Model, content creator and sustainability advocate, there’s more to Natalie Prabha than meets the eye. The World Food Forum Champion gathers her thoughts as she opens up to Abdul Aziz Draim about overcoming an eating disorder, turning vegan and loving Mother Earth.
Photography by Chee Wei. Creative direction & styling by Colin Sim. Natalie Prabha wears Cartier jewellery throughout.
It’s the eyes. Though one might also point to her bone structure, her lithe frame or her sexy pout, when she gazes your way from her Instagram grid or the cover of a magazine, it’s her eyes that captivate you. Big and expressive, much like an anime character, her eyes lend her an otherworldly quality. Like an alien beauty.
Natalie Prabha owes that beauty to her Kadazan, Indian and Chinese heritage. Hailing from Kota Kinabalu, the 28-year-old Sabahan only began modelling four years ago yet has now amassed a portfolio as extensive as an industry veteran. “I got into modelling by chance,” she begins. “I was at a bar in Bangsar called La Bodega (it’s closed now) for ladies’ night and they served free wine to ladies. As a broke student who loves wine, I was naturally there, haha. Then one of the organisers for Malaysian Fashion Week at that time spotted me and asked me if I wanted to walk the shows. As a broke student, I said yes of course. Then the rest is history.”
Adored by stylists and photographers for her chameleon-like abilities—shifting from sultry to elegant, then sweet to gamine with such ease, much like her model idol Linda Evangelista—Talie, as she is known, has also developed a profile as “the vegan model”. “I went vegan for the environment,” she says. “Ever since I was a child I’ve developed a deep care towards our earth and everything that walks on it. It’s the only planet with the continuity of life so every day it becomes more important to generate a sense of urgency to save our Mother Earth because our survival depends on it. So changing my diet to lower my carbon footprint seemed to be an achievable thing for me to do and it really was. It’s been eight years now and I’ll never look back because it’s been so good for my body too.”
“Changing my diet to lower my carbon footprint seemed to be an achievable thing for me to do and it really was. It’s been eight years now and I’ll never look back because it’s been so good for my body too.”
Though already a regular in the pages of BAZAAR, Talie was taken by surprise when she was invited to grace our September cover. “What did I do to deserve this though?” she asked then. Well, let’s see: one of BAZAAR’s Most Stylish Women for 2021, an official World Food Forum Champion 2021, an active advocate for sustainability, and oh yes, one of our most sought-after models now. There’s so much more to Natalie Prabha than just a pretty face who knows how to work her angles.
Tell us a little bit about growing up in Sabah.
I was born and raised in Kota Kinabalu. I loved growing up there and would still love to go back and live there. The people are warm, and we’re so close to nature—the beach, the forest, the mountain. The sunsets are one of a kind. Most importantly, growing up with the Kadazan-Dusun community and culture is something I will always be grateful for. No culture, in my opinion, compares to it.
When did it dawn on you that modelling is something you’re good at? And that it can be a career?
I never actually thought I was good at it until I did it. I recall doing shoots and having no clue with what I was doing or how I looked like, but it worked. Clients were super happy with the results and that kept me going. Until today, I pretty much still feel the same way, but with more confidence now.
I took it on as a career because it pays the bills and more, haha. But mainly because I realised how much I love working creatively. I came from a science background and I thought that was what I was meant to do, but I found more freedom and fulfilment in bringing a creative vision to life. It fills my heart in ways I can’t explain.
How long have you been a vegan? And can you explain what that means?
I’ve been vegan to the best that I can for eight years now. Being vegan to me is doing the least amount of harm as possible to the animals, the planet and to yourself. Everything I choose to consume and do isn’t completely “vegan”—to me, it’s just another label. The conscious choices we make is entirely up to us and what we feel is right for the well-being of others and ourselves.
Was it difficult switching to a plant-based diet?
It was a little hard to transition, especially after knowing that I can’t eat my mum’s amazing cakes and cookies, or desserts in general because I have a big sweet tooth! But we did find a way around it and started making vegan desserts and because of that, we developed a stronger bond from learning together.
There was one really big challenge I recall. It was when I moved to KL from Sydney. It was a lot easier to sustain the diet in Australia back then and a lot harder in KL because the vegan diet wasn’t mainstream yet at that time so it was really tough when it comes to eating out. Nowadays, it’s so much more accessible so I’m a happy kid, haha.
You shared in an interview that you once had an eating disorder. Did modelling contribute to that? How did you overcome it?
I did develop a bad relationship with food and my body when I was a teenager. Growing up, people always compared me to models, especially Victoria’s Secret Models who were notorious for having impossible beauty standards at that time. I was constantly comparing myself to those standards and constantly wanting to look like them, even though I wasn’t a model yet. I struggled with aneroxia and anxiety throughout my teenage years.
I overcame it after discovering my love for cooking and baking. It became a form of therapy for me and I found harmony in food and how it nourishes my body instead of damaging it. From then on, I started eating more mindfully and fueling my body with more nutritious plant-based wholefoods that made my body feel good.
Based on your experience, what advice would you give to those suffering eating disorders?
Self-critic can be hard to overcome, but it’s important to avoid speaking negatively about our own appearance and of others. Instead, focus on the qualities on the inside that really makes a person truly beautiful. When it comes to eating, let food be thy medicine. Be mindful about what we put in our bodies—eat nutritiously and balanced, and celebrate the good things food does to our bodies.
As a model, you’ve been criticised for modelling animal-based products such as leather in spite of being a vegan. What is your response to that?
This is definitely very controversial and I wish I had something I’m proud of to defend myself with, but I really don’t. In this industry, especially still being an underdog like myself, we don’t really have much of a say when it comes to these things. At the end of the day, it is part of my job and striking a balance is really important to me, and I’m constantly trying to learn new ways. However, if it’s fur, that’s a definite no from me.
How did it feel to be a member of the World Food Forum Champions Programme, and how did that come about?
I was beyond honoured! It definitely took my passion for environmental care to the next level. At that time, the correlation between food loss and food waste towards environmental degradation just came to light and I was talking about it a little bit on Instagram about the way we can reduce wasting food. Not long after that, World Food Forum appointed me as one of their Champions! I had the opportunity to virtually meet many like-minded people and extraordinaires. I even had the chance to mediate an Innovation Masterclass where I discussed how young people can support the fight against the twin issues of food waste and food security together with FoodCloud CEO, Iseult Ward. I learned so much from it and was heavily inspired to start something similar in Malaysia one day. I love working with WFF because they’re really raising a lot of awareness toward these issues and inspiring youth to work collectively for a safer future. Definitely more collaborations to come this 2022!
What tips do you have to encourage the public to try a more plant-based diet?
Have an open mind and learn how to cook! Plant-based dishes may and can blow your mind. Plants are so versatile to manipulate in flavour and texture so do give it a go, especially when you’re in Bali (giggles). Plant-based eating is also more interesting when you cook it on your own. Grab a good cookbook or explore countless of simple recipe videos on Instagram, Youtube…bookmark some and make it a point to try it out on your own. It’s super fun and exciting.
Speaking of, when did you move to Bali?
I wouldn’t say I’ve completely moved to Bali, but I do want to stay here for a little bit longer. Bali has always been number one on my list of places to live and I thought to myself, if I don’t do it now, when? The lifestyle here truly fits my personality and being on a vegan diet has never been easier than here. I’m also quite privileged to have the opportunity to work here as a model and it’s been amazing.
What do you do to keep fit?
I wish I was more of an active person, but I’m pretty sure I was a sloth in my past life, haha. I’ve been doing yoga which I absolutely love.
I usually focus more on my eating habits. I do my best to eat a plant-based wholefoods diet, but I do let myself have a bit of a naughty meal from time to time for my mental health’s sake, haha.
Any plans to venture into other industries?
I already have, but not completely out of the modelling industry. I don’t think I will ever leave it completely because I do love it a lot, but I have been diversifying my work in social media content and creating plant-based and low waste recipes.
September is when we celebrate Malaysia Day. What does being a Malaysian mean to you?
Being a Malaysian to me is about living in harmony with one another regardless of race, religion and upbringing—helping each other grow as a nation so united in colours and cultures.
Creative director: Abdul Aziz Draim
Associate Art Director: Khairani Ramli
Make-up: Sharman Yee @ Plika Makeup
Hair: Keith Ong