Formerly the winner of Thailand’s Miss World pageant in 1996, Cindy Sirinya Bishop never dismissed her beauty queen status, having been spotted on star-studded runways and TV shows for many decades. Not only does she represent her role as a supermodel, but is also an advocator in an admirable campaign, #DontTellMeHowToDress, raising awareness of sexual assault and victim blaming.
Recently, Cindy has become the host and main judge of the famous Fox Life regional reality TV show, Asia’s Next Top Model. Catching up at this year’s premiere party, we spoke about everything from her career to her experiences as a social activist and an international TV host.
It wasn’t a smooth path, of course. Working in a modelling industry that focuses on your appearances means you may get rejected many times before getting approved for a job. When I started, it was also the supermodel era; supermodels were the celebrities. Then, the game changed. The celebrities were the celebrities and the models were no long on the magazine covers. Currently, the influencers are the celebrities, not the celebrities themselves. It’s really interesting to see how things change overtime, which also means I need to keep up, stay one step ahead, and adapt myself to cope with the world.
I think, more than anything now, you need to have a uniqueness about you. Creating your own brand is key. You have to find your own personal brand, taking your time and figuring out what kind of model you’d like to be. There are so many people in this industry and in different markets. People don’t want just the pretty face anymore, but they want the whole package. Who does this model represent? What does she stand for? How does she represent herself on a social media? Above all, don’t stick just to modelling. You have to be able to do a lot of things.
Another important quality is discipline. Nobody wants to work with someone who always comes to work late, can’t work well with others or doesn’t take directions. Be yourself, but also remember to do your job.
First of all, there were no digital cameras back then. Everything was shot on film, and it took longer, even a photoshoot would take an entire day. And of course, there was no such a thing as retouching. What you saw is what you got, and that’s the real thing. [Laughs.] So the production length is much faster and the nature of campaigns is much shorter. Back then, I would usually get an endorsement for two years, but now since everything is viral, I would get it for a couple of months. It changes a lot and I’ve seen it all. It’s amazing how everything is much faster and instantaneous now.
I think it’s the longest running Pan-Asian franchise, so it has been really successful. It’s in the sixth season now, and this is my third. First when they contacted me, I wasn’t sure I was ready because my son was only three years old. Plus, we would be shooting in Singapore that season. Of course, I wanted to do it. It’s an amazing opportunity, but above all I am a Mum. So once we sorted that out, I was like “yes! Let’s do this.” I feel like I have a lot to offer in terms of my experience for the girls, and also knowing their journey. I’ve done three seasons so far, and I think I’ve learned a lot about how to help them.
The first two seasons were shot in Singapore. It was great to be in a different place and it was actually the first time I stayed working overseas for a long time. The working style is different, but the job itself is similar. It was cool to see how other countries’ production works, as every country has a different working culture. Thailand is more laid-back, but we get the work done in our way. In Singapore, I noticed everything was much more rigid, which I really like because I’m a little bit of a time-management freak. Overall, the production was definitely A-class, and we all worked successfully towards the same goal.
Since it’s filmed here, it’s going to give a whole new vibe. Being in a new place gets the creative juices flowing. The fashion on the season is going to be amazing as well, in terms of designs, concepts, locations, the hair and makeup. They are on another level. Everyone is going to be excited — I know it because I was. [Laughs.] There are also a few other surprises that can’t be revealed just yet. [Smiles.]
Well, not just for Thai society. Basically, my campaign ‘Don’t Tell Me How To Dress’ is a push back against the stereotypes and a myth of the society: how women should dress or behave. I think it’s an excuse for sexual assaults and harassments. Sometimes, it’s really ridiculous to hear that “good girls don’t get raped.” My campaign is a call for women to step and speak up, to express themselves. If more women do that, other women will get empowered and be more likely to come forward with their stories, or at least, fight against something that’s wrong. The more we portray women as strong, powerful and confident, the more it will help their images in general. Look, I’ve built my career on modelling and I’ve never felt I have lessened myself in any way. In fact, I use that as a platform to be even more powerful and inspirational to young girls. I feel that, together, we as women, should be doing more.
If this is something you love, go for it 100%, but also don’t forget that it’s going to be a lot of hard work and rejection, too. So just make sure you’re in a good place, and have got a good support system to deal with that. It’s also very easy nowadays, as you can just grab your photographer friends and post good posing pictures on social media. Who knows? You could get discovered in a very unexpected way.
So far, it has been great. I’ve been very lucky to get to do lots of different things. We just keep working and elevating it to an international level. There is some really cool stuff happening, in terms of collaborations cross-culturally. That’s very interesting to see. It’s bringing in people together rather than separating, which is always a good idea.
I’ve started to move more towards the path of mentoring; not just on the show, but also in general. I hope to do more workshops and trainings, along the lines of women empowerment, specifically for young women and teenage girls. To be honest, there’s a lot to deal with nowadays, more than when I was growing up, especially when it comes to self-esteem, images, navigating through social media, and bullying. It’s crazy. My daughter is now eight, and as a mother, I want to do more research on that area and see what I can do to make us better than we are.