Space Lord Nova: Reflections from a boundary breaking model
On modeling, labels, & beauty.
By Samia Abbasi, Editor
When Nova (@spacelordnova) was little, their family would always ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Nova would always say,
“I want to be a super star!”
Unbeknownst to little Nova, their pathway ahead would not be an easy one. But it was, indeed, lined with stars. Now, Nova (they/them) is a boundary breaking model and multi-hyphenate creative based in NYC. They are a storyteller in a multitude of ways: their visuals transport you to new worlds, their social media posts give language to their evolving identity, and their writing is featured in Brown Girl Mag’s Untold anthology.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I chatted with Nova over Zoom. We shared laughs, relatable experiences, and at some point, a dance break to music blasting from a car driving by outside. In this Bites Feature, Nova shares their experience navigating the modeling industry, how their beauty style has shifted with their gender expression, and empowering advice for emerging models and creatives.
Starting out in the modeling industry
Ever since I was little, I wanted to do it all. To be Barbie, an astronaut, a rockstar, an actor. My name carried a certain weight. When I was around 8 years old, my family said, “It’s not feasible to be everything.” So, I began to wonder: What’s that one thing I can do for the rest of my life? I struggled with figuring this out. I’ve had bumps in my academic journey, because I could not — for the life of me — put myself into a box.
I feel like I was born in the wrong era. I should’ve been born in the renaissance or ancient times, when people were doing everything and making discoveries.
I would have been Epicurus, himself.
He was a Greek philosopher who had deep discussions with his friends across a variety of disciplines.
Out of the blue, I started to pursue modeling. I would meet up with friends, take photos, and post them on social media. But I didn’t know what it looked like to model as a profession: to get paid for it, to be featured in magazines, to be part of campaigns. I’m happy I continued to pursue it.
It took me a long time to call myself a model, to own that label. Starting out, I was pretty insecure about myself. During casting calls, I was often the shortest person and the only Asian person in the room. I almost always knew I was going to get rejected, because I wasn’t what the industry was looking for, at that time. I learned to be okay with it, because:
Me stepping into the room gave them exposure to possibilities outside of industry norms.
I wanted to open spaces for more South Asian people to be here. At the same time, I faced a lot of imposter syndrome. Like, “Oh, I’m not good enough, but the next person will be good enough.”
photo credits: @simrahfarrukh, @makeupbyamrita, @sir.thurston
To embrace being a model, I had to let go of this mindset, “I can only call myself successful when I reach a certain destination.” As a South Asian person, there are so many labels that affect how you view yourself. No matter how you present or what you say, people will always create some sort of story about you. But remember:
You curate your own story. No one else can.
That’s when I started calling myself a “boundary breaking model.” I’m claiming that label and taking back my story.
As great as it is to represent your community, that’s a responsibility that any one person should not have to carry alone. This comes from a place of scarcity, rather than abundance. I can’t represent everyone’s stories. I just want to represent who I am, and if that resonates with you, then that’s awesome. I’d love to see more darker skinned South Asian people, big South Asian people, and trans South Asian people in these spaces.
Embracing color & gender expression
For the longest time throughout my modeling career, I kept my hair long. I tried to be more skinny, more femme-presenting. Navigating my Queerness and gender expression online and how people viewed me, I often felt dysphoria. I saw, first-hand, how much praise, acknowledgement, and recognition I got when I presented more femme. Don’t get me wrong — my femme phase was sexy!
Now, I don’t care to be palatable to anyone. The more I embrace myself, the more I can help members of my community embrace themselves. I’ve come to realize:
Any way that I show up and present myself is going to be amazing.
Growing up, I used to know nothing about makeup. I would only really wear kajal, but it would run down my cheeks at the end of the day. When I was first getting into makeup, I thought I had to emulate a certain style. While Instagram baddie makeup looks amazing, it’s just not for me.
photo credits: @kiwiniphotos, @stylingbyseraph, @kelsmichelle
This was one of my favorite shots early on in my modeling career. After seeing this look on me, I realized that vibrant colors look great on me. I started to put myself out there with makeup. I embraced crazy colors, geometric eyeliner shapes, and having fun expressing myself through makeup. I pride myself in being a fashion and makeup chameleon.
I love doing people’s makeup. As an avid painter, I see everyone as my little canvas. Whenever someone is sitting in front of me, I tell them, “I’m going to take you out of your comfort zone.” They’re always a little nervous and say things like, “Oh, I don’t know if that’ll suit me!” Sometimes,
People of Color have never seen editorial makeup looks done on people who look like them.
After I do someone’s makeup and they look in the mirror, their eyes light up. It’s amazing to know that they feel really good about themselves.
Nova’s beauty picks: “No makeup - makeup” look
1. I found my favorite foundation recently: the ILIA Skin Tint. When I’m wearing it, I can’t even tell that I’m wearing face makeup. It just looks like my skin. I also love that it’s a clean beauty brand.
2. A brand I wear almost every day is Studio Tanaïs. I love their highlighter and lipstick in Heart Chakra; it’s one of those lipsticks that works with your pH level. I also recently modeled Studio Tanaïs’ jewelry, which was exciting!
3. From Kulfi, I love the Cheeky Chiku Kajal. It’s my go-to for a subtle eyeliner look. I’ll create a little wing with it or put some on my waterline. It’s perfect for moments when I need a more neutral look!
Advice: The importance of reframing rejection
On Community. Starting out as a model, I didn't have another South Asian person looking out for me, who understood my story. I was lost when it came to navigating the industry and social media as personal branding. There’s sometimes a sense of competition or toxicity in the creative space, and it goes back to that scarcity mindset. There’s a huge deficit of South Asian stories and spaces for us. This conditions us to think we need to fight each other for opportunities. That doesn’t work. It’s aiding white supremacy — and f*ck white supremacy!
photo credit: @spacelordnova
So much of my understanding about modeling came from doing my research, learning what a comp card is or what kind of outfit to wear for casting calls. People think that it’s just showing up on set and looking pretty.
Modeling is really about the connections you’re making, putting yourself out there, and being real about your message.
Online, I try my best to share tips on modeling and connect others with opportunities as much as I can. I don’t have any reason to gate-keep the knowledge I have; it’s essential for me to bring my people with me every step of the way.
On Rejection. 90% of this industry is rejection. There were so many moments where I was so close to getting big opportunities. These rejections hurt and used to define my self-worth. I had to reframe how I view rejection, because it can really stop you from putting yourself out there.
Overtime, I realized that the opportunities I attract now are really aligned with who I am. It’s one thing to get booked for a job. It’s another thing to also think, “Wow, this message hits so close to home. This is what I want to represent.” So, I would say,
Don’t be discouraged by rejection. It brings you closer to opportunities that resonate with you.
Once you’re able to separate your self-worth from rejection/acceptance, you will be unstoppable.
Appreciate your journey. Burnout is so real with creative work, and celebrating yourself along the way helps to prevent that. You might not realize it until later, but what you’re doing is bigger than yourself.
Cover photo credit: Nova, @spacelordnova