religion is very personal and it shouldn’t be imposed on anyone. I like to keep it to myself, not because I’m not proud, but because I’m in an industry where religion shouldn’t be involved.”
“…I speak very proudly of my beliefs and where I’m from. It’s very easy for me to shut down anyone who tries to tell me what my truth is because they have no idea. It sucks having to grow up around this energy, but I know that as long as I am as calm and as respectful as I can be, I will be able to get through it.”
As an up-and-coming model in a changing industry, Daleela praises some of her collaborates as they take collective strides towards inclusivity. On a job for Benefit Cosmetics last year, Daleela worked with Kate Powers, a California raised fashion/beauty photographer. “The day that we did the shoot, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, a muslim activist who runs a muslim blog called muslimgirl, was arrested on an American Airlines flight for doing nothing. This guy who she had run into in the TSA security had been really rude to her, and then they were seated next to each other on the plane. He told the stewardesses that he was uncomfortable and then she got handcuffed to a bench for 6 hours, it was a whole thing. I posted it about it when it happened and Kate saw, and then she brought it up to me in person and let me know that she was there for me. She made me feel really comfortable, and she was fantastic to work with. She really gives me hope towards the inclusivity of this industry.”
One cannot talk about the current state of the modeling industry without addressing the overwhelming influence that social media has had over all entertainment industries. It is common to go on a casting and have one of the first questions be, “how many followers do you have?” This opens the door to influencers infiltrating the market and masking brand deals into editorial shoots. When speaking about this Daleela got visibly and understandably annoyed. “We already talked about a Tik Toker being in Vogue wearing Louis Vuitton. That was pretty upsetting because he isn’t a model and he wouldn’t have been a model if it wasn’t for Tik Tok. There is nothing wrong with Tik Tok, I applaud everyone who has been able to support themselves through it, but please don’t take the jobs of people who depend on modeling to support themselves and their families. Also they (Vogue) could’ve chosen any male model for that job. I wish that the industry would realize that social media should not be the defining factor of someone’s modeling ability. The fact that I have to write how many followers I have when I go to castings sometimes is so upsetting. Just because I didn’t buy 500k followers, doesn’t mean I can’t work.”
Daleela serving the model-off-duty-street -style look.
Social media is challenging norms in the modeling industry, especially when it comes to diversity. Daleela sees the future of the industry and sees promise. Daleela hopes to see health be promoted more and for it to be included in the conversation of body diversity.
But what happens when a career that requires complete body awareness is run by a business that refuses to budge from their mid century standards of beauty and diversity? In the past few years we have seen iconic brands fall due to the inability to mend with the times (Victoria Secret) while other labels that embraced the beauty in difference (Savage x Fenty) showed us that the possibilities when you embrace difference are endless.
In a business that focuses so much on physical appearance, self care is critical. I asked Daleela how she balances her mental health in an industry that can be so toxic, and she said that having a strong support system is essential. “It’s important to have someone to keep you in check and check up on you to see how you’re doing, whether that’s just one person or a whole group of people. Also having an agent that is really looking out for you is extremely important. My agent/booker Fritz was part time when I signed with Bounty and now he is a full time agent. He always said that the most important thing is your health, and he always encouraged me to do what I needed to do to be as mentally and physically healthy as possible. That meant a lot to me because a lot of the time, you can feel really alone because it’s an industry that prioritizes how you look more than how you feel. It’s important to have someone in the industry with you to support and guide you.
Daleela also praises her mother for helping her stay grounded, who has been a rock for her whole life. “She does everything for me. She raised me to be the best person I could possibly be and I am still learning from her. She has always made sure that I knew my worth and that I am never doing anything out of desperation. She just keeps me in check and has always been looking out for me. I feel extremely lucky to have her.”
Her deep gratitude to her mother also extends to her circle of friends. When asking who where inspirations were, she spoke of her friends with such light in her eyes. She values each lesson her friends have taught her, noting Isabel whose academic discipline inspires her, Cat for keeping her in check, Sean and Yoshi whose hardwork and dedication to their crafts pushes her, and me, who she insisted I include in this, for inspiring her with my artistic endeavors.
If there is one thing true about Daleela, it is that her passion lies in being of genuine service to others. Whether that is studying pre-law or pre-dentistry, creating music that connects to people, or showing other Muslim-American girls that they can achieve whatever they want to, Daleela’s values of loving the people around her shows in everything she does. As a young model, she exemplifies what it means to put your all into your art, by demonstrating how hardworking and disciplined models truly are. So what is next for the young model? Daleela will be moving back to LA and getting back to the pursuit of modeling while also expanding her musical career. Keep an eye out for her, the next Moroccan American face whose striking stare may catch you from a Prada Ad one day.
Daleela’s (Current) Favorite Things:
Remember the Time (Michael Jackson)
Dancing Machine (The Jackson 5)
Love is a Bitch (Two Feet)
The Moroccan dish, Tajine
More from Daleela’s Mixed Mag Shoot:
Photography by Joana Meurkens
Makeup by Taylor Mew