She is charismatic, fearless and, hands down, a bobby-dazzler. Chelsea Ndirangu, or the African Barbie Doll, is a Kenyan modelling sensation who resides in Dallas, Texas. At only 19 years, she has taken the Internet by storm. She talks to James Kahongeh.
You call yourself the ‘‘African Barbie Doll’’. What’s in this name?
The internet community picked the name for me. I have been told a great deal about how my doll-like features look surreal.
This feels flattering and a little weird too. Last year in July, I trimmed my hair and started rocking “finger waves”.
Everyone seemed to love my new style and how it complimented my face. I like the name; it fits into my playful personality like a glove.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I was born in Nairobi, Kenya. I grew up in the Arlington/Mansfield area in Texas, US. I recently graduated from Mansfield High School. I have been modelling since I was seven years old.
What inspired you into the modelling arena?
Growing up, I would take my mother’s magazine subscriptions and flip through the pages, admiring the beautiful models. I would then imitate them by posing in front of a mirror.
My dream was to one day get on the cover of a magazine. My favourite model was, and still is, Naomi Elaine Campbell. I always thought if she could do it, I could do it too. That’s how I got hooked.
Are you a runway or brand model?
I am a little bit of both. When I got my first phone, I would watch runway videos of my favourite supermodels on YouTube. Over time, I learnt how to walk with grace, confidence and a dash of mystery. I would picture myself as a walking mannequin.
Brand modelling is more about looks and having the ability to sell with a picture. Nothing enchants me quite like a photo that can tell a story. Runway modelling is about character.
Any difference between the modelling landscape in Kenya and in the US?
To be discovered as a model in Kenya is not easy. To flourish is an even tougher battle. In the US though, you could be spotted from literally anywhere including in the shopping mall and even on the streets.
I am grateful to have had the chance to move to the US.
Memorable highlight of your modelling experience?
I participated in a modelling contest titled “Keeping Families Connected” in Dallas earlier this year. It turned out well, considering it was my first ever serious modelling gig.
When I recently posted my photos on Twitter, I received unbelievable support from fans around the world, who encouraged me to keep going. I am excited to be in this space, and I hope to take lessons on the go.
Besides modelling, what else do you like doing?
Fashion has fascinated me since I was a small girl. The creativity of many designers intrigues me. Styling and makeup are very dear to my heart. Makeup is an emphatic way to say who you are without saying anything at all.
Coincidentally, my mother never wore makeup, so I didn’t have the privilege of sneaking into her closet to wear hers. Instead, I would share makeup with my friends, or save up to buy mine. The skin is very important to me, and I prefer to keep it in its clear and natural glow.
Your biggest lesson so far?
When I started out, I would struggle trying to imitate other accomplished models. This left me disillusioned. I did not realise that modelling is first about character and attitude then age and looks. I had to change tack. It is then that I started to appreciate my petite body.
This strategy worked, and soon my self-confidence grew. If you are not self-aware, modelling can destroy your esteem.
If you could choose a country to represent as a model, which one would it be?
That would obviously be Kenya. I am so fortunate to have so much support from back home. My friends in Kenya are my main support system. While we may not meet often, they are like family to me. So, Kenya any day.
Do you wish to pursue modelling as a full-time job?
It would be a dream come true to become a Victoria Secret Model and to represent Kenya on the international scene.
Where do you see yourself professionally in 3 years' time?
Signed to my dream modelling agency. I wish to be a Victoria Secret model and to feature on the cover of i-D, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. And I will be a Victoria Secret Model. I also hope to have attended The Met Gala.
Do you hope to settle in Kenya someday?
It is my desire, once I have made a breakthrough in my career, to establish a modelling agency in Kenya so that young models can pursue their dream with ease. I visit Kenya once every year.
It is both home to me and an amazing holiday destination.