I think being a model is harder than it appears, but I think what’s even harder is being a model and remaining humble. That requires focus, a genuine heart and the ability to remain compassionate and true to yourself in a sometimes, extremely superficial environment. Shanay’s story as a model is nothing to write home about, but the story of a girl who can strip herself bare and fall in love with the simplest of things, when surrounded by aesthetic obsession, that’s got punch.
It’s a courageous move, to walk away from a glitzier, more glamourous life than what you’ve got, especially when it’s greeting you with arms wide open. Although this girl has rumbled with the richest, she’s as raw as one getting by on just the basics. She’s reached almost the pinnacle of her career but you’d never know it. With a heart like hers, she could have come from anywhere, been through anything. If her physical beauty wasn’t such a dead give away, you’d be hard out trying to guess that she was a highly regarded, international fashion model with more work under her belt than the bulk of them.
While most of us at 14, with our awkward looking bodies and train track smiles were busy building our popularity in the playground, Shanay was off getting scouted by the top modelling agency in Australia. It’s no surprise with her tiny frame and distinctly beautiful face that she was going to be picked up at some point, but 14 is a tad young to be thrown in the deep end, don’t you think? Bouncing around the county side from Perth (Shanay’s home town), to Sydney and back again for castings and jobs doesn’t exactly acquaint to what the rest of us were doing in grade 8. Shanay had the traits and strength to get through it though, polishing off her high school certificate, while punching it to the top of Australia’s list of ‘best rated models’. I assume it was during this period that Shanay somehow managed to escape the egotistical trap plenty of models fall down and hold her two feet firmly on the ground, “keeping it real”, so to speak.
After plenty of years juggling, prioritising and creating a happy balance, she got ahead of the game and worked out who she was as a person, enabling her to find it easier than most to secure a sense of direction and truth in most of what she does. When Shanay knows that something is right, she runs with it, doubt free, trusting her instincts and pushing forward. It’s part of who she is and is reflected every day in most of her decisions. This includes her career path, love life and decision to be a Mother, each of which have stemmed from an internal sense of knowing what’s right for her, and obeying her inner voice.
In 2010, when Shanay was only 22, she chose to relocate her entire life to NYC because it was a city she “had not yet given time to” and felt she should. As we speak, Shanay is transitioning into a new career path (which i’ll touch on in a tad) because her heart has told her it’s the right thing to do. When Shanay fell in love with her now partner Sam, she knew from the start that he was her soul mate. Within 3 months of that blossoming relationship, she made the decision to have a baby with this man, purely because he possessed all of the qualities she wanted to pass on to her children. Shanay Hall is just one of those girls, those free spirited beauties with big, bold hearts and open minds. She soaks up the good in the world, and leaves the bad to the wayside.
Shanay’s life was never going to be solely focussed on modelling, she’s far too curious about the world and genuinely interested in life on a deeper level, to resist the urge to explore. By exploring, I mean involving herself in other, more meaningful avenues. When Shanay fell pregnant (early 2012), she had been studying ayurvedic nutrition, a 5000-year-old medical system from India which focusses on remaining healthy by tailoring what you eat to your body type. As she became more heavily pregnant she completed the course and began her search for a Doula, someone who guides and supports women throughout their pregnancy, labour and child birth. It was a fluke, Shanay says, that she stumbled upon the Doula that she did, because it was this woman who has inspired her new career path and her strong sense of connection to the pregnancy and birthing experience.
Shanay, when she speaks about pregnancy, sounds as though she has done it a thousand times before, “it just felt so natural”, she explains, “I loved being pregnant. I was so drawn to the whole experience”, she said sounding so relaxed after being asked what sort of a pregnancy she had. We spoke a bit about her childbirth, which she made seem like an experience any old, walker by could have endured. “It was pretty perfect, it happened at home and Sam was with me along with my midwife and Doula. It was painful but I felt prepared”, she explained and then moved on to talking about an App she had downloaded called Hypno Birth, which she says provided her with numerous methods of coping and remaining calm throughout childbirth. Sounds crazy huh? I couldn’t help but wonder whether this girl was actually a superhero and just keeping it to herself. I think I even proposed the question but she laughed and told me giving birth was just one of those things she felt made to do.
In her grade 7 yearbook, which she recently re-discovered, the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” had been asked and just below it, her response “a midwife” was written. Over the past 10 months Shanay has noticed multiple signs pointing in one clear direction, forcing her to re-evaluate not only her career but also her purpose in life. With her heart yearning to explore the world of a Doula, she has decided to pursue what she feels passionate about, and move into a more meaningful career. “I honestly think it’s what I was destined to do and I don’t think it’s healthy to ever stop yourself from evolving just because it conflicts with everything you have been doing up until that point”, she says sounding so grounded and sure about the world. Shanay might be a model but she is also a woman with a holistic view of life. No thought of wealth or fame could ever entice her to stunt her internal growth, or eradicate any opportunities to change and transition into a place that is beneficial to her personal needs, happiness and future as a Mother.
Shanay’s daughter Iyla, is her everything. It has been the birth of Iyla which has helped Shanay to shift her thought processes and focus more on her key values in life rather than the superficial stuff that always seems to get in the way. Being a model meant that Shanay (for obvious reasons) had to take some time off work during her pregnancy. In heindsight, this is something she is thankful for as it allowed her the time to disengage from the modelling world and focus on her present life, her love and the baby forming inside her. She discovered the way she wanted to parent her baby and learned as much as she could about her method of choice, the Montessori method, of which she still tries to incorporate into her parenting style today. Once Iyla was born, Shanay didn’t have any other distractions, she took the time to nurture, feed and care for her baby and unlike many mothers, she didn’t feel as though she should be doing anything else.
Since the birth of her baby, Shanay has basically re-assessed her life, with Iyla at the heart of all of her decisions. Both her and Sam have recently packed up their New York City apartment to set up house in Berlin, a less fast paced city with more of a family vibe than the “craziness of NYC.” She wants a job where she can stay close to Iyla and not be on the go all the time as she would have been during the peak of her career as a model. It is important to her to be there for Iyla, not only as a carer but as a teacher as well, opening her eyes to the beauties of life, whilst helping her to grow into a happy and healthy young girl. To Shanay, her priority is simplicity and not over extending herself or creating a life full of unnecessary accessories or stresses. I asked her what her favourite thing about living in Berlin was and she told me it was, “being able to walk Iyla down to the nearby petting zoo”, “that’s one of the few things you can’t get in New York”.
I put the question to Shanay, “what are your hopes and dreams?”, and instead of giving me the standard, superficial, extravagant response, this is what she said, “I want to be a Doula. I want to live in the countryside. I want to live simply, maybe have another baby”, and then she laughed and said “you know what I really want, I just want to have a veggie patch in my backyard!” Doesn’t this girl just sum up everything you could possibly want in a human being? A person who can strip down the superficial barriers, regardless of how beautiful they are, and see life for what it really is.
She has spent almost a decade being dressed, styled and made up by designers, artists and stylists hoping to sell her, as a visual image. Modelling is one of the few careers that focuses fully on a persons physical appearance, highlighting their beauty but also their flaws. What people often forget is that when one chooses to offer their physical appearance as a lucrative product, scrutiny & criticism are only inches behind. If your image is the product people are wanting to sell, naturally they will pick you to pieces in an attempt to perfect you. It takes someone bold and so sure of who they are in their heart to ignore this criticism and remain honest and humble. In a sometimes cruel, superficial world, Shanay continues to shine her beautiful, organically derived light of love, care and honesty. Shanay may be a model but more importantly, she is a mother, a lover and a kind, compassionate woman living a true, meaningful and heartfelt life.
Q: If somebody was to ask you for advice about life and finding happiness what would you tell them?
A: 1. To experience and travel as much as you can. 2. It’s okay to have your heart broken because it’s then that you realize yourself, you need to go through all of those experiences to appreciate the good things. 3. Don’t take yourself too seriously, if you’re happy then you will seek happiness, if you put that positive energy out, you will get it back. 4. It’s okay to be alone with your thoughts. 5. be kind to your body.
Q: What are the most valuable things in your life?
A: 1. My partner Sam. 2. Iyla. 3. Family (they are seriously the best family ever, I am so grateful to have a support system like that back home. They are such strong, loving people). 4. Friends. 5. To live simple and not over complicate things. 6. Time is valuable, that’s all your kids really want. 7. Health (i’m so thankful that everyone is healthy). 8. A sense of humility. 9. The basics (food, water, sleep oxygen). 10. Hot showers!! 11. Coconut passion fruit doughnuts from ‘Dough’ in Brooklyn. Wait that’s not a value it’s more like a ‘want!’
Q: How important to you is a healthy lifestyle? In order to keep healthy and make sure Iyla remains healthy, what kind of things do you practice regularly?
A: 1. You need to be healthy in order for your family to be healthy. If you are cooking fresh foods and eating regularly you will have a healthy mind which keeps you on top of your game. The times when i’ve been the healthiest in my life, i’ve been the happiest. There’s nothing better than that natural high of energy you get when you’re eating right and exercising. 2. I studied ayurveda nutrition in new york for 8 months and learnt a lot about health & food which i’ve been able to implement in my life. I love bikram yoga in winters and we walk everywhere as we are in the city so that’s my main workout, as well as carrying Iyla everywhere in the ergo helps (she’s soo heavy!!) You really get a clear view of your life when you have kids , you want to be good for them.
Q: If somebody asked you how to go about choosing a career path perfect for them, what kind of guidance would you offer them?
A: If you don’t know what you want to be or do that’s ok! These poor 17 year old’s forced to go to Uni or college is tragic. How are you to know what you want to be when you hardly know yourself? I plan on taking Iyla travelling as soon as she finishes school. You don’t want to go into university half hearted at something and waste your time! I would advise kids to travel and research as much as possible before making their final decision. I want to study to be a doula, only because my birth empowered me to do so. I would never have discovered my true passion if I hadn’t given birth. Some things are just in front of you waiting to be uncovered, but you won’t even know it until the time is right . Be honest with yourself always and the rest will follow. Have many careers I say, your mind is constantly changing with the new environments you put yourself in and the added knowledge you pick up along the way!! You don’t need to feel trapped in a career that no longer feels right.
Q: What are the most important things to remember when trying to keep a happy, healthy and solid relationship (before babies and after babies)?
A: To trust, be honest , talk , laugh, cry, play, also parenting should be fun it’s not a chore in life, everyday should be a new day and if it’s not so good day then try again tomorrow. You really see each others weaknesses and strengths in the relationship with a baby. Open communication , it’s ok to feel scared and worried this is national, be open minded . We are going to be scared for the next 20 years im sure!
Q: When it comes to Iyla and your role as a Mum, what are the most important things you hope to teach her?
A: I want to teach her to be comfortable in her own body. These days so many girls have issues about that and I want her to know she is beautiful despite what she may look like. I want to teach her not to be scared about taking chances and to be a good hearted opened minded person in life. I want to teach her to be strong and speak her mind, not taking any crap from boys or girls, but i’m sure she’ll work that out with experience. I’m going to work to make sure she is thankful for what she has and always knows how lucky she is.
Q: What is the best advice you could offer a new Mum?
A: Go with that mother instinct and stick to it, no one has this feeling but you. Also, plan your birth if you have a low risk pregnancy, you can choose how you birth your baby without leaving it in the hands of the doctors (they will be there if it’s an emergency). It can be very powerful birthing your baby naturally. The number one thing any new mum should have is a Girasol woven wrap and a ergo baby carrier. I used a ring sling when Iyla was a newborn and it saved me!! Carry your baby, they will love it, they love being close to you.
Shanay has a personal blog called Iyla & me where you can go to catch up on her future journey.
Photography 1.Chris colls 2. Seth Sabel 3. Michael Corridore 4.Russh Australia 5.Zoey Grossman